Auditor General invites state authorities to abandon correspondence on paper

Toomas Mattson | 1/10/2006 | 12:00 AM

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TALLINN, 10 January 2006 - Auditor General Mihkel Oviir invites all state authorities to transfer to mostly electronic exchange of data in their work correspondence, and stop sending piles of paper to each other.

Auditor General Mihkel Oviir said that in a state like Estonia, where IT solutions are so developed, the absurd situation should be ended, where state authorities create documents in the computer, print them out, send them to other state authorities via mail, where it will in turn be scanned from paper into postal register.

"The problem in Estonia is the officials' unwillingness to change the paperwork rules they're used to rather than technical solutions or money," said Oviir. The State Audit Office conducts its everyday work correspondence mainly in electronic form already since December last year.

Oviir stated that although the problems with document management have been acknowledged on state level, it would still be necessary to move faster when document management and accountancy as well as local government's IT solutions are concerned. The ad hoc Parliamentary Committee established to examine the state also supported the Auditor General's points of view yesterday.

Auditor General expressed satisfaction and hope that several ongoing tasks will gain speed again in the current year – for example, preparations for projecting state's central document storage facility and attaching document management systems to it are in motion. A proposal to start preliminary work on simplifying the process of giving digital signatures and integration into portals is also being discussed. Preliminary work is in motion to attach state authorities to the environment of state financial and management account.

Estonia has the general principles for information policy, a developed telecommunications network and modern information technology solutions create a basis for the development of the state's information society. "It is regrettable that the harmonisation and adoption of the draft of state information system's databases act has been dragged for two years. Lack of legal environment that would take into consideration technological development, may cause additional expenses for adapting current projects with a new situation," said Oviir.

Auditor General added that the electronic administration between state authorities is without a doubt still just a small step in the right direction. "The most important thing is to make Estonia's immense IT potential work for its citizens, change IT service so that it would be citizen-friendly, would reach everyone, saving time, trouble and money."

According to the Auditor General, he has discussed the problems with Prime Minister Andrus Ansip and Minister of Economic Affairs and Communications, Edgar Savisaar, who both clearly feel the need for a systematic development of the field of IT. "As the matter is recognised on political level, we now need activity on officials' level," said Oviir.

Yesterday in the Parliamentary Committee, Oviir expressed concern that if progress is noticeable on central administration level, the local government level is in the risk of lagging behind. "The state of Estonia is whole and from the point of view of a state as a whole new opportunities for including local governments, third sector and private enterprises in the development of information society should be observed. A gap has occurred here that needs evaluation and public intervention within the state's possibilities," said Oviir.

Auditor General was glad that the state has begun preparations to develop broadband strategy, the objective of which is to give the citizens access to all digital services provided by private and public sector, and so help to increase Estonia's competitiveness, create new jobs and reduce the society's communications and transport expenses.

The quantitative indicator of evaluating the objective is to continue being among the top three European Union countries by the proportion of broadband connections (fast Internet connection, which enables to use modern multimedia applications). In the period of 2005-2007 it is planned to spend 38 million kroons to activate the development of broadband data communication network for providing Internet services in the areas suffering from market failure with the help of private enterprises.

An area suffering from market failure is a region in which private sector will not invest because of a small number of consumers and where it is not possible to earn their money back within a reasonable time limit. However, the private sector is ready to be responsible for servicing the consumers and further development of the service. At this point the state will invest along with the local governments into the development of data communication in sparsely populated rural regions, private sector will provide Internet service and develop data communication, if necessary.

At the same time, there is no national action plan and organisational mechanism on local government level to support the coordinated development of e-services (estimably 70% of the services are on local government level). Thus, the development of the Internet's content and technical possibilities is not balanced.

When broadband strategy stipulates the delivery of the Internet, the delivery and consumption of digital services is not planned anywhere. For example, Public Information Act does not give a minimum list of e-services that have to be listed on local government's website.

As the preparation of acts does not include information technology expert analysis, it often causes the creation of information technology solutions that double each other. For example, local governments should have created registers for waste holders, registers for pets etc., though the state could organise their establishment centrally, without doubling.

The role of county governments is also not sufficient when it comes to coordinating local government's field of IT on the spot. Both the state and local governments lack a partner who would be responsible for the negotiations for the development of information society and e-services. The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications does not have a respective task, local government associations have not discussed the topic so far.

The relationship between the state and local governments in developing the information society and e-services has not been regulated: exists no clear division of tasks, no obligations, no timetable. Obligation to provide citizens with e-services has not been laid down in legislation. Neither the state or local governments have paid attention to developing mobile services, which could be of great value in saving both time and transport kilometres for the inhabitants of low density areas.

In the Parliamentary Committee, the Auditor General, Mihkel Oviir stressed the need to simultaneously address the development of broadband connections and the substantive questions of the Internet on local level, collect factual data about the situation to make a decision, develop e-democracy and propose measures for a balanced development of information society.

Toomas Mattson
Communication Manager of National Audit Office
Telephone: 6400 777
Mob: 51 34900
E-mail: [email protected]

  • Posted: 1/10/2006 12:00 AM
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