National Audit Office: local authorities need stronger support by the state in developing the information society

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

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TALLINN, 12 October 2006 - The National Audit Office recommends that the state pay more attention to involving local authorities in the development of the information society so that citizens receive public services as soon and as conveniently as possible.

Although Estonia has gained international acknowledgement as a successful and enthusiastic developer of the information society, the National Audit Office finds that not all the sides of the e-state and the information society have received equal coverage. So far information technology solutions, requests and needs of local authorities have been left out of the overall organised development of the information society in the state.
There are state endeavours meant for the local level, notably the successful Tiger Leap and Village Road projects as well as establishment of Public Access Internet in public libraries. At the same time these activities have been aimed directly at the population, while the needs and difficulties of the local authorities themselves have been left without attention. The local authorities have not received sufficient support from the state in developing the information society.

Although the number of computer owners and Internet users has constantly grown in Estonia over the last five years, the digital divide between urban and rural households is increasing. In terms of Internet connections in urban homes Estonia is close to the average of the European Union, but in rural Estonian homes the figure is smaller by a third.
The situation should improve considerably once the Village Road 3 project, which was initiated last year, has been implemented. This project is aimed at providing the rural population with access to the Internet. The state allocated nearly EEK 30 million to that end. After completion of the project there should be permanent Internet connections in nearly all rural areas on the terms and conditions determined by the state.

However, this does not automatically reduce the divide between urban and rural households. The decisive factor is the usefulness of the e-services provided through the Internet and people’s skill to run their errands through the Internet. The third factor is the expenses pertaining to the Internet. The divide will decline once a person feels that the benefits of the Internet outweigh the costs.
Provision of the state support or coordination of the area in developing the information society has not been made the duty of any agency. The duty of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications is to coordinate the development of the state's information systems and to point to the direction of development of the information society on a broader scale. The duty of the Ministry of the Interior and the Minister of Regional Affairs is to plan and coordinate the development of the local authorities. There is a missing link: no one is responsible for planning and coordinating the development of the local information society. This is necessary for balanced regional development as well as for helping the tired Estonian e-tiger back to its feet.

The National Audit Office audited the support provided by the state to local authorities upon the development of the information society. In the course of the audit the opportunities of the rural and urban populations and their desires upon consumption of benefits, the successfulness of the local authorities upon application of information technology solutions and upon performance of information technology requirements arising from legislation were investigated during the audit. The E-state Academy participated in the audit as an expert.

In the current stage of development of the information society as a whole it is necessary that the Government of the Republic pay more attention to the area at the level of the central and local government. National associations of local authorities welcomed the positions of the National Audit Office and consented to the conclusion that the development of the area is very important. The Association of Municipalities of Estonia finds that the coordinated development of the area on a uniform basis has not been paid sufficient attention and the state support to that end is required. According to the Association of Estonian Cities, it is important to learn from the mistakes and use the possibilities of central IT solutions in the future.

Main conclusions of the audit:
 

  • Although the number of computer owners and Internet users has constantly grown in Estonia over the last five years, the digital divide between urban and rural households is increasing.
  • 37% of the population aged 15-74 years cannot use a computer. However, a third of them would be ready to learn it with state support.
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  • The state’s central information and service portal has not been widely accepted and no common service space has been developed on the Internet for the population in spite of the existence of the prerequisites.
  • The state’s information policy and development plans stipulate involvement of the local authorities in the development of the information society, but there is no organisational structure or a mechanism for financing the work to that end. Coordination of the development of the information systems of the local authorities and the information society is not yet a specific duty of any agency.
  • Attending to the problems of the information society is beyond the reach of most of the local authorities. At least half of the local authorities need direct support from the state in the substantive as well as technical issues of development of the information society. The local authorities find it difficult to fulfil the requirements provided for in acts regulating administration of websites and disclosure of information on websites.
  • The scheme of coordination of the information and communication technology area of the state is not in compliance with the current situation. The duties of the ministries and the State Chancellery as the advisor, coordinator and supporter of the information technology endeavours of the local authorities are vague and uncoordinated.

     

    Toomas Mattson
    Communication Manager of National Audit Office
    Telephone: 6400 777
    Mob: 51 34900
    E-mail: toomas.mattson@riigikontroll.ee

 

  • Posted: 10/12/2006 12:00 AM
  • Last Update: 9/18/2015 1:57 PM
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