— Mr Jeliazkov, we will talk about e-Government, but let's first give a definition of what e-Government is.
— It is about managing public processes by using information and communication technologies. In a virtual environment, we can build, regulate and implement relationships with public institutions or public service providers. Man and State, company and State. We are talking about digitalisation of processes and designing them as digital by default – in legislation, in the interaction of people with the public authorities.
— For many years in Bulgaria, government and opposition have exercised over the talking of e-Government. Ones proclaimed that we are going ahead, the others, that billions were spent on something that do not exist. Where's the truth?
— To be objective, we have to say that any amount mentioned in the public domain may be used for both positive and negative suggestions. For many years, the development of technology, mainly the introduction of computers into the administration in our country, was perceived as a way to improve the working environment rather than as a way of digitalisation of the volume of information. To date, much of the administration's work is limited to word processing, e-mail, copying, etc., but these are basic skills that do not in themselves constitute the understanding of e-Government — of digital process management . Therefore, when talking about funds invested in e-Government, it must be assumed that 100 units invested in information and communication technologies do not mean 100 units invested in e-Government. Large share of these money were spent for toners, printers, computers, phones, maintenance, and there's nothing electronic like government. This is the use of electronic devices for analogue management. Assuming that e-Government means electronic control of public processes in a virtual environment, then building such systems does not cost much — one is to build the system, and another is to make the necessary infrastructure. Infrastructure is not only equipment and technology — hardware, software, licenses, platform. We need to consider it as the whole information provision, digitalisation, change of the legal framework that now creates paper, not digital processes. In this sense, we can not take a ready—made system from somewhere and just introduce it in Bulgaria. In recent years, we have mainly invested in technology. And much of them to date is unusable because no one has changed the processes and did not invested in the skills of the people.
— And now we're still working on paper.
— Over the past 15 years we relied only on technology and we have just started to talk about processes in the context of the plan to reduce administrative burdens for people and businesses. If we have 2500 administrative services and want to serve them through e-Government, does this mean that we need to build 2500 systems of these services, or first we need to reduce them significantly and identify what is a service and what is a procedure for that service. Behind each service there are many administrative procedures related to the certification of specific circumstances. These are many of the so-called certificates we started to remove because the circumstances behind them may be officially certified by the administrations themselves. I.e. we are going to implement one of the basic principles of e-Government — that administrations only collect information from citizens once and subsequently these data are used ex officio and not to be re-requested. This is the one direction. The other is to organize the services as "episodes of life" for citizens and "business events" for companies. For example, child birth, company registration, retirement, etc.
— Is it difficult to explain this to the other administrations? There seems to be scepticism ...
— We understand the scepticism and even the resistance of the administration, because everyone needs a comfort zone and adapts to the way the system works. It is considered very difficult, within a political cycle, to make major changes from the beginning to the end, because the administration is a conservative system and is resistant to reforms. That is why the way is evolutionary — with clearly defined tasks and with visible effect thereof, to convince everyone that one or other solution works. The challenge for the Agency is to enable administrations to understand, to feel and implement e-Government. To understand that this means more efficient delivery of better services, with fewer resources, faster and with less stress for both employees and society.
— Let's talk specifically, is there a way for people to perceptibly feel the effects of e-Government?
— I do not make illusions that people who do not use technology and processes and have no desire to get familiar with them, perceive e-Government as an advantage. However, they are the reason for a reduction in the administrative burden. An example of limiting the administrative burden through the principles and means of e-Government is the widely discussed need to prove the fact that a citizen has not been convicted, by himself, through a criminal record. At present, besides a paper certificate of conviction, it may be issued electronically, but it is still carried by the citizen in the respective administration. The purpose of the proposed to the National Assembly 63 amendments requiring the submission of a criminal record is that the fact that a person has not been convicted has to be established by the administration concerned ex officio by access to the relevant register. This, on the one hand, reduces the administrative burden, because the citizen does not obtain and does not carry it, and on the other hand, the administration manages electronically the necessary data.
The aim is that there is to be no requirement in the legislation to provide a criminal record, while not preventing the possibility of a paper certificate being issued upon request and also when a court sanction is required in case of rehabilitation.
— We may understand that in about a year administrations will stop exchanging paper between each other.
— By the end of 2018, all administrations should exchange their documents electronically, but this is not a real e-Government. We separate very clearly the exchange of data between registers, which is at the core of e-Government, and electronic document turnover. e-Government is focused on services for citizens and business. Now it takes more than a month for a file to go through several institutions on paper. If it is by electronic means, the same but already digital file can move within a day or two.
The real electronic administrative services will minimize physical contact between public authorities and private entities through the virtualization of submission, payment and receipt of the result.
— When will this be done in fact?
— In 2018, we will complete the horizontal components of e-Government. These are e-authentication, e-payment, service, etc. All these abstract concepts are a technology that will be mandatory for all administrations in the architecture of e-Government. However, what is important for citizens is easy and accessible to request and receive the service they require. So far, each administration has decided independently what services it provides and how to satisfy its customers. And when interinstitutional connectivity is sought, it becomes clear that systems are incompatible because they are made on different platforms. Funds have been given for individual systems, and now we have to invest resources to integrate them. This has been the approach so far and it has been proven wrong. From now on, they will all be subordinate to common components. We will have one electronic identification scheme, one electronic verification scheme, etc. Individual platforms will naturally become obsolete. Then we will propose a single solution.
By the end of the year we will aim to build the so-called architectural e-Government framework. This is not just a new strategy, but a system that includes all the mandatory e-Government components. For example, a citizen must have an electronic PIN that matches his/her virtual identity to prevent individual institutions, according to their institutional needs, from building their own identification systems.
— Figuratively speaking, by the end of this year, should we have the "railway" of e-Government?
Exactly. Note that since the e-Government Agency exists, we are not talking about money. First, we will achieve a result, and then we can seek reimbursement when using the shared resources maintained and developed by the Agency. The information infrastructure is a very challenging one — many of the databases are still in hard copy and not digital. It is necessary to digitalise the data in these archives.
— Where are we as a society in the digitization of the EU?
— In separate strands, such as the open data policy, we are at the top of the charts. We have over 1700 open databases and we are among the first six countries in Europe. Another is the question that we are opening these, but who makes use of them? Because the idea of data in the public domain is to have secondary use. I.e. business to take advantage of them, process them, analyse them and use them for planning and taking business decisions. Sometimes statistics do not give a mirror picture of the situation, but that should not make us calm. We have a great potential, which unfortunately goes not so much in public benefit, but in the interest of global business that attracts our most qualified specialists.
The questions is whether we fully exploit the technologies through our digital skills? e-Government may be a catalyst for the overall improvement of the digital skills of Bulgarians.
— Will e-Government lead to a reduction in the size of the administration?
— I oppose the self-directed policies for reducing the administration. So far, they have always been linked to the reduction of vacancies or staff costs. The right approach is to look for people for work rather than people to find jobs. The tendency is to go towards shared services, reducing the general administration, but naturally. The administration should decrease after the need for a specific activity has ceased. This requires a clear model of public service provision. Reducing the size of the administration is a function, not a reason for better service. If now we reduce the administration mechanically, we will not get better service. We will have better service when we do it better.