European e-Governance models to make Ukraine more transparent and efficient

01 Jul 2014

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1 July 2014, Kyiv – Developments in Ukraine in the winter of 2013/2014 and subsequent changes in the governance systems of the country have ushered in an immense appetite for accountability and transparency in government at all levels. The proactive stances of many citizens testify to the readiness for engagement in decision-making and devotion of time and effort to collaborative resolution of common challenges. Electronic services, information at your fingertips, and the ability to operate open data are all on the agenda for the new governance systems in Ukraine. The “European Model of e-Governance for Ukraine” round-table, organized by the office of the Vice Prime Minister – Minister of Regional Development, Construction and Utilities of Ukraine, with UNDP support, was called to catalyze reform processes in this area and demonstrate political commitment to systemic and meaningful progress in the area of e-governance for the country.

Ukraine’s efforts to promote electronic government and increase the levels of computer use throughout a broad sector of activities within the country stem back to the 1990’s when a number of policy documents were adopted to guide the sphere forward. Over the years, “informatization” continued to be more of a buzzword with some progress in this or that area, but without any systemic and visionary approach to the sector until four or five years ago, when first coherent attempts were initiated to make e-governance a lived reality. Spring 2010 saw the launch of the National E-Governance Center under the State Agency for Science, Innovation and Informatization of Ukraine. The same year, systemic plans for developing national-scale e-government and e-governance systems in Ukraine were first spelled out in the report “Concept for E-Governance Development till 2015.” Unfortunately, the relevant reform underlying the Concept has been stalled to a large degree due to the absence of a comprehensive National Programme on e-governance and e-democracy development and the absence of systemic funding for its implementation. At the same time, the status of the National E-Governance Center would have to be lifted significantly in order for it to be able to take coordination with other government bodies and agencies within the Cabinet of Ministers to a whole different level.

Such negligence vis-à-vis a sector of strategic importance had a serious impact: at the national level, progress in the e-governance development was not visible or significant. Within the UN E-Government Survey 2014 Ukraine came in ranked 87 alongside states such as Albania, Fiji, Brunei and El Salvador (the list was topped by South Korea). Compared to 2010, Ukraine has dropped by over 30 points in the world ranking, which is no surprise due to the pace with which the area is evolving. Ukraine slowed down progress in the delivery of online services to citizens including disadvantaged and vulnerable groups (dropped from 0.4248 index in 2012 to 0.2677 index in 2014), has demonstrated a limited broadband penetration rate (standing at 33%), and shown inefficient usage of the potential presented by existing cell-phone subscriptions (130 per 100 inhabitants). Finally, this rather unfortunate picture is completed by a decrease in human capital index due to the growing digital divide, which indicates economic and social inequality in access to or knowledge of ICT.

In order to prevent the country from slipping on the digital agenda, for the last decade UNDP Ukraine has been supporting visionary change agents, mostly at the local level, to innovate and start bolstering global thinking with local action. During the last couple of years, despite the lack of progress at the national level, Ukraine has seen very impressive initiatives springing up at the regional and municipal levels. UNDP partner municipalities have introduced e-document flows for higher efficiency, developed online services for citizens, created one-stop-shop centers for administrative service provision with e-terminals for self-service, etc. The time has come, nonetheless, to found further development of the sector on these achievements, which can serve as practical inspiration for further action.

At the national level UNDP invested in support of platforms for engagement, communication, and awareness of developments in the e-governance sphere. Thus, for example, it supported the creation and launch of the National Web-Portal of the Open Government Partnership Initiative, aimed at bettering public services and increasing the transparency and integrity of public administration as the key online resource in the process of implementing the OGP Initiative in Ukraine. In 2013 the National Knowledge Management Portal "We Develop E-governance" was created by the Association of Local Self-Governance Bodies "E-Governance Cities", the National Centre for E-Governance created with the State Agency for Science, Innovation and Informatization of Ukraine, and the National Academy of Public Administration, with UNDP support. The portal was designed as a one-of-a-kind platform for collecting, storing and disseminating knowledge and best practices in the area of e-governance, a mechanism for policy formulation, and a tool for monitoring and assessing e-governance introduction. At the same time, in the absence of systemic national-level developments, the use of both tools was mostly linked to regional-level support and utilization.

As a wave of transformative change has surged in Ukraine in 2014, electronic governance and electronic democracy are beginning to appear once more on the Government’s immediate reform agenda and for civil society to follow up. June this year saw the Government’s decision to establish a new Agency entrusted with the development and implementation of the e-government agenda for Ukraine under the leadership of the Vice Prime Minister – the appropriate level to coordinate with other government bodies and agencies within the Cabinet of Ministers. Prior to that, work was launched by a working group under the Vice Prime Minister – Minister of Regional Development, Construction and Utilities of Ukraine, to take stock of the existing developments in the sphere and to capitalize on prior experience to move on with a renewed digital agenda for Ukraine, including a package of required regulations and policy documents to operationalize digital transformations.

It is exactly at this point of increased interest in the initiative that UNDP has rendered its support to both the relevant working group, the newly formed e-governance section under the Reanimation Package of Reforms civic initiative, and to a number of learning and experience-sharing initiatives to induce information flow and cross-pollination of ideas and approaches. One such event, the “European Model of e-Governance for Ukraine” roundtable discussion, was held on 1 July, hosting over 80 representatives of state authorities, NGOs, think tanks, academia, and international experts.

Volodymyr Groysman, Vice Prime Minister, Minister of Regional Development, Construction and Utilities of Ukraine, opened the meeting by briefing the participants on the efforts of the Government of Ukraine to speed up sectorial reform. He noted that an important step was taken a month ago to reorganize the State Agency for Science, Innovation and Informatization and to establish a new agency responsible for the sector. The new body’s activities will be coordinated directly by the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine under direct supervision of the Vice Prime Minister. Together with the members of the relevant VPM working group this agency will develop and implement immediate steps to revitalize the area of e-governance. Key lessons learned from the experiences of the other countries in the region will, of course, serve as inspiration for action.

In course of the discussion, Siim Sikkut, National ICT Policy Advisor, Strategy Unit, Estonian Government Office, Stela Mocan, Executive Director of the E-Governance Centre of Moldova, and Mariusz Przybyszewski, Minister Counsellor, Department of Informatization, of the Ministry of Administration and Digitization of Poland presented experiences from their countries on the way forward to reform.

In her welcome address Inita Pauloviča, UNDP Deputy Resident Representative, put special emphasis on the citizen component of the reform: “E-government and e-governance may seem to be about infrastructure, specific knowledge or software,” she noted, “while in fact, it is about people, about citizens, for it is a tool, an instrument to make the government closer to the citizens, make the governance structures and patterns more transparent and less corrupt, as well as user friendly and accessible to people. In order to make all of that happen and to initiate true progress, you should not ignore the knowledge of citizens, or as they are now called “citizen-experts”; those who actually use your services, arrangements, and ideas. This is why through its regional and country initiatives, UNDP has supported a variety of collaborative design initiatives, social innovations, and citizen-driven public sector reform both in Ukraine and in the countries of the region.

The round table ended with an expert session to consider recommendations and suggestions with regards to national policy on e-governance, to be developed and implemented in coordination with various stakeholders. It is expected that the working group members under the Vice Prime Minister will collect this information for development of the “Policy Green Book,” which will help make public services in Ukraine more effective, transparent and convenient for citizens in the digital age.