Author: Shqipe Gjocaj
Kosovo’s attempts to go fully online depend on e-signature and the need for centralized services.
Claiming its independence as a state, Kosovo’s administrative services have gradually improved during the last two decades. In recent years, there has also been improvement in terms of the digitalization of public administration. As the minimum criteria required by Open Government Partnership (OGP), Kosovo has already made attempts in scoring a number in terms of transparency and good governance.
Several governmental and non-governmental initiatives have been established and designed to help Kosovo digitize its services. The Portal for Open Data, ia a governmental catalog of metadata in an open format by Kosovo public administrations, tagged with categories on specific topics.The Platform for Public Consultations is created by Kosovo’s government to assist the ministries and agencies of Kosovo to facilitate the public consultation process by including public and nongovernmental authorities, civil society organizations and other relevant partners in the policy and decision-making process.
E-participation is created by Open Data Kosovo, a non-profit NGO, for the Assembly of Kosovo and it is an open platform where every citizen can register and raise an issue that concerns him/her. By addressing their concerns in the platform, the interested citizens are in direct communication with members of parliament who might address their concerns further on in Assembly meetings. This type of interaction is very important since not only it encourages active citizen participation, it also enables citizens to have a say in decision-making processes. The platform in question is not live yet, but it will soon be transferred to the Assembly’s server.
E-Kosova is a state portal that provides digital services for the public services found in offices and physical wickets of institutions. The portal is still being developed and its first cooperation was with the Ministry of Health where the citizens can among others, apply for Covid-19 vaccines.The purpose of e-Kosova is to centralize current digital existing services in one portal. By creating one verified account, one may be able to carry out all services online. One can pay the rent, the electricity, and other basic obligations, as well as apply for ID or birth certificate.
Kosovo has also invested in platforms that aim at increasing transparency and accountability and promoting good and open governance. The Platform for Public Financing of Civil Society Organizations, initiated by the Prime Minister’s office, specifically by the Office of Good Governance, shares data on CSO financial support by years, institutions, the NGO that have benefited, the amount provided, and so on.
Another platform that helps increase transparency is e-procurement administered by the Public Procurement Regulatory Commission, an independent regulatory agency. Not only is e-procurement important for citizens and businesses to participate actively in terms of services, it is also particularly important for third parties such as journalists and NGOs to analyze public contracts. As such it constitutes a very useful opportunity that helps with transparency and fight against corruption.
One cannot emphasize enough that all these platforms contain many flaws and are in need for further improvement as stated in the Kosovo Digital Agenda Observatory. Firstly, they need to be populated with more data, covering all sectors. Secondly, institutions should provide more technical support to citizens on how to use the platforms. Thirdly, some services should be better coordinated with the banks. For example, when conducting payments online, sometimes citizens need to go to the institutions to verify the payment, inconsistent with the aim of e-services.
Currently, the system of seeking and receiving services works in a hybrid manner by combining both online and offline. You fill in the data but again, you can only receive the documents by appearing physically at the respective institution. E-kiosk is such an example. Even though it was a very good initiative established during the administration of the mayor of Prishtina Shpend Ahmeti, one still has to physically present oneself in order to release that document.
Moreover, Kosovo already has a solid legal infrastructure, another basic criteria for membership in OGP. And while it is gradually building its digital infrastructure, one essential aspect is missing. And that is the electronic signature. Up to date, there is no law passed in the Assembly of Kosovo that enables the use of e-signature. And that means that many state portals cannot be 100% functional.
The possibility of centralizing all services online in e-Kosova would enable access to all documents by the use of e-signature, a signature accepted by institutions, embassies, and so on. By establishing a database with all the documents inside, long and loud crowds in institutions’ physical spaces would be avoided and people would get the needed services done in a timely and efficient manner. The centralization of services doesn’t even mean a downsizing in employees, because it will still require people to deal with those documents anyway. It only means that the work will be transferred online.
If e-signature passes, other possibilities for citizen engagement flourish. Petitions are one of the obvious examples that come to mind. Individuals, groups, organizations can advocate for various issues by gathering citizens’ voices, and not depending mainly on the physical signature gathered at the city squares. Signing an online petition takes minimal effort and thus provides a fast and efficient way to have citizens’ voices heard.
The role and the responsibilities of duty bearers and the rights holders should not be seen as strictly divided in terms of the digitalization and centralization of services. While the responsibility of institutions is pivotal towards open government, it is also important to emphasize the powerful role of women and men as citizens in this respect.
Research shows that while citizens in Kosovo are active in raising their voices and demanding accountability from the government, they are not very active followers of the work of the institutions. In a survey conducted by Open Data Kosovo and UBO Consulting, out of 1065 respondents 34.8% follow the work of the Government of Kosovo moderately, 20.8% do not follow it at all, whereas 5% were declared as regular followers. Moreover, almost half of the surveyed respondents do not think that they can contribute to government initiatives as citizens.
Therefore, by using the digital resources in disposal in an active manner, by complaining and criticizing the platforms when/if their requests or complaints are ignored, inviting their friends and acquaintances in public action and the like, these platforms could serve as a call to action to both fellow citizens as well to respective institutions.
*This article has been published by Open Data Kosovo as part of the “Initiative for Open & Good Governance” project funded by the MATRA 2020 program as part of the Embassy of the Netherlands in Kosovo. The article is the sole responsibility of Open Data Kosovo and does not reflect the opinions of the Embassy of the Netherlands.