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PUTTING SERVICES ONLINE COULD PROVE POPULAR, SAYS EXPERT

Slovakia lags in e-government

POLITICIANS haven't realised yet that cutting down the waiting time at government offices would be popular with voters.

POLITICIANS haven't realised yet that cutting down the waiting time at government offices would be popular with voters.

Juraj Sabaka, head of the IT Association of Slovakia, says that making paperwork available through effective e-government services would ease the burden on the public. However, none of the country's administrations have made it a top priority, he adds.

The Slovak Spectator asked Sabaka why Slovakia lags in the informatisation of government services and what would make internet content more appealing to older generations.

The Slovak Spectator (TSS): The Institute for Public Affairs (IVO) said in its study "Digital Literacy in Slovakia" that the country has fallen behind in almost every aspect of informatisation. What are the main reasons behind this?

Juraj Sabaka (JS): It is true that Slovakia is on the tail end of rankings on the use of computer technologies in European Union countries. However, Slovak companies are not lagging, which is very positive. It is the public administration and households that are behind. As far as households are concerned, there are two major reasons. The first is the public's low purchasing power, which prevents households from buying a computer or an internet connection. The second, and more significant reason, is that the middle and older generation do not see enough practical uses for a computer. For the younger generation, computers are a natural platform for communication and entertainment. But the older generation requires practical content, such as the option to take care of administrative issues electronically or the possibility of a life-long education. These areas are still in their formative stages in Slovakia.

As far as e-government services are concerned, none of the administrations have considered it a real political priority. There have been promises, but real steps are missing. Perhaps they haven't realised that reducing the administrative burden on people and businesses through effective e-government services could earn them some votes.

TSS: Last year's IVO study also said that the number of adults using computers dropped moderately compared with 2005. How do you explain this?

JS: I cannot explain it as anything other than a statistical deviation. I see no reason for the drop in the number of computer users, which in my opinion has been growing.

TSS: Traditional internet users include people living in large cities, university-educated people under 35, intellectuals, business people and students. Where do you see the greatest potential for the spread of computer use?

JS: In the case of young people it will grow as their purchasing power increases and the price of computers and internet connections drop. Simply put: when they are eventually able to afford it. However, the greatest potential for growth is in the mid-to-older generation. But they need to see the internet as useful, which, as I said, could mean for dealing with administrative issues or life-long education. These are areas that fall under the administration of the government. I believe that politicians will recognise this potential and tap into it.

TSS: In which areas of e-government has Slovakia achieved the greatest progress? Which are the areas that still need improvement?

JS: I don't think that Slovakia has achieved any significant progress. It is true that now we can submit entries to the commercial register, search the land register, or conduct public procurement electronically, but compared with other countries it is still abysmal. The electronic public procurement process, which made up only a small share of such activity, is an example of exactly how e-government should not be done. After all, e-government is not about technologies, but mostly about a change in the process and system of functioning. The government should apply strong pressure on central state administration bodies to use this tool, or even require them to use.

To be fair, I have to say that over the last year, several preconditions have been created that might change the situation concerning e-government. Some authorities involved in informatisation have changed, which might result in more effective application of changes. Also, an operation programme for the informatisation has been adopted. However, the most crucial thing is that intentions put on paper finally become a reality.

TSS: Has awareness of software piracy increased in Slovakia? What are the activities of the IT Association of Slovakia or IT companies in this area?

JS: The industry is interested in the protection of copyright and intellectual property, which is one of the motivations for investing in development. The situation in Slovakia does not fundamentally differ from similar countries, and has improved.

For example, software piracy has been dropping by 2 percent annually. The Business Software Alliance, which battles software piracy, has played a significant role in this area and the IT Association of Slovakia has supported it. Cooperation with the police has improved as well, while different campaigns targeted at piracy and prevention have been organised.

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