Authorities change, without procurement tender

National agency directly chose GlobalTel and Swan Mobile, companies that also supply the whole public information system, for the new investment. (Source: Sme)

The website that is the gateway to e-government in Slovakia has been criticised for its weak usability and high costs. The state has now decided to change it - by pouring millions of euros into the project.

As of November 2016, all public authorities are obliged to carry out their activities electronically, through the website, also known as the Central Government Portal.

The National Agency for Network and Electronic Services (NASES) introduced a new investment project to improve information system modules connected to the portal. While the government agency directly chose suppliers for the investment during Christmas holidays, IT experts perceive the project as an ill-timed effort to bail out the portal's shortcomings.

“These are the exact practices that only reinforce the feeling that the state IT sector is non-transparent and full of backstage transactions where you scratch my back and I will scratch yours,” Ján Hargaš of the Slovensko.Digital initiative told The Slovak Spectator.

Extension of modules

The new investment, worth €19.5 million including VAT, adjusts and improves existing modules of the portal designed to navigate electronic state services via a single access point. The project implements recent legislative changes to the public information system, according to NASES spokeswoman Martina Slušná.

The project contains an expansion of capacity of the electronic registry, changes to the respective modules, records of the judicial and administrative charges and registers of the national selection procedure, successful graduates, and redundant civil servants. Though the government agency has to implement these changes in the first half of 2017, it has not yet disclosed a calculation of the contract including the work budget.

“The calculation is negotiated with the contractor and after the end of negotiations it will be released to the public in a transparent way,” NASES wrote to the Denník N daily.

Without public procurement

However, the suppliers that the agency directly chose for the investment, GlobalTel and Swan Mobile, are the same as for the whole public information system project. IT experts and the public are displeased with the non-competitive selection of suppliers, shows the ongoing dispute on the Slovensko.Digital discussion platform.

Read also:Governmental agency plans to change website without competition Read more 

NASES justifies its choice by the official announcement that only a certain entity can provide specific work, goods and services connected to the investment. Moreover, Slušná pointed out that the suppliers delivered specific information systems in 2015 and in accordance with the contract they provide a guarantee for a period of 36 months. Changes to the systems implemented by third parties would result in termination of the guarantee in full, she said.

“The loss of the guarantee would have meant an extreme risk for seamless operation of the system and all state-operated electronic services,” Slušná told The Slovak Spectator.

Another reason is that the supplier that would win the potential competition might not be able to meet the deadline connected with the forthcoming law on the establishment of the electronic evidence of tenders in civil service by June 2017.

Denník N, however, pointed to the fact that the head of NASES, Norbert Molnár, in the past worked for one of the providers, Swan.

Once is enough? has already cost €47.5 million partly financed from EU funds and has changed its user interface several times, but it has still been criticised for its weak usability. Hargaš pointed out that NASES improved the appearance and orientation in the partition where citizens search for ways to solve life situations. Provided services are, however, still bound to a red tape agenda, he said.

“Hence, their use still requires a certain degree of bureaucratic acrobatics,” Hargaš said.

In addition, there is still no principle 'once is enough' and citizens must also submit data that the state now holds, according to Hargaš. Currently, definitely does not comply with the requirements of modern government portal, which we can see abroad, and citizens definitely deserve more for the money spent.

“Though there are a lot of things on the portal, by the time citizens get a hold of them, they could just as well find them faster by the classic way in offices,” Hargaš said.

In 2016, NASES added text message and email notification to the portal, simplified notification settings directly on the top of the clipboard and introduced automatic detection of user’s operation system during the software installation, said Slušná.

Firms have to activate inboxes

From July 2017, all Slovak companies will be required to have activated electronic mailboxes on to communicate with state organisations. If statutory representatives want to get the mailbox, they must dispose with activated electronic ID card, corresponding security code and electronic signature.

By now, however, only 44 percent of statutory representatives have activated their IDs with security code and another 19 percent hold inactive IDs. About 75,000 people (37 percent) have no electronic ID at all, the Interior Ministry stated in a press release.

Read also:Card readers’ stocks running out Read more 

Agency educates

While the portal shares an abundance of information which can be confusing for some entrepreneurs, the state agency offers training courses on the use of mailboxes including the installation process and consultations concerning possible problems.

The approximately two-hour training costs €50 per person at the workplace of the agency or €750 per group of maximum 50 people outside of the workplace. While the training initially served only for state institutions, as of the beginning of this year, the agency also provides it to companies, the self-employed and civic organisations.

“We have responded to increased interest in training mainly from the business side,” said Andrea Janotová, head of the application operation section of NASES, as quoted by Denník N.

Though training may help entrepreneurs to acquire better orientation in the portal, Hargaš pointed to unnecessary charges comparing the state portal with existing internet banking websites for which banks provide free courses.

“Can you imagine that any bank charges for the course where you learn about its own product?” said Hargaš, adding that it would provoke a dispute about the quality of the product.

Ways to improve the portal

The most important areas for improvement of the portal for consumers include orientation, quality search engine, removal of bureaucratic language, introduction of the principle, once is enough, and better linking of services to real life situations. Citizens are not particularly interested in state hierarchy, said Hargaš.

“When a citizen gives birth to a baby, they want to settle everything in one place, with minimum administration, and they do not want to click through red tape agendas,” Hargaš said.

While all the information systems of the public administration should become part of one joint portal by 2018, NASES plans to implement a major change to in the near future.

“We will focus not only on the design but also on the introduction of more intuitive services to allow less information proficient users to be able to use e-services too,” said Slušná.

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