Milena Harito (PhD in computer sciences) was working at Orange France in 2012 when Edi Rama, then leader of the center-left opposition in Albania, asked her to develop a government project for the digitization of Albania to be included in his election campaign platform for the 2013 parliamentary elections. Having won those elections, Edi Rama became Prime Minister. He named Milena Harito Minister of Innovation and Public Administration in charge of implementing the "2013-2017 Digital Albania" program. She shares that story here.
“There is no use in developing e-services without having defined clear organizational and institutional procedures beforehand. Otherwise, we are doing nothing but transposing the original chaos online”
In 2013, Albania, like other developing countries, suffered from the inadequacies of its administrative public services, reinforced by widespread corruption in the civil servant population facing individual users. Many civil servants would not provide the services due until they received payment from the citizens for this.
In this context, digitizing the public administration became a means to achieve three targets
This ambition, set out by the Prime Minister, was shared with all the public institutions in contact with citizens and all those involved in developing the digital ecosystem.
At the same time, the government sought funding from various partners: UNDP, the United Nations’ financing agency, the World Bank and the European Union.
To ensure that the e-services it creates do make life easier for citizens and speed up their online roll-out, it drew inspiration from the good organizational and institutional models that were already working abroad: for example, it adopted the French model
for the development of single forms such as CERFAs, and the Georgian model for all the organizational aspects.
The creation of a legal framework defining the very concept of customer service, virtually non-existent up to that point, was the first step in implementing the program. The government ratified a law transforming the processes and standards in public service by introducing the concept of service obligation for the State, defining the quality of service and its evaluation methods, as well as citizens’ duties with regard to the public services.
Moreover, in order to prevent corruption, the Albanian State opted for an innovative front-office/back-office mechanism that guarantees both quality of service and verification thereof: it created an Agency that serves as the only point of contact with the user, whatever that user's administrative service needs. This one-stop shop takes up the user's request and sends it to the government agency in charge (land registry, civil registry, etc.). It also sends the response to the citizen after verifying that it matches the expected service.
The recruitment and career development procedures for civil servants were also modified, with the introduction of a general competitive examination similar to that of the French system. Albania’s National School of Public Administration was created with the help of the French ENA, via a European twinning project.
As the connectivity of citizens is the essential foundation for developing the use of online services, the State carried out a precise assessment of those needs in terms of improved connectivity throughout the country, along with a pre-feasibility study. It then asked the European Commission to list broadband coverage on the overall connectivity agenda for the Balkans. It was during that same period that the shift from 3G to 4G took place for mobile operators.
To encourage the use of online services, the State opted for two levers:
It also drew on institutional campaigns broadcast on television and on the country's portals to raise awareness in the population, as well as on training actions. For instance, high school teachers were trained in the use of public services so that, in turn, they could pass this knowledge on to their students with the aim of forming a generation of digital natives.
Today, the portal www.e-albania.al offers citizens and businesses several hundred online services. Its usage figures continue to rise, mainly from mobile, the device most used by the population to go online. Efforts are continuing to develop and improve public services, fiber accessibility issues being still prominent in the country.
With 3 years of perspective, the first measures having been launched since 2015, the Albanian administration’s digital transformation process brought to light four major challenges, which can be considered as many success factors. The need:
1. To tirelessly work to convince all stakeholders of the merits of digitization. In a country burdened by problems of all kinds, the development of digital technology appears a luxury to some. In order to bring on board as many people as possible from the government and the public institutions and turn them into staunch and active supporters of the transformation process, it is essential to consistently explain that digital technology is the key driving force for achieving the desired “leap forward” in terms of economic and social progress.
2. Persuade the program's financial providers of the State’s capacity to transform.
3. Involve, in the development of e-services, those civil servants who have developed a unique understanding of public services. This is because the transposition of public services is not only a technical subject relevant only to IT specialists.
4. Draw upon appropriate skills, a real challenge in countries that have experienced massive emigration in the last 20 years and in which the employment of ICT experts is subject to significant tension.
The Republic of Albania in brief
The budget for the “2013-2017 Digital Albania” program: €60m half financed by a World Bank credit, and the other half by the European Union and the Albanian Government.