Digital Government in Romania – EU’s Laggard in the Race for the Digital Age
Just as Romania struggles to catch up to the west in terms of development, its government doesn’t seem to have an easy time catching up with the rest of Europe in terms of online governance.
According to the European Commission’s Digital Economy and Society Index report from 2021, the country has been ranked last out of all EU members, highlighting challenges around regulation and the lack of digital public services in Romania.
According to the report, although the country has one of the highest numbers of ICT graduates, it’s the shortage of ICT specialists that limits the country’s capacity to innovate and reap the benefits of digital transformation.
On “Human Capital” Romania ranks 26th out of 27 EU members.
However, technology and connectivity aren’t an issue for the country. It ranks 10th on connectivity. It improved in terms of coverage, with the fast broadband coverage increasing to 87%, reaching the EU average.
Slow progress before the pandemic
Until the outbreak of COVID-19, the digitalisation of public services had been progressing – but only slowly.
In 2007, the Public Procurement Electronic System (SEAP) was launched.
This e-procurement platform works as a portal for all public institutions to acquire supplies, services, and works electronically.
SEAP includes e-publication and e-submissions of contract notices and tender documentation while also enabling contracting authorities to carry out direct purchases electronically.
Meanwhile, in 2010, the Single Electronic Point of Contact (PCUe) was developed.
In the beginning, this service allowed downloading ready-made application templates and forms for contacting the public administration.
In 2016 this took a more extensive form, allowing the submission of documents to some institutions.
Currently, with the help of the PCUe, it is possible to carry out thousands of different administrative procedures.
However, a crucial element of e-government is an electronic payment system.
That’s why in 2011, the Ministry of Communications and Information Society launched the SNEP (National Electronic Payment System.)
This system enabled individuals to pay their obligations to public administration entities (at the local and central level) using payment cards.
However, it had limited efficiency and did not appeal to a significant part of the population.
And although this platform’s number of active users had gradually increased, it had only reached about 470,000 by the end of 2019 – until the pandemic.
2020 was challenging due to the government change at the year’s end and the infamous COVID-19.
The pandemic triggered the increased usage and demand for digital public services and accelerated the digital transformation of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
This made efforts to develop and deploy various ICT systems quickly and securely.
That’s why in 2020, the new government established the Ministry of Research, Innovation and Digitization.
This ministry would be responsible for and oversee the Authority for the Digitalization of Romania (ADR).
The key document concerning the country’s digitisation is the National Strategy on Digital Agenda for Romania for 2014-2020.
It planned to achieve goals by increasing efficiency, reducing public sector costs, reducing administrative barriers, and improving the competitiveness of the labour force in the country.
But despite the key objectives outlined in the document being actually fully achieved, this success came mainly from its modest assumptions.
And probably because the government did not foresee such a rapid development of the internet in society and business, to which the pandemic contributed.
The Government can largely improve Romania’s performance by continuing to develop and implement digitalisation measures.
This should involve:
- addressing the shortage of ICT specialists;
- boosting business digitalisation;
- closing the urban-rural digital gap
- improve connectivity
- and modernising the public administration to offer more (and better) digital services.
Although Romania has a high number of ICT graduates (as well as a high percentage of female ICT specialists), the country is facing a shortage of ICT specialists in the overall workforce.
This, in time, might limit the capacity to innovate and capitalise from innovation.
That’s why ensuring these ICT graduates stay in Romania and find work there will increase the number of ICT specialists.
Additionally, Romania will need to focus more on helping its citizens to develop their software and digital skills.
About the Author
Mohammad J Sear is focused on bringing purpose to digital in government.
He has obtained his leadership training from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, USA and holds an MBA from the University of Leicester, UK.
After a successful 12+ years career in the UK government during the premiership of three Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair, Mohammad moved to the private sector and has now for 20+ years been advising government organizations in the UK, Middle East, Australasia and South Asia on strategic challenges and digital transformation.
He is currently working for Ernst & Young (EY) and leading the Digital Government practice efforts across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and is also a Digital Government and Innovation lecturer at the Paris School of International Affairs, Sciences Po, France.
As a thought-leader some of the articles he has authored include: “Digital is great but exclusion isn’t – make data work for driving better digital inclusion” published in Harvard Business Review, “Holistic Digital Government” published in the MIT Technology Review, “Want To Make Citizens Happy – Put Experience First” published in Forbes Middle East.