Liia Hänni, program director at the e-Governance Academy and a former Cabinet minister, has said that while the state scored a number of successes in the area of information society last year, in 2013 it should set new goals and catch up on questions where it has lagged behind.
Hänni examined a chapter in the Cabinet's governing program named “From E-State to I-State” that aims to shift e-development focus towards citizens. The chapter has 33 steps from affordable, ultra-fast internet for every home to creating a "characteristic face" and positive international image for i-Estonia.
“The state has something to show on guaranteeing access to ultra-fast internet – the ESTWIN network, which will cover the whole country when complete, is one third complete and will provide internet to over 100 local municipalities. Funding for the next stage has not yet been earmarked but the government hopes to obtain EU funding. The method for guaranteeing a reasonably priced internet service for end-users in areas not covered by major service providers is still in the planning phase,” Hänni told uudised.err.ee.
The government launched the IT Academy, as promised in the government program. “On top of creating the academy, many higher education institutes have increased the number of students admitted to IT programs and funding has been increased with the aim relieving employee shortages in the IT sector,” Hänni said.
The state, with the help of the European Commission, has patched up legislation on public sector information processing. The commission was prepared to sue Estonia if the state's legislation was not brought into line with EU directives, said Hänni.
She expressed hope that the new changes in legislation will have a positive effect on “placing the state's e-assets in the service of citizens and companies” – a step in the government's program. “The action plan called the Green Book has been bogged down for the last year, but now some major arguments over legislation have been settled,” Hänni said.
An interesting endeavor has been the disclosure of local municipalities' financial information using cloud technology, said Hänni, although she added that few have used the opportunity.
The government program has put great emphasis on the development of public sector e-services and, as EU funds are widely available, nearly all ministries have completed e-projects. “In Estonia an 'e-' can be added to nearly every service (e-health, e-police, e-school, e-archive, etc.) and we can be proud of this achievement. How e-services raise the quality of public services and tackle people's specific problems is a different matter altogether,” she said.
Estonia's focus on the international stage in 2012 was largely aimed at influencing EU policies, said Hänni. “The priority is to develop a European digital common market using Estonia's experiences in implementing e-ID and digital signatures. The corresponding EU decree is on the drawing board and it is in Estonia's interests to bring the decree into accordance with our system, or we will have to change our systems in the future,” she said, adding that a second goal in the European Union is to increase the union's cyber security capabilities and that bringing the EU's IT Agency to Tallinn can be considered a victory.
Another step in the program states "e-citizens are quick and active partners of e-officials and e-politicians". "It seems that citizens have taken a leading role in implementing the government's promise. All we need is to take a look at a petition to increase teachers salaries that sprung from social media or the opposition to ACTA that resulted in the rejection of the treaty in the European Parliament," Hänni said.
She also mentioned some international studies. "The World Economic Forum ranks Estonia 24th in the annual Global Information Technology Report; the UN has us at 20th place in a similar index. Estonia has in recent years not improved its position and has instead experienced a slight decline. Most nations take information and communications technology very seriously, and resting on our laurels can cost us dearly,” Hänni said.
Hänni said she hope that 2013 would be the year when the government catches up in building the information society and defines new goals.
A former Reform Party minister, Liia Hänni is a member of the government watchdog "Valitsemise Valvurid," a group of independent experts who observe how the government fulfills its official coalition program.
The watchdog's website is managed by ERR and Praxis, and funded by the Open Estonia Foundation.