|Topic:||Building An Information Society in Romania|
|Organisation:||Information Technology and Communications|
Romania has a 10% Internet penetration. Until recently the Internet was mostly used to look for information or for entertainment. In Romania 56,6% of the households have fixed telephones so individuals and small businesses tend to use dial-up connections to the Internet. Romania’s task, now, is to convince individuals and businesses to use the Internet to improve their lives, to work more efficiently, to seek access new markets and to better use the opportunities available in the virtual environment.
Romania is part of a global European effort for the development of the Information Society. Our national priorities in this field are the modernization of public administration and government services and improving the standard of living through information technology. Our efforts are concentrated upon such areas as health care, environmental protection, transportation, development of the information technology sector, workforce training for the Information Society, adaptation of the educational system and creation of digital content. To accomplish these objectives, the government has planned a series of projects for the years 2001-2004 to facilitate wider access to the Internet and to provide our citizens with education and continuous – lifelong – training. Projects have also been established to stimulate e-commerce and, also, to speed up the transition to e-government to give citizens and companies better access to government services. Close to 10% of Romania’s population has access to the Internet. The Internet is still mostly used to obtain information or for entertainment. More than 56% of Romania’s households have fixed telephony and dial-up connections are still the most commonly used. Romania is now seeking ways to convince its citizens and businesses to use the Internet in order to improve their lives and to increase workplace efficiency by providing access to new markets and to the opportunities available in the virtual environment. The Internet is increasingly used on a regular basis, or even non-stop, as people find many of the answers there to the problems they encounter daily. Electronic mail and entertainment alone are not, in most cases, strong enough reasons to acquire an “always on” connection to Internet. Most people and companies, expect the Internet to provide ways in which they can better do their jobs or enjoy their lives. In that respect, digital content, online services and applications are decisive. Governments can make as much of a difference to their citizens by fostering content development as they can by supporting technological development. This is a fundamental premise of the Romanian Government’s aggressive promotion of e-Government. By electronically providing government related information and services to its citizens and business community, public institutions can actively encourage the development of Romania’s Information Society. There are many ways the government’s Information Society programs can bring benefits to the population, but among the most significant are a low cost, 24 hours a day, bureau of information that provides relevant information on-line and systems that permit the efficient handling tasks such as the downloading and filing of forms or tax payments on-line. The use of Internet is the best way to provide opportunities for greater competitiveness, business growth and new business activities. Benefits such as timesaving, cost-cutting, non-stop access to public services will stimulate the business environment. Due to the de-bureaucratization process companies should be able to perform better, be more adaptable and flexible and lower their costs. Since the Internet largely eliminates geographic barriers to communication, access to global markets will improve. By being able to communicate more easily with clients, companies will be able to diversify their services and, in many cases, offer around-the-clock availability. Dial- up connections will no longer suffice in an environment where the greater part of an organization’s administrative activity is on-line. On-line administrative systems create a need for faster, uninterrupted, connections. As a major step towards increasing the use of Internet, the Romanian Government recently passed a law, soon to enter into effect, that consists of a series of provisions to insure the transparency of transactions that take place electronically. This initiative takes into account all of Romania’s public institutions, at the local or national level, and includes obligations for each of them to create web-sites within the next 6 months. Gradually, all of these institutions will start providing services by electronic means: from downloading forms to on-line fill in, on-line processing of forms, payments etc. The deadline for the program’s implementation is 2 years from now. We expect that the services offered on-line, due to the improved access to the services and information of government agencies and institutions and the simplification of bureaucratic procedures, will create a solid base for the growth of Internet use. Some of public services that will be provided by electronic means are: local tax declarations, notifications and payments, contributions to social security insurance and to the national fund for social health insurance. On-line services will also include approvals or certificates for urbanization projects, construction authorizations, invoice payments, licensing applications, document transmittal, license issuance and the associated payments. Government acquisitions, purchases and payments will also be dealt with on-line as will, the registry and opening of new businesses. The list of planned on-line services is long and includes: passport services, identity cards, driving license, change of address notifications, declaration of document theft or lose, vehicle purchase notifications, license plate number reservations, vehicle registry, custom-house formalities and the like. This program, though, is just one of a series of initiatives that aim to get citizens and businesses working on-line with the Government. At the moment 50 of the biggest companies in Romania can send their accounting statements to the Ministry of Public Finances on-line using a portal especially created for this purpose. We expect, shortly, to extend the use of this portal to a larger number of companies. Also, the government implemented two national projects the last year: a national system for public purchases and the one for the electronic payment of local taxes. Thus, the payment of local taxes via the Internet and the effective use of e-Tax systems will be possible in every city in Romania by the end of 2003; it is already functional in 34 cities. Purchasing by electronic means is a key component in the process of modernizing Romania’s Government. Through the use of this system, implemented in March 2002, the Romanian Government proved it can lower its costs, encouraged the private sector to move to B2B, created ways to reduce bureaucracy and ensure transparency, by building efficient and accountable public sector institutions, capable of sustaining long term development. The system permits private companies to register themselves as providers to the government. We have received many compliments regarding the system’s accessibility and the chance it gives to smaller companies in every part of the country to sell to the government. More than 8000 companies and public institutions, at present, use the electronic system for public acquisitions (www.e-licitatie.ro); it has become a model for doing business using the Internet. During the last two years, certain habits and mentalities that were well fixed in Romanian society have changed and the government is promoting new solutions and services based on the latest technology. Recently, it was decided that public utility service providers must accept credit cards payment starting in July 2003. Large commercial stores are being required to purchase ATM devices by January 1, 2004. These measures aimed at implementing electronic payments solutions, as well as the legislative framework adopted in the recent years, are creating the basis for the development of electronic commerce and other Internet based for-profit activities. Conclusion The long-terms objectives for the implementation of the national Information Society strategy will only be attained if information technologies become widely available, and if the economy can keep up with these advances. In Romania, until recently, the Internet was mainly used to for information searches, email and entertainment. Now it is used for government purchasing, on-line payment of local taxes, to make appointments with doctors, to file the forms to get into college, to search for a job, and much more. Tomorrow, in Romania, the Internet will be used on a larger scale for telecommuting, telemedicine, GRID computing, e-commerce, distance training, customers relations management, among others. What we are trying to do now – what is needed to take us to the next phase – is make people, especially managers of small and medium businesses, understand the benefits of the Information Society in order to create a new culture, and a new generation of users, accustomed to doing business on the Net. Offering basic public services via the Internet, and developing adequate digital content, might well be the best way to achieve this objective.