The guest of this episode is Olga Tumuruc, Director of the Moldova e-Governance Agency, with whom we will discuss during two episodes what e-Governance means and its relationship with the citizen, how and until when the authorities intend to become a digital nation, which are the model and lagging institutions in terms of governmental electronic services, what are the effects of the resistance of justice to digital transformation and what is the impact of technologies on human rights.

Cu DREPTul: Olga, please explain what e-governance is.

Olga Tumuruc: Strictly speaking, e-governance would mean the use of information technologies in carrying out the act of governance, public functions and so on, but this is very strictly speaking. In fact, eGovernance is about streamlining the way everyone who wants to implement information technology in their work processes works. 

Cu DREPTul: Tell us a bit about the agency: what does it do, how long has it been operating, who is part of the team?

Olga Tumuruc: We have been active since 2010. The Agency is a public institution, founded by the State Chancellery. Why since 2010? Because then somehow the Government realized that technologies can generate efficiency and optimize the way of working and they needed a hub that would try to promote and integrate technologies into the whole activity of the public sector. The Government, or rather the country, has signed a financing agreement with the World Bank Group, in which it has initiated the implementation of a very ambitious project, which was called “Governance e-Transformation”. The project implementation unit was the e-Government Centre.

A strong professional team has been assembled, mostly high-level specialists from the private sector, i.e. with totally different visions from those in the public sector, and I think that was exactly what we needed to make the e-transformation of the government.

Organically, since 2010 until now, the team has grown, because the objectives have grown, the mandate, the mission of the agency has broadened, and today we are a team of almost 50 people, working on e-transformation, modernizing public services, developing e-government infrastructure and generating change. 

Cu DREPTUL:  To what extent can we and can you say that the transformation towards e-governance has been successful? It’s been 12 years, where are we at now? What has been achieved? What is still on its way?

Olga Tumuruc: When we started in 2010, the basic objective was and still is, in fact, it is an ongoing objective – to have as many electronic public services as possible, because this is largely the means, the channel through which citizens most often interact with the State, but then, in 2010, to start developing electronic services was too early because we didn’t have very many elements necessary for an electronic service. We had no way of uniquely identifying the person we were talking to on the other side of the computer, for example, is really Olga Tumuruc who she says she is and not someone else; we didn’t have a resilient designation infrastructure; we didn’t have data exchange; we didn’t have electronic payment; we didn’t have delivery elements – all those components that are normally necessary for the development of an electronic service. That’s what we started with back then – developing these building boxes or Lego jigsaw pieces that we could reuse to set up electronic services. We call this an e-Governance ecosystem or e-Governance infrastructure.

We can boast now that we have all these building blocks in place: e-identity, e-signature service, e-payment, data exchange infrastructure, we have a government cloud, where all these government services are hosted, first of all, but also e-government services that are being developed, being configured over time.

But anyway it’s an ongoing thing and we cannot say we have it all ready, because what was developed years ago has to be maintained and has to be modernized, because of new challenges. In addition to these elements or building boxes developed, today we have the biggest challenge – to develop electronic public services.

Cu DREPTul: What are the big challenges, and where does resistance fit in among them?

Olga Tumuruc: There are several challenges here and we, the e-Governance Agency, have to face them, process them, somehow mediate all of them. Now from the point of view of modernizing public services, which means change, the biggest challenge is indeed the resistance to change on behalf of many service providers. Here, we sometimes even reach extremes, some paradoxes, because when we have discussions with them and in these discussions we ask them why they perform in such a way, somehow everyone shrugs, because that’s how it is, because they are used to it.

And we are trying to change their paradigm, their perspective, because the provision of a service, yes, is a function of the State, but it is not an objective in itself, the provision of the service must be seen from the perspective of the need of the citizen, the beneficiary.

And then, we have to build the service delivery from the citizen’s point of view, as it is more comfortable for them, depending on what problems they face and how to solve them, but not because that is how we are used to operate. Sometimes we succeed, sometimes we have to write somewhere that we have to do it this way, and not the other way around, and then we mediate the problem that resists to change.

Another challenge would be that of capacity, of resources, and here we are talking about resources in all senses – financial, human and time, because we have very little time available.

Although we are very well positioned with these elements of e-Governance infrastructure, however, with regard to their practical use of e-Services, we are a bit behind and this means a lot of pressure from citizens, from beneficiaries. Let us do this, let us generate this change and then we have to somehow run behind the train, if you like, to develop these electronic services as quickly as possible. The human resources challenge is that the IT sector, however, is extremely market competitive, and even private companies have a problem in attracting staff and have a different ability to attract and retain people.

The financial challenge, I think, is for the whole country, especially this year, when we have one crisis after another. However, we have development partners who are with us and are very much involved, because digitization, as I said, is a path to change, to optimization and they are very much interested in contributing and harnessing the potential of our country to generate these changes.

Cu DREPTul: What is happening to the Development Strategy in this area? What are the priority objectives?

Olga Tumuruc: Moldova has had several strategies. How far we have succeeded each time in achieving those goals is a different story, it is on a case-by-case basis. This year, however, together with the development partners, we have joined forces to develop a new Digital Transformation Strategy for 2030, but this process of gathering needs, ideas and visions has been a very broad consultative process, with many members of the community – businesses, civil society organizations, young people, academia and public institutions, obviously. It is certain that the major objective of this Strategy is to become a digital nation, because it is a thing of the future, which if we don’t start now seriously to acknowledge and implement, we might not be able to catch up later on this trend, this vector, it might be too late.

Cu DREPTul: What is a digital nation?

Olga Tumuruc: A digital nation would mean, first of all, that if we talk about electronic services than these are by default electronic, but if we talk about those who consume them that would mean that they by default or implicitly opt to access an electronic service. They trust these electronic services, they trust that these are secure, that they will get what they ask for in a shorter, more optimal time and obviously, at a lower cost.

A digital nation is about educating ourselves in the spirit of information technology, getting comfortable with it, making it an organic part of our daily lives, not something like: “Well, I’d better go to the counter anyway, I can talk to someone there…”, but for it to go without saying.

Obviously this is an effort in addition to everything we have to develop in terms of technology and security. Nurturing trust is also a huge effort of education and discussions, and persuasion, if I may, but to change this perception we must start from the lowest level, from the first step, from kindergarten and have an ongoing communication with all members of the society.

Cu DREPTul: Now, how far or close are we from this by-default, implicitly, that you talked about? And I sense, but correct me if I am wrong, if that’s the case, it involves more than a technical effort to change…

It is true. It is not a technical change effort, although most of the public services that are available now are still provided in a traditional non electronic way, and in order to deliver them electronically, first of all, we have to go through a phase of rethinking, optimization, to exclude some steps, to exclude some documents because we cannot change them as they are now.

Olga Tumuruc: It is an effort on that side too, but, you are right, it is mostly an effort of accommodation and understanding that the services that are offered by a provider are primarily electronic services. To get to this stage, the citizen should have the same experience, whether they go to the providing authority or open the public services portal and select an option to apply for a service. In Estonia for example, when a person goes to a service provider, the Estonians do not seat the person in front of the operator at the counter, but invite the customer to a screen that guides him/her how to access the needed service electronically.

It is a change that I dream to have in the Republic of Moldova, because somehow in our country this is still unimaginable, people have learned, even if they do not like it, even if it causes them great inconvenience, they have learned to walk, to sit down, because they probably have more security when talking to an operator, but a very good transition phase is to guide the service provider in using an electronic service, even if it is at the institution, because one time they will go and show them what to click on and what to select, they will come the second time but the third time, the person will say, but I think I can do it too, I’m not going to that or other institution. 

Cu DREPTul: You mentioned Estonia. It is often showcased as a model country. Does it actually dictate the trends and to what extent could or should Moldova follow its example?

Olga Tumuruc: Estonia is an example, first of all, because it thought a long time ago that it should use actively and interactively the technologies in the process of governance and service delivery. Its history is not just 10 years like ours, but at least 30 years of being on the path of digital transformation and obviously, we have to get inspired from their successes and failures, but first and foremost, how cool and familiar and comfortable the people are with the technologies.

I think this is the most we can and should take over from the Estonians – the familiarity of the whole country, the whole nation with information technologies.

Because the practical way to configure one service or another is very particular and very often a technology cannot be implemented in Moldova exactly as in Estonia. Sometimes it might be the path to failure, but openness to technologies and the conviction that this is the only way forward, at the highest level, and not just in words but in deeds too, must surely be what we can take from the Estonians. Now we have all the chances to become a second country after Estonia.

Cu DREPTul: How does Moldova rank? Because we brag often that we have very fast internet….

Olga Tumuruc: I have to tell you that we don’t know how to brag, we don’t know how to talk about our successes. And here we also have to learn from the Estonians, because they know very well how to position themselves both at home and abroad to talk about what they have developed and achieved and maybe, this is also a mechanism to convince their own citizens.

Because if you talk at the country’s highest level about technologies, digitization, these changes, it is obvious that the citizens will line up and think differently, and will have more confidence in these.

Cu DREPTul: Where do we stand compared to other countries, including in the region?

Olga Tumuruc: We are positioned quite well. In the country we have very well structured, organized information resources, we have good records on population, on organizations, business, on transport, on drivers, on social assistance, on healthcare, we have good records in the tax field. So we have a very good operational basis that we can later reuse to build e-services. We are very well positioned in terms of e-governance infrastructure, which together with information resources allows us to develop e-services. We are, if I may, even better positioned than Romania with whom we are now in an active process of collaboration to see how we can extend our best practices to Romania and build a common digital space together. Moldova’s experience is very often looked at and sought in Asian, African countries, and including Ukraine. Our achievements are recognized regionally and even internationally, we just don’t know how to brag about them, as I said, but that would be a very important marketing element and an element that would bring more confidence to our citizens in what we do.

Cu DREPTul: You mentioned that we have all chances to become a second model after Estonia. What should we do about it?

Somehow even the Estonians were saying that currently we have all the prerequisites to become a second model country following Estonia’s example, inspiring many other countries to go digital.

Olga Tumuruc: They said it, and we are also convinced of this from the perspective that we have an understanding and a window of opportunity right now, because we are supported both at political and governmental levels, as well as by the development partners, so an alignment of all these factors would allow us to have necessary resources for development, to be supported, if we want to promote a policy of change or a policy in the area of regulatory framework. And we have felt this, because any change or any new service must be accompanied by an appropriate regulatory framework, and we have had all the necessary support, I cannot say unconditionally, but all the support we needed to promote these initiatives, including donor support to fund certain initiatives and develop the solutions we need. We have this window of opportunity which we have to use, because we might not have it later and then it will be much harder to come up with changes in this area, especially as the focus is already put on other more critical issues, if I may say so. 

This episode reflects only half of our discussion with Olga Tumuruc, the Director of e-Governance Agency. I invite you to listen to the next episode, in which we will discuss model institutions, but also those who fail in terms of optimizing public services, the digitization of justice services, but also, the risks and opportunities of technologies in relation to human rights.

This text is an excerpt from the CuDREPTul podcast. The full version, audio and text, exists only in Romanian.