Conclusions from panel discussions
Two panel discussions, Governance 2.0 and Digital Economy were organised within the conference “Digital governance for development acceleration”, held on 22 November 2019. The panellists were the representatives of the state administration, local self-government units, non-governmental sector, business sector and advisory bodies of the Government of Montenegro.
Panel discussion: Governance 2.0
All panellists departed from an undisputable premise that further digitalization of processes is inevitable, and that the speed of transformative processes in the institutions of the system must be harmonised as soon as possible. Although the legislative and strategic frameworks have been improved, there is still room for progress, primarily in terms of changes and amendments to the Law on Electronic Commerce, the Law on VAT, and other laws that have retained some of the old provisions instead of adapting to the new horizontal solutions that were introduced by the new legislation, such as those in the Law on Administrative Procedure, the Law on Electronic Administration and the like.
As it is not yet the case, panellists believe that communication and exchange of information within and between the state institutions must become digital as soon as possible. Although the Ministry of Public Administration coordinates this process, all institutions need to contribute with the digitalization of their own services. Panellists believe that easier, faster and paperless communication between institutions providing digital services to citizens will be a step towards more efficient business operations in private sector.
The very appearance and functionality of gov.me websites should be improved. Apart from the fact that sometimes it takes quite a while to perform simple actions such as loading of the website pages, it is necessary to make the appearance of the website and the categories of information uniformed. In this respect, it was said that the Open Government Partnership initiative to launch an open data portal has been excellent, but that institutions need to use it and import their databases.
It was said that the business sector had been rapidly adapting to these changes for the better. It was added that facilitating service provision and making it less costly remained imperative in the business operations and economic activities of an enterprise. It is of utmost importance to ensure continuous cooperation and synergy between the Government and businesses as well as to be responsive to the needs of businesses, which will continue to change in line with the trends of digitalization. Based on the latest Doing Business Report, Montenegro has not made any progress in the following categories: business registration, tax payment, real estate registration and building permit issuance, and it is necessary to work on digitalizing said services in order to improve the overall business environment.
Although the demographic structure of Montenegro does not seem to work in favour of the digitalisation processes, the panellists agree that it is possible to reach senior citizens, if the benefits are communicated, but also if the use of these services is popularized, by means of providing discounts on electronic payments, subsidies and using similar mechanisms.
The single information system for electronic data exchange allows for more and more institutions to be connected using this platform, and the number of those who have applied to be part of the platform is increasing. This will result in a more expedient data sharing and management reducing the paper exchange to the least extent possible. It is particularly encouraging that local self-governments recognize the importance of this system and are interested in the criteria they need to meet in order to become connected via this platform. As local self-governments remain closest to the citizens and provide a significant number of services at the local level, their involvement will be of great significance. One of the objectives should be the comprehensive linking of both state and local registers in order to simplify procedures and to enable citizens and businesses to fulfil their obligations or exercise their rights by visiting the counter only once or even better, by using e-services.
Panel discussion: Digital Economy
Montenegrin businesses remain more prominent and active users of e-services compared to citizens, given that using such services saves time. The business sector should invest more in ICT development, as well as in research and development. This kind of investment should not be considered as a cost but as a long-term profitable financial venture. The existing ICT infrastructure, which is inadequate in many respects, represents a main obstacle to digital transformation. It is also necessary to make use of the coming period to decide whether ICT represents a specific sector of the economy or horizontal support to other development sectors of national priority.
Investments in the ICT sector have been increasing for years. In addition, the Ministry of Economy has developed 10 business development incentive programs, as SMEs are the main drivers of economic development. Of the 10 programs, two are specifically ICT-oriented and aimed at fostering innovative business operations and supporting the introduction of international business standards.
In addition, the panellists addressed the role of innovation in the processes of digitalisation and economic strengthening, and the need to promote innovation among micro and small businesses, as they are most adaptable, flexible and responsive to changing trends in the market. In addition to micro and small businesses, special attention should be paid to the start-up community, which is currently not functioning as it should. One of the reasons for this is the lack of adequate legislation. In order to improve the position of start-ups, it was agreed to prepare a special law that would define incentive measures for the development of innovations. In this regard, the exemption from income tax for ICT and innovative businesses is under consideration, as well as incentive measures for tax loans to companies that invest in the development of start-ups and encourage cooperation with them. When it comes to the education sector, further efforts should be invested to strengthen ICT through all levels of education, while members of the workforce who do not possess adequate knowledge need to be provided with the opportunity to attend upskilling or reskilling programmes.
Businesses need to be engaged in stronger cooperation, especially for the purpose of their presence in foreign markets, which requires association and cooperation. Majority of students who graduate from IT faculties either leave Montenegro or work from their homes for foreign companies. This means that it is necessary to come up with an idea how to stimulate such professionals to stay in Montenegro, since brain drain represents a big problem, especially given the size of the country and the existing capacities of the country. One of the measures which needs to be taken into consideration is the salary, as the current ones are not competitive. It was concluded that in order to develop ICT in Montenegro, the state must come up with measures to retain existing and attract new workforce, as well as to strengthen monitoring and evaluation of projects in order to make timely decisions related to financing activities which, potentially, do not yield results, and possible reallocation of funds toward those that are more promising.
Project ”Support to the creation of a more transparent, efficient and service-oriented public administration“ is funded by the European Union and implemented by UNDP in cooperation with the Ministry of Public Administration.