E-Russia Moves Into 2nd Phase

The government launched the second stage of its Electronic Russia campaign by awarding six companies with 10 projects meant to reinvigorate the 76 billion ruble ($2.4 billion), eight-year initiative to make the bureaucracy more efficient.

The projects handed out through tenders are together worth 111.5 million rubles ($3.6 million) over the next two years, the Communications Ministry has said. The campaign will last through 2005.

E-Russia's first stage involved analyses by the Communications and Economic Development and Trade ministries of IT use in the government sector. Pilot projects were run in places like Chuvashia to test the viability of programs like filing taxes online to judge whether they would work on a nationwide scale.

Opening a forum on the impact of e-Russia for individuals, business and society, held in conjunction with the Svyaz Expocom-2003 exhibition last week, Communications Minister Leonid Reiman emphasized the collaboration between federal and regional IT promotion programs.

"[This conference] will help promote the integration of regional IT programs with the federal e-Russia program," Reiman told participants of the conference, the first of a series to take place in all seven federal districts this year.

The Institute of System Analysis at the Russian Academy of Sciences will develop a system of information and marketing centers and infrastructure that would let government bodies from schools to ministries order notebooks and other such supplies electronically, through a centralized system.

Software company TekhnoServ will provide intragovernmental electronic document exchange.

System integrator AYAXI will be responsible for creating web sites for government bodies. The firm last year designed a web site for President Vladimir Putin's Kremlin administration, www.president.kremlin.ru.

The other winners include Compulink and Informsistema, as well as the Prime-Tass news agency, which will cover the program's progress.

Tseren Tserenov, head of the department for corporate management and new economics at the Economic Development and Trade Ministry, said that with the second stage, government bodies at all levels should work to make themselves more transparent by opening up their information resources to the general public.

A series of pilot projects is planned within and among certain government bodies to assist the ongoing administrative, pension and housing-sector reforms.

This, Tserenov said, would demonstrate the advantages of electronic government.

"We are convinced that these reforms cannot be implemented without e-Russia," he said. "On the other hand, we can't build electronic government without a proper administrative reform. We can't automate the chaos."

Tserenov estimated that only eight or nine Russians in 100 have access to the Internet, while other data released earlier this year put that figure lower, between 4 percent and 5.5 percent of the population.

Increasing Internet penetration is thus a key to e-Russia's success.

When a critical mass of Internet users is reached -- a level Tserenov considered to be around 10 percent to 15 percent -- there will be a quality shift in IT usage, he said.

People will be more likely to use the Internet to request information, file their taxes online and register property, forming a constituency that will push for greater accessibility.

"There will be enough people to demand more openness from government and more services received from the government via the Internet. This will stimulate the government to implement the e-Russia program."

The government, in turn, will need to rework its functions to facilitate coordination among its diverse branches.

For example, Tserenov said, the city of Moscow loses $25 million per year in pensions that are paid out to the deceased because it takes up to six months for death certificates to arrive at the necessary organizations. Online paperwork would cut the time and the amount of money spent, Tserenov said.

"Why should a person be running around different government bodies to receive one piece of paper?" he said.

Ideally, that person could instead send one request to one body, which would share that information with the rest of the government apparatus. Something like a change of address would be submitted once and immediately on all government records.

"People save time and government saves its financial resources."

The Economic Development and Trade Ministry has proposed a legislative policy for the use and application of IT in economic and social spheres, spelling out what changes to laws are necessary and a timeframe for when they need to be adopted.

"The law on the electronic signature was adopted last year, but it is not working, because at the time of its adoption there was no concept of what legislation should follow the law," Tserenov said, adding that the law was not properly written. "To prevent this in the future, we need to have a clear concept of legislation."