RIGA - The government of Latvia is preparing to confront the big challenge not only of enlarging the catalogue of electronic services available for its citizens, but also of making the services attractive for everyone to use. To do so, the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development has started an innovative project in over 1,800 libraries all over the country to train Latvians to use public e-services that, in some cases, are offered only via the Internet.
Usage of the Internet in Latvia grew 24 percent from 2007 to 2009, so the Baltic country now has the 15th highest use of Internet in Europe. Latvia has improved its e-Government services in the past three years thanks to the European Development funds. The head of the Electronic Services Division, Gatis Ozols, says that services online are selected taking into account the level of demand by the population. In the meantime, the European Union has identified 20 basic public services which must be provided in electronic form for citizens and businesses.
These 20 basic public services include income taxes, unemployment benefits, child allowances, medical costs and student grants. This further includes services on personal documents such as a passport, driver’s license and car registration, as well as an application for building permission, declaration to the police, public libraries, certificates of birth and marriage in Riga and Ventspils municipalities, enrollment in higher education, an announcement of moving and health related services.
Public e-services for businesses include the social contribution for employees, corporation tax, Value Added Tax (VAT), registration of a new company, submission of data to statistics offices (a user manual in LV), customs declarations, environment related permits and public procurement.
According to The Service Directive (Directive 2006/123/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council on services in the internal market), each EU country has to set up a ‘Point of Single Contact’ (PSC) for businesses. This Point of Single Contact provides information easily, allows the user to submit applications electronically and receive decisions or other replies from the authorities.
The Point of Single Contact in Latvia, at www.latvija.lv, informs users about services regarding culture, finance, economics and business, public administration and justice, education and science, safety, environment, nature, sport, Latvia in the European Union, society, history and tourism and travel.
In this context, the projects of the government include the electronic identification card that will be available at the end of this year. The Electronic Services Division has also made it possible that students can apply electronically to three universities: the University of Latvia, Riga Technical University and Latvian Agriculture University. These schools have joined in one unique system.
Ozols adds that the biggest challenge nowadays is to train citizens to use these e-services. According to the Head of Electronic Services Division of the Ministry of Regional Development, 65 percent of the Latvian population uses the Internet once a week.
But those who talk about the usage of e-Governement aren’t as optimistic, even though Latvia offers the sixth fastest Internet service in the world. Ozols admits that the coverage does not always reach the rural areas. In order to change this, librarians all over Latvia are introducing users to the secrets of Internet banking and e-Government services.
In addition, Latvians are being encouraged to ‘do it online’ also in a portal dedicated to this effect. The department directed by Ozols also scans social networks to discover problems citizens comment on online regarding the institutions.
This February, various cities in Latvia will hold activities on the European Get Online Week. The Latvian Information Technology and Telecommunications Association is in charge of the program. The Get Online Week is a Europe-wide campaign to get new computer users online.
A new virtual e-Signature portal, www.eparaksts.lv, has been opened. The e-Signature project has been developed by the Latvian State Radio and Television Center (LSRTC). “The electronic signature in the Internet is a cardinal step towards the development of the e-environment in Latvia. All obstacles have been removed that hampered many Latvian people to sign documents electronically. The new technology is easily comprehensible, secure and economic as to costs. I believe that in a couple of years it will become an invaluable tool for anybody in Latvia,” said Janis Bokta, CEO of LSRTC, at the press conference to present this new service.
E-Signature will enable legally binding communication with Latvian institutions, banks, telecommunication services providers and signing of business agreements or official communication with EU institutions in Brussels. “We can be proud that it is in Latvia where this new approach to the use of e-Signature has been developed, thus considerably improving the sustainability of the service and its use in the everyday lives of the people. E-Signature has entered a new stage of development and the Ministry of Transport has already started to work on legislative alignment to improve availability of e-Signature and make it easy to use,” added Uldis Augulis, Minister of Transport.
The cost of the new e-Signature is, for one signing, 0.29 lats (0.41 euros), and for twenty times 2.90 lats. It is possible to get an unlimited number of the e-Signature, up to the end of the year, for 6.99 lats. It can be used from any equipment connected to the Internet.
Authentication for the e-Signature homepage is done by using the bank card number and code card or code calculator. Application for e-Signature is possible in the LSRTC Customer Service Centers that, in cooperation with the State Agency Culture Information Systems, are opened in 60 libraries all over Latvia.