”Every citizen of the Republic of Moldova must benefit from the implementation of this strategy and no citizen can be excluded. The document should be developed in an extensive participatory manner, with the detailed consultation of all interested actors and the involvement of as many opinions as possible, including to ensure that important aspects have not been omitted and to develop a sense of "ownership" of the document, with the aim of increasing the chances and capabilities of implementing the strategy...”
Recently, the Government of the Republic of Moldova completed a year of activity and one of the new activity priorities is the deep digital transformation of the country at all levels. Digital transformation is mentioned as a priority in the governance program of the current executive, including by establishing, for the first time, a position of Deputy Prime Minister for Digitization, with the aim of coordinating all efforts in the reference field at Government level and, in particular, of the most important specialized institutions in this area: the Electronic Government Agency (AGE), the Public Services Agency (ASP) and the Information Technology and Cyber Security Service (STISC).
Digital transformation is no longer a specialized, niche field. This represents an imperative of the time in all sectors of life and in all fields of activity of all states of the world, including the Republic of Moldova. Any field can and must benefit from the advantages of modern technologies, by simplifying or eliminating bureaucratic procedures, reducing dependence on the human factor, avoiding repetitive and purely technical procedures, excluding corruption factors and increasing trust in state institutions. Any state in the world has a choice between implementing a true digital transformation, which includes the majority of its citizens and thus becoming more competitive in an increasingly technological world, or, to lag behind this global trend, preserving procedures and practices which have become inefficient, bureaucratic, cumbersome, expensive.
From these considerations, the need to develop a national strategic document that specifies the most important elements related to a coherent and effective digital transformation is absolutely obvious. It should be noted that, at this moment, the Republic of Moldova does not have a national strategy in the field. The Digital Moldova Strategy 2020 expired two years ago and other similar documents were not developed subsequently. Currently, the Government of the Republic of Moldova, with the support of the UNDP, is developing the Digital Transformation Strategy 2023-2030. This document is to be approved by the end of the current year. The concept of the document is in the public consultation phase, being available for consultations and comments on the public consultation portal particip.gov.md until August 19. According to Government Decision no. 386 of June 2020, if the actions of the public policy document exceed the Government's area of responsibility, the respective strategy must also be approved by the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova, becoming, after its approval, a reference document for the entire society, government institutions, public administration local, private sector etc.
The respective document falls under this criterion, having as its fundamental principle the "whole society" approach, which means an inclusive digital transformation in all areas: the infrastructure necessary for the development of a digital society, the development by all public institutions of new digital services, legal regulations, standardization , data protection and cyber security, the full participation of the private sector and, in particular, the human dimension of this complex process.
Every citizen of the Republic of Moldova must benefit from the implementation of this strategy and no citizen can be excluded. The document should be developed in an extensive participatory manner, with the detailed consultation of all interested actors and the involvement of as many opinions as possible, including to ensure that important aspects have not been omitted and to develop a sense of "ownership" of the document, with the aim of increasing the chances and capabilities of implementing the strategy.
The overall objective of the strategy reflects these principles, by developing a functional and secure environment for the development and widespread use of digital services in every area of life. The mission of the document is to achieve an efficient public governance, to increase the well-being of citizens as a result of the use of digital services, but also to increase competitiveness in all spheres of life. As a result of the implementation of the document, the Republic of Moldova must become an inclusive and innovative digital society, with digitally educated citizens who widely use these solutions, with a modern and continuously developing technological infrastructure, a pro-active private sector that cooperates very well with the government sector on this dimension and fully utilizes all the opportunities that the digital age offers. At the same time, the entire digital ecosystem must operate according to clear, simple, intuitive principles for users, where personal data is very well protected and cyber security is ensured. The citizen and his way of interacting with the state's digital tools must remain an absolute priority on this dimension.
For the first time, in order to highlight the main elements and ingredients of a true digital transformation, the concept of the strategy specifies a series of premises and conditionalities that must be taken into account by all participants in the implementation of its objectives, including by ensuring the largest possible number of citizens who own and fully use secure digital authentication tools, ensuring a unified approach in the conceptualization and management of digital systems, functionality of the "one time" principles, interoperability of platforms and databases and prevail of digital documents over those issued on paper. Of major importance will be the aspects of increasing the degree of trust in digital services, the need to minimize and reduce the digital gap between urban and rural localities, but also various social strata, ensuring adequate funding for these processes and related technological elements, such as ensuring reliable, fast and cheap internet connections for every citizen. Internet connection must become a social right in our country.
The strategy is proposed to be a clear document, understood and assumed by as many institutions, representatives of the private sector and citizens as possible, in order to increase the chances of its implementation and the main transversal argument - the enormous benefits that the adoption of digital solutions entails on all the stages of life, from the perspective of the state, the private sector, but first of all, from that of the citizen. The authors of the document propose to develop a visionary strategy, but at the same time realistic and anchored in the realities of the Republic of Moldova and the regional and global context in which we find ourselves, including in close accordance with the actions and policies in the field, developed or to be developed in the context obtaining the candidate country status by the Republic of Moldova.
Of course, the strategy pursues a large number of objectives, which can be generically divided into six groups, as follows:
1. Development of a digital society. The objective is intentionally placed as the first strategic objective, highlighting the importance of placing the citizen as a priority of the document from several perspectives: ensuring digital education as a national educational priority, developing simple, intuitive solutions, centered on the beneficiary and his needs, so that they are used by a number as many citizens as possible, of national digital education programs for all ages, sectors and professions, the involvement of everyone in their development and use (including the diaspora), a broad participation of local public authorities in this complex process, research, etc. A citizen who has good digital skills is a more efficient and productive citizen in a digital age and can more easily face the challenges of our times.
2. A strong, competitive and innovative national ICT infrastructure and private sector, which is an active and direct part of the digital transformation effort. It is obvious that any state that has achieved major achievements in the digital field, has developed very good partnerships with the private sector, especially in the field of information technologies, ensuring favorable conditions for activity, widely involving the ICT community in the development of solutions, developing attractive and favorable conditions specialized ICT communities, but also the concept of "sandbox" in various fields. It is obvious that investments in the field of digital solutions are profitable in the medium and long term. On the other hand, there is no example of a deep digital transformation where the state excluded the private sector from this dimension, the state always having limited human, operational, financial capacities.
3. Cyber security. It is clear that without ensuring data protection and a secure ICT and digital environment, the development of a true and coherent digital society will not succeed. Citizens will not trust a digital system at risk if they do not know how their personal data is processed. The objective refers both to the specialized institutions of the state that must ensure the functionality and security of critical infrastructure, as well as elementary cyber hygiene measures, massively used by society. The objective is of major importance given regional and global security realities, including the war waged by the Russian Federation in Ukraine.
4. Functional, intelligent and invisible digital state. The objective aims at the goal that all solutions that can be digitized must be digitized, in order to avoid repetitive operations, to reuse the information already available in the state registers and to limit to the maximum the interference and the human factor wherever possible. They imply a lot of human resources, time, financial and which serve as the basis for a lot of bureaucracy, random decisions or are subject to the risks of corruption. It is the data that needs to be set in motion, not citizens being forced to move between various institutions. Effective digital transformation systems are highly efficient, accurate, work 24/7, do not make random decisions, fast and exclude corruption factors.
5. An interconnected digital state with a functional digital state image in the regional and global arena. The objective highlights the need to create common digital spaces (in particular, within the European Union and communities that share the same values, but also promoting the national private sector as a credible partner outside the country). The ICT sector is already becoming a dominant one for the economy of the Republic of Moldova and this enormous potential must be fully exploited and actively monetized on foreign markets, including with the support of the state. Moldova must become part of the most progressive global networks in the field of ICT, but also of various forms of international cooperation in the field of digital and cyber security.
6. Digital economy. It is already obvious that we can no longer speak simply of the economy, but of the digital economy, in all branches. It is strictly necessary to capitalize on all existing digital opportunities, boost the volume of electronic payments (under 10% at the moment) and online trade, adopt clear measures to reduce the obvious deficit of digital competence in the sectors of the economy abd adopt digital solutions in all types of enterprises, including internal processes and the nature of the services provided. It is imperative to attract global and regional digital actors to the Republic of Moldova, by creating the appropriate conditions for their activity.
The strategy concept also proposes the analysis and highlighting of two extremely important aspects for the successful implementation of the document: (1) the structure and the way of coordinating the digital transformation effort and (2) the division of responsibilities and the financial perspective of this effort. It is absolutely clear that without establishing these important aspects, there is a risk that the responsibility for implementing the strategy will be passed, which by definition goes against the "whole of society" approach.
Considering the major importance of the document, IPRE experts will continue monitoring the development process of the Digital Transformation Strategy 2023-2030, including by organizing a series of thematic events with the participation of representatives of the responsible authorities, as well as independent experts, starting from September 2022.
Victor Guzun is an expert in the field of digitization policies at the Institute for European Policies and Reforms (IPRE).
This commentary was published within the project "We and Europe - Analysis of Moldovan-European Relations through Innovative Media and Analytical Products", implemented by the Institute for European Policy and Reform (IPRE), in partnership with IPN, Radio Chisinau and ZUGO.md, with the support of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation. The opinions presented in this commentary belong to the author.