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Speech at Joint Session of the State Council and the Council for the Development of the Information Society

December 23, 2009

President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Good afternoon, colleagues,

This is not the first time we are discussing the information society in our country. I won’t hide the fact that I like this subject, and I hope you do too. Today we will continue our discussions on a practical note, paying particular attention to the question of spreading the use of information technology in the government sector.

Work in this area is underway in accordance with the Electronic Government Development Concept adopted in May 2008, and the plan for transition to electronic services provision, approved by the Government in October 2009. As you know, in accordance with our national Information Society Development Strategy, we have to ensure electronic provision of all state services by 2015. I stress that this means all state services, not just some of them, but all of them.

I also remind you that strategic information technology is one of our most important national development priorities. Depending on how you count them, our state and municipal organisations provide more than 1,500 different services. Seen from some other angles, the number is in the thousands or even tens of thousands. But people are still standing in lines to get certificates and approvals, have to come back over and over to officials on one and the same issue, and often simply have no information on the services they require.

The length of time all of this takes is another big issue. It takes more than a month to register property rights or obtain financial assistance, and that is if all goes well. As for obtaining a construction permit, this has become a notoriously difficult thing that takes years.

The experts calculate that around one million people every year turn to middlemen to help them get their cars registered. Why have these middlemen appeared? You would think this is a straightforward procedure. Elsewhere in the world it only takes a moment. Obviously, not everything here is so straightforward at all. Obviously there are more than enough problems, otherwise, why would all these people be turning to middlemen, why would there be a market for their services?

The transition to electronic provision of these services would obviously go a long way towards solving these problems. We have made some progress, but have still not seen fundamental change. It is good to see that the common state services portal opened finally in December. For now, it operates simply as a common state information service, and this is good, but it is not enough.

While I was preparing this speech this morning, I took a look at the portal [the state services internet portal]. It is quite well organised, sets out the main groups of services, and is quite easy to use, but that is as far as it goes. It provides information, but does not as yet actually meet people’s needs and offer them electronic provision of these various services.

There is still a long way to go before people will be able to use this portal for applying for and obtaining payment certificates of fees, duties and so on, and before the whole system works in full-fledged interactive mode in general. The portal was opened only after considerable delay, as it was originally scheduled to open in January this year, and in this respect I remind you all that it is essential to keep on schedule. By the way, I would like to hear from our colleagues among the regional leaders and from other organisations about your own experience, how these kinds of portals work in your regions and organisations, if they are working, of course.

Now I would like to say a few words about the immediate tasks we have ahead of us. There are four of them.

First, we need to set common policy for the transition to provision of online services. At the moment, state agencies often use completely incompatible products and have incompatible systems and data bases. But more than half of all state services require exchange of information between different agencies. 

I would also like to point out that the common electronic government infrastructure design has still not been fully prepared and approved. This makes it difficult to clearly divide responsibility for building the system between the specific agencies and also between the regions and municipalities. So far, only three ministries have begun carrying out exchange of documents in electronic form: the Economic Development Ministry, the Agriculture Ministry, and the Telecommunications Ministry. This is not enough. This work needs to be carried out faster. 

The regions should draw up their own plans for developing information society and electronic government and set their priorities for transition to electronic provision of services. The extent of information technology use should be added to the system of indicators we employ to measure the effectiveness of regional bodies’ work. 

Second, we need to continue developing the legal and regulatory framework. The current framework in this area does not yet meet today’s demands. The result is that the old procedures are still in force, in which both agencies and applicants are required to provide documents in paper form only, either coming in personally with the documents or sending them by post.

The Government has drafted proposals on amending these laws and regulations, and now this same work needs to be done at regional and municipal level too. Furthermore, decisive action is needed to, insofar as possible, prohibit agencies from demanding that applicants provide documents that are already in state agencies’ and institutions’ possession and accessible through the data base.

Third, we need a special set of measures to overcome the digital gap between the different regions. As I have said on past occasions, our regions are all different. They differ in their possibilities and in their distance from Moscow and from the main communications lines. But this applies above all to access to the internet, quality of communications channels, and therefore the speed of data transfer. Unfortunately, broadband internet is still expensive in our country. This is something we are working on, including through the Commission for Modernisation and Technological Development of Russia’s Economy, and some regions have already made progress. It is clear that realising this task’s importance and working hard on solutions do yield positive results. 

The gap is really quite substantial. Around 60 percent of Moscow’s population are internet users. This is a decent figure that comes close to average figures for Europe and the world. But the figure in most of the other regions, with rare exceptions, is around 30–35 percent. We need to reduce this gap.

We need to put particular effort into getting public sector institutions such as medical and social facilities, the Pension Fund and other organisations connected. We recently got all schools connected to the internet, and now we need to take this same road in the public sector in general.

At the same time, we need to expand possibilities for making online payments for state services and receiving social benefit payments via online transfer. This requires us to set up a national payments system and give all banks equal conditions for taking part in it. This system will also serve as the base for organising the issue soon of social service cards for the public.

Finally, the fourth task is one that invariably comes up in any new undertaking – that of personnel. We have a shortage of qualified users among state and municipal employees. Of course there are more and more people who have basic computer skills and know how to use the internet. I’m sure that all of you here have these skills, but I am talking about people with more specialised skills, qualified personnel.

Two thirds of the regional bodies have a shortage of such specialists while Russia overall has a large number of qualified IT specialists, as we can see from the global IT industry rating, in which our country moved up 11 points over this year. Our ranking is not the best – we are in 38th place – but the fact that we are moving up is a good sign. We need to work on this personnel issue and change our approach accordingly. We need to create incentives for qualified specialists ready to work in the public sector, in government agencies. 

Colleagues, the transition to electronic services is one of today’s pressing demands. I hope that for the majority today, for all of you here, this is no longer the exotic notion it was ten or even five years ago. Many countries have made this transition very rapidly, though these were much smaller countries.

We are a big country with all the specific difficulties that go with it, and so I do not ask that we make the transition to digital technology, electronic paperwork and introduction of all forms of electronic government within 12 or 18 months, but I think that five or six years is a realistic time for us to reach this goal.

Let’s now get down to work.


Concluding our discussions, I would like to give my support to what Mr Sobyanin [Deputy Prime Minister and Government Chief of Staff] said about the fact that when the regional authorities take a real interest in this work change actually does take place. But in cases when the regional authorities think this work is just ‘decorative trimmings’ and say that life is difficult enough as it is without coming up with some sort of electronic government too, no progress is made.

I turn to all of you now and say that whoever does not play their part in carrying out this work is simply showing that they are not fit to work in the modern world. This is perhaps rather harsh judgement, but it is the truth, because the entire world is taking this road today. We are already lagging behind and we need to catch up fast or else we will end up completely uncompetitive.

As I have already said, I visited Singapore recently [on November 14–16, 2009] and I saw how their e-government system works. What can I say, it works like clockwork. True, Singapore is a small country and they have been working on this for a long time now, but this is no reason for us to give up the whole idea. I hope therefore that the federal executive authorities and the regional authorities will work together to do everything possible to advance work in this area.

I deliberately chose this subject for the State Council’s meeting as the year draws to a close. Why, because we need to set ambitious goals. Of course, we could discuss ways to recover from the global financial and economic crisis, support measures, and we have done so on many occasions this year. We have all been working on this, and I think we have worked quite well and effectively. But we need to look to the future too, and Russia’s future lies in a modernised economy and modern system of government and public administration. Electronic government is just such a system. I am sure that if we really make an effort in this area we will succeed in reaching our goals within quite a short time.

Thank you, colleagues.

December 23, 2009