Local e-Government in Poland: Perspectives for Private Public Co-Operation
Faculty of Law and Administration, Nicolaus Copernicus University
As a consequence of a change in the political system, Local Government was re-established in Poland in the year 1990. Currently it operates on three levels1: communes2, powiats3 and provinces4. In the field of electronic government applications, local administration is often more active and effective than the central authorities. Until now local government units have executed many successful projects concerning Information and Communication Technologies. At the “bottom” of the administrative hierarchy, it is becoming commonly recognised that providing government services on-line not only cuts government costs but improves the quality of life as well.
A survey conducted by e-Forum5 indicates the most important drivers of, and the most important barriers to, the development of e-government in Central and Eastern European countries. The survey’s targets were high ranking officials in charge of e-government development within the administrations of Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania. Its conclusions are the point of reference for this paper.
Keywords: e-Government, Public Procurement Law, private-public undertakings, e-Poland, Private-Public Partnership Law.
This is a revised conference paper published on: 30 January 2006.
Citation: Dobrzeniecki, 'Local e-Government in Poland: Perspectives for Private Public Co-Operation’, 2005 (2-3) The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT).< http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/law/elj/jilt/2005_2-3/dobrzeniecki/>.
The most visible drivers for e-government progress in Poland (mentioned in the e-Forum survey) are “strong leadership from government”, “appropriate legal framework”, “long term political goals and objectives”, “increased co-operation between public and private sector” and “European integration”.
Information Society issues have appeared in each official government programme since 19976. Citizens’ needs (like for example free and fast access to the Internet) and fears (increased control by government) connected with e-government are becoming important matters of interest for politicians. In the year 2000 the Polish Government worked out the first plan of action in aid of the development of the information society in Poland for the years 2001 – 2006. One of the goals determined in the plan is to create transparent and citizen-friendly public administration structures by open information society standards, with the help of tools using information and communication technologies. Local government has had to play an important role in the strategy.
In December 2002 the e-government action plan Wrota Polski7 (Gateway to Poland) was published. It announced the creation of an integrated information system supporting the provision of on-line public services. The main aims of “Gateway to Poland”, declared on government websites, are “to increase the effectiveness of service delivery as a result of migration of public services to an on-line platform and to create a governmental document flow system for certain processes”. The platform is expected to increase the effectiveness of public administration services by about 40%. The items to be improved are the quality of services provided and the execution of other public tasks as well as the transparency and flexibility of government administration’s work.
In January 2004 the Council of Ministers adopted ePoland - The Strategy on the Development of the Information Society in Poland for the years 2004-2006 8. It lays out the directions of computerisation consistent with the plans of the European Union. The national strategy for computerisation defines those areas in which the prevailing social, economic and political conditions both demand and promise a successful implementation of the planned projects. These areas include common availability of electronic content and services, development of diverse and valuable content via the Internet and universal ability to utilise computer and communication systems. Within the areas a task of the most critical importance for the next three years is building an integrated platform of electronic public services. The strategy provides that in the years 2003-2006 units of local government ought to be equipped in computers and an infrastructure of access. Both the Ministry of Science and self-government units at the level of provinces are responsible for supporting local initiatives that concern broadband communications and for promoting the best practices. In 2004 a governmental programme “Icon” (Ikonka) was being realised. As a result, in many Polish communes Internet points were opened for the public. The ePoland strategy provides the involvement of local governments in projects of Web security, launching Internet Centres of Tourist Information as well as training the disabled and unemployed in electronic communication. The document states that an important role in the reduction of budgetary spending on the development of priority systems may be played by so called public-private partnerships, that is agreements (licences) between a public administration unit and a company. Under such agreement a company finances the development of the infrastructure required for the provision of public services and then provides this service and charges for its provision.
The national strategy for computerisation charts a path for the future development, taking as its guide the directions already implemented by the European Union. This document will be supplemented by detailed action plans, containing both specific and comprehensive solutions to key issues. One of them, adopted in September 2004, is an Action Plan in Aid of Electronic Government for the years 2004 – 2006. This document is an ex ante analysis of the realisation of different e-government projects in relation to a new European budget for the years 2007 – 2013.
Some acts which implement the idea of e-government into the Polish legal system have already been passed by the Parliament. The others still remain in the preliminary phase, but the legislative process is advanced. One of the first issues legally regulated in Poland was ensuring access to public information that is free from formal barriers and easy from the technological point of view. The administration’s duty to inform citizens is based on the Polish Constitution. It states that the citizen has a right to obtain information on the activities of the public authorities. An Act on Access to Public Information from 6th September 2001 specifies the duty. With a view to broad dissemination of this kind of information the legislator decided to publish the Biuletyn Informacji Publicznej (The Public Information Bulletin9) on the Internet. BIP is a system of Internet sites, created in accordance with the provisions of the Act on Access to Public Information. On the main site of the Bulletin held by the Ministry of Administration there are links to all administration units. The crucial information is rendered accessible locally on sites held by the units. The Act defines the scope of information that is to be placed on the websites. It has a particular meaning in the face of the process of transferring public services to the electronic platform.
From the research conducted by Krzysztof Glomb in June 2004, it appears that eighty per cent of Polish communes and almost all powiats have their own Internet websites. This means that progress has been threefold since 1999. However, significant territorial differences still exist. In some provinces like Opolskie or Małopolskie (southern regions) the rate is almost 100 %; on the other side in Lodzkie (central) it is only 60 %10. In 2004 new tendencies might be observed. Many local government information systems offer services by mobile phones (WAP). Moreover, some of them have been adapted for the needs of the disabled. Average local government expenditure for maintaining its information system was one per cent of the budget. The general conclusion of Glomb’s research was that there is progress in the computerisation of local governments but its average rate is still slower than in the old EU member states and the level of interactivity is still insufficient.
Work on the governmental system the 'Gateway to Poland' is conducted separately in each province. Its long-term aim is to make all public administration services available on-line throughout the state. The most significant work concerning electronic public services was conducted in Pomorskie (45 % according to the rating system elaborated by Capgemini11), Swietokrzyskie (42%), Kujawsko-Pomorskie and Lubelskie (40 % each). Recently two new projects on e-government have been established. Wrota Mazowsza (The Gateway to the Mazowsze Province) and Wrota Malopolski12 (The Gateway to the Malopolska Province) are complex regional information systems. They enable Internet users to obtain complete information on the activity of public institutions within the province concerned. Both portals fulfil the tasks of Biuletyn Informacji Publicznej (Public Information Bulletin). Moreover these systems make it possible to file a petition by means of the Internet daybook and apply for various certificates to be issued. Online services planned include filling out customs and tax statements, applying for documents such as identity cards, driving licences, passports and settling all matters essential for setting up a business. Wrota (Gateways) are to be transformed into so-called One-Stop-Shops, where it is possible to have all one’s affairs taken care of and to obtain all kinds of information. A few similar projects are in the planning phase, like for example Wrota Swietokrzyskie (Gateway to the Swietokrzyskie Province). Its task is to join two modules: Bulletin of Public Information and an interface to electronic public offices in the Swietokrzyskie province. The latter project is a result of the co-operation of academic, administration and business units. One of them is the Research and Academic Computer Network (NASK) - the leading Polish data communication carrier, specialised in the implementation of innovative technology solutions supporting business. The second, Swietokrzyskie Centre of Innovation and Technologies Transfer (ŚCITT), was founded by the City of Kielce, Swietokrzyskie Province Office, Slaska (Silesian) Polytechnic and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
In February 2005 the Polish Parliament passed an Act on the Application of Information Technology in the Public Sector. This regulation contains provisions concerning interaction between public authorities and citizens. It also determines the rules governing how public administration IT projects should be carried out, in order to ensure, for instance, compatibility of information systems used by various government and local government units. The Act prescribes the procedure under which the minimal requirements assuring openness in these systems are to be laid down. Government is obliged to adopt a State Computerisation Plan aimed at co-ordinating the computerisation of the activities executed by the administration in a range of public tasks.
In August 2004 a governmental bill of Private-Public Partnership Law was presented to the Polish parliament. Its main goal was to provide incentives for public sector investments, especially by the removal of existing legal obstacles in this field. There are many reasons why an appropriate legal framework for public undertakings with the participation of private units ought to be created. One of them is to take full advantage of the possibilities of co-operation between private and public sectors.
The bill defines Private-Public Partnership as co-operation between private and public partners based on a contract that serves to realise a particular public task, in which the private partner bears the whole or a part of the capital expenditure. The concept of PPP consists of two elements. The first of them is the PPP contract. Private and public units are authorised by the law to enter into co-operation based on a PPP contract for common execution of public tasks. The second element is a procedure under which parties reach agreements about a contract’s provisions. The procedure requires that it is always a public subject that initiates negotiations. Its decision must be based on well-elaborated and defined public policy.
The private partner is usually gratified by being granted a right to collect fees from recipients of public services or by participation in profits derived from the PPP undertaking. The public unit, as for example a local government, profits by the fact that costs of realising public tasks are being taken over by a private partner. A general principle of the new regulation is that PPP must be of greater public advantage than any other form of executing public tasks. Another important provision of the bill is that PPP does not relieve the public unit from its duties and responsibility towards citizens for performing its tasks. The forthcoming law is in accordance with the Guidelines for successful private public partnership passed by the European Commission in 200313.
The bill has been conceived as a framework regulation, that is to enable the introduction of PPP projects into each sector of infrastructure, each kind of public services. Modifications are possible within the special laws. The new law will create a stable legal basis for private investments in communal IT infrastructure in Polish cities. That is an indispensable condition for each e-government project. PPP is also important for EU grant funding. Co-financing requirements, together with the debt restrictions which many public units in Poland face, caused a need to use private finance as a source of co-financing in order to ensure that EU funds can be fully absorbed.
On a nation-wide scale the tasks to implement ICT tools in the operation of cities’ and communes’ offices are undertaken by Miasta w Internecie (Cities in the Internet Association). Since 1997 it has taken an active part in creating an information society in Poland. In June 2002 the association signed a contract with the Ministry of Administration, in order to promote the idea of the Public Information Bulletin. It also implements pilotage projects for regional bulletins in Mazowieckie and Lubelskie provinces. The association co-operates with important European organisations dealing with ICT. The co-operation is aimed at introducing various e-government projects, such as Visual Admin, MAP, e-Poll, e-Forum.
Every year a conference is organised to sum up the achievements in the field of local e-government. In 2002 during the conference a manifesto Polski e-government 2005 was presented for the first time. It contains many resolutions concerning the creation of interactive administrative services systems for the citizens at every level of state management. In every fourth department interactive services systems using electronic signatures as well as electronic document circulation should be ensured through a network of public facilities. The signatories of Polish e-government 2005 pointed out the necessity to educate at least 40 % of civil servants in the area of public electronic services; a specially created institute could fulfil this task. One of the crucial aims of the manifesto is to cause the Parliament to pass all acts making possible the development of public electronic services and electronic commerce, in particular e-procurement and outsourcing services.
The last conference (the eighth) took place in Zakopane in 2004. Annual prizes, “Golden @” were given to the best local government websites in Poland. The following factors were assessed first of all: accessibility, topicality and complexity of information resources. The sites which contained list of matters that can be taken care of in an office, and descriptions of administrative procedures with the appropriate forms scored well. The awarded ones are the town of Lubawa ( http://www.lubawa.pl), Krasnostawski powiat ( http://www.krasnystaw-powiat.pl) and the city of Gdansk ( http://www.gdansk.pl). During the conference a public discussion took place about a new chance for financing the modernisation of the Polish administration that is to occur after the accession. Another important issue was the state of preparations for the implementation of electronic signatures on a wide scale. According to the provisions of the law, public offices and institutions are obliged to finish the process by August 2006. After this date each citizen will be entitled to communicate with public units by usage of an electronic signature.
Although many Polish companies have stepped forward to partner local governments and to develop a variety of e-government projects, there are still obstacles in their way. Closer and deeper relations between both sectors (as for example the creation of common e-government platforms) are very difficult to execute. With the present legal status private-public business undertakings are in many cases hazardous for each party. For example, the private partner of a commune does not have any formal guarantee that after the replacement of the local political elite the common project is going to be continued. Public Procurement Law that is currently in force provides that the public unit may terminate such a contract based on a public interest clause by compensation of only half of the promised gratification. Moreover each private-public contract concluded for more than three years must be accepted by the National Public Procurement Office. A public unit that would like to engage in PPP may also easily get into trouble. It is often exposed to an accusation of corruption or nepotism. Private-public partnership is still something strange that does not fit the traditional role and function of administration. This attitude is being gradually changed in the period after the accession to the EU. Experiences of some other member states, especially Great Britain, give grounds that PPP projects may be very successful, especially in the field of infrastructural investments. That has been the main reason why a new legal solution, mentioned above, is being prepared.
Current common private-public undertakings are funded in various ways. Polish local e-government projects take on one of the popular forms known in Western countries:
- local governments buy services and tools from an e-government vendor;
- local governments allow an e-government partner to run or maintain its Website, or develop a specific application; and
- local governments contribute information, access or services to a private e-government site.
An interesting funding solution that is sometimes applied in Poland is the so called “self-funding model”. In this model the private partner absorbs the costs to build the technical infrastructure and develops e-government services. After the applications have been launched, the company and the government share a portion of the fees generated from electronic transactions.
There exist a variety of possible solutions within the “self-funding model”. The public partner (a city or a commune) that owns infrastructure may charge the private partner with a task of providing public services for specified fees. Another possibility is a common investment in infrastructure and sharing tasks concerning services. Finally, a private unit may create or modernise existing infrastructure and turn it over to the public unit afterwards. Some examples may be presented.
In 2004 the municipal authorities of Tychy14 (Slaskie Province) signed a letter of intent with Ericsson. Its aim was the performance of a common project of a city network, based on Public Ethernet technology. It encompasses the Internet, telephone line and TV. The services will be made available for thirty eight thousand households (to a total number of 43 thousand). Moreover, the planned network will be utilised for controlling a heating system within the city and as an infrastructure for CCTV (police monitoring). The local authorities are also planning to establish e-offices where inhabitants might settle all their transactions. The infrastructure is very flexible. New, more advanced functions and services may easily be added, like video-on-demand or tele-conferences. The whole project should be completed in 2007. Public Ethernet, in comparison to traditional technologies, is said to be a more cost-effective solution in the matter of expenses for infrastructure and exploitation.
Another PPP undertaking dealing with e-government was set up as a result of co-operation between the city of Slupsk15 (one hundred thousand inhabitants, Zachodniopomorskie Province), Cisco Systems and the Foundation of Economic Education. Up to the present there has only been an integrated computer network within Slupsk’s City Office and two official websites. Cisco Systems launched a project concerning building a framework of broadband infrastructure that is going to be realised in Slupsk. Cisco Systems will allocate one and a half million dollars to this purpose in different forms, e.g. by providing hardware infrastructural devices, know-how and the support of IT experts from Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group. Some portion of this sum is going to be transferred as a grant of the Cisco Foundation. The project will be co-financed by the Foundation of Economic Education and the city of Slupsk. The latter intend to spend one third of the sum declared by Cisco.
Cisco Systems has chosen Slupsk as a model example of how providing common access to the Internet may speed up social and economic progress within the newest members of the European Union. Local governments in these countries may apply for European funds and designate the money for improvement of municipal communication infrastructure. In Cisco’s managers’ opinion the example of Slupsk should encourage other local governments in Poland to similar investments.
E-Slupsk is a part of a more general initiative that is aimed at establishing an information society in six selected Polish communes. It realises the e-Europe 2005 programme, under which all public offices, schools and colleges are to be connected to the municipal computer networks (Poland was among ten candidate states which declared in 2002 an adherence to the programme’s provisions).
Within this broadband network, the following high-quality services are to be provided: Internet access, VPN / VLAN, voice over IP, city monitoring (CCTV) and hot spots. The network is to integrate all municipal services, educational units and businesses. Two high schools and two colleges in Slupsk will be equipped in wireless Internet. Within the city borders two other areas of wireless Internet are to be opened, as well as some Internet one-stop-kiosks connected to the municipal Ethernet. The general idea of the project is to join into one network all units that have anything to do with the functioning of the city and providing services to its inhabitants. Among them are public enterprises, job offices and police departments - twenty-nine units in total.
The investment started in autumn 2004 and is to be completed in two years. Expected results of the project are improvement in the standards of public services, enhancement of the level of security and attraction of new investors. City authorities look forward to achieving long-term progress in economic development. An example of tangible profits for the city are savings in telephone costs that are estimated at three and a half million US dollars over five years.
A very interesting example of a successful municipal IT project is e-Wro16, one being realised in Wroclaw by MPEC (Municipal Heating Company). Wroclaw is one of the biggest Polish cities, the capital of the Dolnoslaskie Province. It numbers almost 650 thousand inhabitants. The City of Wroclaw owns over fifty per cent of the shares of MPEC. The rest is in the hands of private investors. The company runs the METRO network (abb. from “metropolitan network”). The history of this network was quite extraordinary. After a gigantic flood that took place in the middle of the nineties and touched mainly Southern Poland, a great deal of the infrastructure of the city was destroyed and had to be replaced. This affected the city heating system in particular. For the last few years Wroclaw has invested a large sum of public funds in it and equipped the system in a very modern steering computer network. It has become a base for the modern, fast and efficient information system of METRO. The project is still under construction. METRO is already available for five thousand people in a few districts. It has been thought of as a “network without limits” offering Internet access, telephone, satellite television, and soon also video-on-demand services. The minimum quarantined standard of speed of transfer is 10 Mbps, but usually 100 Mbps is the norm.
There is a true need to adjust Polish standards and solutions to the modern information society forming in Western Europe. Because of accession to the European Union the process of computerisation in Poland ought to be realised by taking into account experiences of other members and methods they apply. The most important European documents are the action plans eEurope 2002 and eEurope 2005, whose provisions must anyway be adjusted to specific Polish circumstances, as for example the still too low level of Internet accessibility. According to eEurope 2005 by the end of the year 2004 Member States should have ensured that basic public services are interactive, where relevant, accessible for all, and exploit both the potential of broadband and multi-platform access. Poland as a new member of the EU cannot ignore the fact that non-compliance with this standard might negatively affects its position in view of the fundamental EU principle – free movement of capital, goods and services.
The final document adopted at the conference Miasta w Internecie 2003 states: The key factor of the success in developing public e-services within the next few years is the ability of Polish administration to make full use of structural funds and other European funds and programmes. The fulfilment of this task is possible on condition that e-Government matters achieve a high priority in the national and regional policy.
The matter of European integration is a point of reference in all debates about local e-government in Poland. An important question is whether PPP approaches can be combined with EU funding. Prognoses are optimistic. An expert opinion compiled by PriceWaterhouseCoopers17 concludes: “a review of the fundamental principles and objectives of the EU, as set out in the Treaty of the European Union and other EU documents (including the Guidelines for Successful PPPs) shows that there are no fundamental contradictions between these and the utilisation of PPP approaches, or the use of private finance, as a means of co-financing EU funded projects”.
National Development Plan 2004 - 2006 (a document programming the use of structural funds and Cohesion Funds by Poland18) provides substantial funds for building an information society in Poland. The development of the information society assumed a horizontal character under the umbrella of the Plan. It will be included in all sectoral and regional programmes. Furthermore actions directly aiming at the development of the Information society in Poland were included in some Operational Programmes.
Local government administration in Poland still uses the ICT only to a limited extent. The e-Forum survey brings some explanations for such a situation. It is determined by citizens’ as well as civil servants’ fears connected with the process of e-government implementation. Citizens are afraid of the loss of confidentiality, inability to use the technologies properly and difficult access to public services. They would like also to avoid the loss of human contact in offices. On the other hand civil servants fear the increased control on individual performance, limitation of employment, inability to cope with increased speed or increased competition among employees. Many of the Polish local governments themselves are not convinced of the reliability of the information technology systems and the high costs of their implementation. They are afraid of the failure of e-government projects and possible attacks and fraud carried out by hackers.
The expectations of the citizens and entrepreneurs towards the municipal ICT systems are much higher than current possibilities. Some people are still not aware of the social profits resulting from usage of the Internet to a larger extent. Therefore a strong demand emerges for training of civil servants in the matter of e-government. Even in less technologically developed countries like Poland, it is high time to begin with the presentation of advantages of the use of electronic services in the field of public administration. The experiences of countries like the United Kingdom or Ireland prove that ICT technologies have the potential to transform the operation of local governments for the benefit of local communities.
Private Public Partnership brings together, for mutual benefit, a public body and a private unit in a long-term joint venture for the delivery of high quality public services. The presented examples of successful PPP undertakings in Poland give grounds that if appropriate and properly procured, such a partnership can provide significant improvements over the results that can be achieved by public partners alone. For many reasons (e.g. financial conditions by EU grant funding) it concerns new, relatively poor member states to an even higher degree than the old ones.
1 No kind of hierarchy or dependence exists between the “levels” of local government. Each one has its own tasks and fulfils them within the scope of autonomy determined by the law.
2 There are two kinds of communes (gmina): municipal communes (miasta) and rural communes (gminy wiejskie).
3 Powiat is an administration unit consisting of a few communes.
4 The territory of Poland is divided into sixteen such provinces (in Polish: wojewodztwo)
5 e-Forum is a not-for-profit Association that brings together all interested parties active in the field of e-Government in Europe, from both the private and public sectors(<http://www.eu-forum.org>).
7 In Polish only: <http://www.mnii.gov.pl/_gAllery_en/28/99/2899.pdf>.