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H.E. Denis Keefe, UK Ambassador To Serbia

UK Supports Serbia’s Digitisation

British Embassy support in this area, through the Good Governance Fund, will be crucial, while digital will be a key area of focus for the Western Balkans Summit, which the UK is hosting next year

“We are supporting Serbia in providing transparent and secure citizen-orientated online services, an improved business environment with clear registers of procedures and costs, an increased level of accountability with reduced opportunities for corruption and malpractice, with the digital transformation,” says UK Ambassador to Serbia H.E Denis Keefe.

The UK helps projects aimed at reducing bureaucracy through the support programme of the Good Governance Fund. What effect have these donations had to date?

– To date, we have worked closely with a number of beneficiaries and implementing partners, including NALED, in addressing bottlenecks which impeded on the business environment. This contributed to improving Serbia’s position on the World Bank’s Doing Business Index for three years in a row.

With the World Bank, we are supporting the introduction of electronic submissions of bids in order to increase the transparency and efficiency of Serbia’s public procurement system to better fight corruption and increase the competitiveness of bids.

We have provided technical assistance for the setting up of one-stop-shops for public services structured around important life events like marriage and the birth of a child. Prior to this intervention, Serbian citizens spent an average of seven hours registering a birth by visiting various institutions. Now they can do everything free of charge, from a hospital, in 15 minutes, saving the public administration 400,000 working hours annually.

Together with the UNDP and the World Bank, we are supporting the Office for IT and e-Government in its further development of an Open Data ecosystem in Serbia, which we strongly believe will lead to an increase in transparency and accountability.

Serbia is certainly lagging behind developed countries, including the UK, when it comes to the digital transformation. In your opinion, what should Serbia’s priorities be in the process of accelerating the development of the digital sector?

– Key areas for reform are around enabling e- payments, e-signatures, e-archiving, e-land registry and establishing online forms that can be submitted electronically. While Serbia has much to do to catch up, if there is sufficient political will and willingness to learn and adapt from other countries, such as the UK, this is achievable.

Certainly, British Embassy support in this area, through the Good Governance Fund, will be crucial, while digital will be a key area of focus for the Western Balkans Summit, which the UK is hosting next year.

Together with the UNDP and the World Bank we are supporting the Office for IT and e-Government in its further development of an Open Data ecosystem in Serbia

You are a great advocate of the digital transformation and eGovernment, and your country is among the world leaders in this field. To what extent does this impact on the organising of the state administration, the budget and the overall quality of life for British people?

– Everyone benefits greatly from online electronic systems, whether this is renewing a passport application, submitting a tax return or applying for a new driving license. It is fantastic that the British people can do these tasks from anywhere inside the UK – even outside, as I do as a diplomat based here in Serbia. The increase in connectivity in the last 10 years has been simply phenomenal and has had many positive impacts.

Viewed from the perspective of foreign investors, is the importance of e-government sufficiently recognised in Serbia?

– E-government initiatives have been one of the main focal points of the current administration, and this has been very well received by the business community.

Notable for its highly bureaucratic, paper-and stamp system, e-government will allow Serbia to unclog its administrative processes, resulting in efficiency, transparency and cost savings. All of these things are important to companies.

However, much like anything else, stakeholder education, roll-out and implementation will be the litmus test of success.

The Foreign Investor’s Council, in their annual White Book, has also noted progress in this area. Though not without pitfalls during early implementation, this is a positive story to build upon for further initiatives that will directly benefit companies on the market.