Spending watchdog questions roll out of Czech e-government ambitions

Photo: archive of Radio Prague

The Czech Republic has long had ambitions to be out there with the pioneers in e-government; linking up ministries and regional authorities and allowing citizens to transact more of their business over the computer rather than at office counters. But the roll out of those ambitions have hit many obstacles and some of these were highlighted on Monday in a report by the country’s public spending watchdog, the Supreme Audit Office.

Photo: archive of Radio Prague
The report by the spending watchdog focuses on the not so well laid plans of the Ministry of Interior to construct the basis for the roll out of e-government in the Czech Republic. Historically, the ministry has had the responsibility for the country’s information services largely thanks to its role planning and rolling out phone and communications services for the police, fire service, and other emergency services. These communications have to be both reliable and sometimes secret and the ministry’s central position was enshrined in a 1969 law.

The two main pillars for the roll out of Czech e-government were a central service point - which would allow all government departments and services to communicate with each other – and a more advanced central system for communication between the emergency services.

The target date for completion of the central service point was originally set at 2010. By the time the spending watchdog completed its reported in August this year, it was still unfinished. And the same story held true for the new system for the emergency services.

Altogether, the watchdog checked on four specific projects where spending totaled 700 million crowns. It found fault with 390 million of that spending. It also questioned why the ministry avoided holding public tenders and instead arranged for in-house agreements to be signed with suppliers for five contracts.

Spokeswoman for the Ministry of Interior, Martina Nemcová, said that the two central projects were finally completed soon after the watchdog’s report was wrapped up. That means that the threat of the European Commission clawing back some of the 85 percent funding that underpinned them no longer applies.

“Both projects, the central service point and the basic operations centre for integrated emergency systems were completed by the target date, that being November 30, 2015. That means that there is no threat that funding from the integration budget of the European Union will be withheld. There were delays to both projects and these were probably in part caused by organizational and personnel changes at the Ministry of Interior in the past. For example, the management of the project was changed seven times in six years.”

The spending watchdog also queried why the ministry gradually handed over some of its communications workload to the Czech Post Office pointing out that the promised large savings and efficiency from that step were elusive with charges for services cut by just two percent in 2014.