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Adress by H.E. Kersti Kaljulaid at High Level side event "E-Governance – Partnerships for Achieving the SDGs", 20 September 2017


Estonia has successfully collaborated with the UNDP, our e-Governance academy was co-founded by the UNDP, the Estonian Government and Open Society Institute in 2002. I am glad to co-host this side-event also together with Namibia, Colombia and Bangladesh, so it’s a truly cross-regional partnership.

Today’s topic is about ICT solutions and e-Governance as enablers for development and achieving the Agenda 2030, especially Goal 16 and good governance that are closely linked to all the other SDG-s.

Digital solutions are key for providing better governance and inclusiveness. For example, World Bank statistics show a staggering 1.5 billion people in the world is living without legal identity, i.e., without any form of state-recognized identification, either paper-based or digital.  This includes an estimated 230 million children under five whose births were never registered, and who therefore do not exist in any legal capacity.

What could be our response? International donor community is providing huge resources to support the elections and create accurate voters lists. However, often after the elections, the data that was gathered is not used to start a proper population registry. But every country needs a civil registry for planning healthcare, education or any other public services. In today’s world this data should be digital, only needing updates later on. The government should not ask data from the citizens and businesses more than once. We call it the once only principle.

People tend to think that e-Governance is about technology. But it is not. To make real impact on the society, to achieve efficiency in government and to reach the goals of transparency and accountability in all government processes, e-Governance takes a much broader approach.  By definition, e-Governance entails a comprehensive set of organizational, regulatory and technology-related measures.

Therefore, political leaders must support all the necessary processes to bring about real change. The IT departments may be educated, enlightened and enthusiastic, but they cannot reduce government bureaucracy and working habits by themselves. In fact, digital technology is in principle the same everywhere in the world. Although there can be differences in price and practical access, fundamentally, countries both big and small, high and low income can purchase and build the same digital tools. Yet, there is a wide difference in countries’ digital development level.  These differences are not correlated to size or wealth. As the last World Bank’s Global Development Report called Digital Dividends clearly showed, the difference instead comes from policies and legal systems that the governments put in place to support digital adoption – or not. So, the role of the political leaders is crucial in this process and leaders, participating in our event today, are the great samples of the good political leadership.

Estonia is an example of how innovation built on smart use of digital technology and public-private partnerships can deliver development. Looking back today, we can say that despite scarce resources, we started large-scale governmental and social experiment and invention of the e-government. Bringing all transactions online took away most possibilities for corruption years ago, now we are among the least corrupt countries in the EU.

To highlight some examples:  When you start a company in Estonia, you do it online. It takes only 20 minutes to set up a legally functional company. Less bureaucracy saves time, which can instead be invested into growing the businesses. 3) We are the first and still the only country to offer online elections as an option. In March 2015, 30,8% votes were cast online from 116 countries around the World. More people have the practical possibility to participate, thus more democracy. 4) Digital prescriptions mean that I do not necessarily have to spend time to visit a doctor, just to get my medicine – a prescription can be issued over distance straight to nation-wide pharmacy information system. 5) Digital development has brought Estonia more economic growth, more resource efficiency, more human development. In 2016, Estonians provided almost 80 million digital signatures - 100 digital signatures per adult. Only small part of those digital signatures were provided in interaction with the government. Most of the digital signatures were used to sign either citizen-to-business or business-to-business transactions. And according to our calculation, each Estonian using digital signature saves five working days per year: this means we save one working week by not submitting paperwork.

Estonia has chosen promotion of good governance via ICT solutions as one of the key priorities of our country's development cooperation activities. We have shared our experience with more than 60 countries. Currently, we have 38 active projects aimed at implementing ICT solutions to governance. Many of these projects are financed jointly by Estonia, other donor countries or international donor organisations. Estonian experience has thus reached countries like Moldova, Ukraine, Afghanistan, Tanzania, Mauritius, Kenya, Georgia, Angola, Palestinian Authority and many more. We also cooperate with the funds and programmes of the UN. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank our international partners for their substantive and impactful cooperation.

In conclusion, there is a lot of unused potential in digital innovation - both for countries that are still developing and those already advanced in economic and social terms. As there are almost no SDG about digital development as such, then let’s put digital opportunities to good use in all SDGs throughout the Agenda.


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