A better and more efficient public administration, decentralization and digitization – these are three goals that Minister Lovro Kuščević would like to achieve during his term in the office. To accomplish this, he must pick up the pace because his predecessors left a lot to be done.
After two shaky years in the Ministry of Public Administration, the public has started to notice the numerous activities carried out by the new administration on bolstering digital literacy, increasing the number of e-services, reforming salaries in public administration and drafting a series of new regulations that are expected to be done by the year end. In short, the Croatian Public Administration Minister, Lovro Kuščević, has no time to think about the destiny that befell his predecessors.
How would you rate the work done by your Ministry so far and how much of your plan still needs to be realized by the year end?
In the last two years, the Ministry of Public Administration had three different ministers and this political instability has definitely resulted in a bad state of affairs in the Ministry. When I took over the ministerial duties in June 2017, we had to draft projects, delegate people to implement them and appoint state secretaries and their assistants in order to finally embark on project implementation. We created a new job hierarchy in the Ministry which resulted in the better work organization and accomplishing better work results. We paid a great deal of attention to digitization projects. Today, the e-Citizens system has 78 services with 52 being available to all of our fellow citizens, and 26 are used by different state institutions. In comparison to June 2017, when I took over as the minister, there were only 38 services available. We have also introduced a new function called e-Newborn and we have finally embarked on the implementation of the projects such as the Introduction of the Quality Management System in the Public Administration of the Republic of Croatia, the Development of the Competence Framework for Civil Servants, e-Fees and e-Business, which total value exceeds 150 million kuna and which are 85% co-financed from the EU funds. In addition to the aforementioned projects, we amended and supplemented a number of laws and bylaws, we improved the work done by public administration offices, raised the level fo cooperation with local and regional self-governments and we are working on a daily basis on activities to improve the work done by the Ministry.
Looking back, regulating salaries in public administration and civil servant salaries is one of the most dificult things to do for a minister. Do you expect a pat on the back from civil servants once the process done, or are you expecting a tide of strikes?
We started the process of regulating the civil servant salary system in good faith with the intention of classifying all jobs in public administration according to pay levels through implementing unfied and standardized classification measures. All jobs in public administration will be covered by one law and the Decree on Job Classification. The list of all jobs classified in 13 pay grades for civil servants and 5 pay grades for other job positions, with the indication of the initial pay grade, is an integral part of the Decree.
The proposed structure of job classification is more transparent than the existing system and should be more stimulating for civil servants. The introduction of a work evaluation and performance rating system is the backbone of the pay grade system.
The performance rating is the central payroll element which is the basis for civil servant being given a higher salary, getting an one-off bonus, or beind demoted to a lower pay grade.
Furthermore, civil servants can qualify for a reward for their exceptional work performance. Trade unions have been involved in the work on the Law on Civil Servant and Civil Employee Salaries since the very beginning, as members of the expert work group. The trade union representatives have been informed of the necessity of having a single job classification and of the intent of the faster promotion of the best and most respected staff. They are currently being included in the subgroups which are working on the Classification Decree and the Appraisal Degree, so we expect to get constructive criticism and suggestions that can only improve the regulation.
3. The digitization of public administration is seen today as a panacea for everything. What problems in the public administration can be realistically addressed by e-Government?
Digitization is carried out in two directions – the first one is the digitization of services for citizens and business entities, and the second is the digitization of internal procedures and processes in public administration bodies. By digitizing internal processes, we are trying to increase the efficiency of public administration bodies, remove administrative barriers, reduce operating costs and, ultimately, increase public’s confidence in public authorities. The Ministry of Administration has been developing a platform in cooperation with all state bodies and local and regional self-governments so that we can remove the existing administrative obstacles.
4. How digitally literate are citizens to fully use the services you already offer and what are you doing in terms of education and raising public awareness in that segment?
In order to have a high-quality workforce with digital skill competencies that can respond to the development of a digitized economy, as well as quality digital public administration users, it is necessary to increase the number of citizens with digital skills.
To that end, IT classes were introduced in 5th and 6th grade of elementary schools, and a total of 3,400 STEM scholarships have been granted with the plan of granting a total of 17,000 STEM scholarships in the next five years. We are also implementing the e-School programme with the view of creating digitally mature schools that educate digitally enabled pupils to be fully prepared to continue with their schooling and be competitive in labour market.
The National Coalition for Digital Jobs and Skills is being launched to increase employment in the digital economy, especially among young people and women. This will be achieved by gathering together IT companies, the ministries responsible for education and employment, public and private employment services, associations, educators, non-profit organizations and social partners who will jointly develop concrete measures to strengthen digital skills at all levels.
5. The Law on Local and Regional Self-Government was adopted late last year. How effective is this law presently?
The most significant novelty in this law is redefining the relationship between the representative and the executive body in the budget making process. The law now clearly divides the responsibility between these two bodies, so if a municipal president, mayor or head of a county does not propose a budget, or withdraws it, they will be relieved of their duties, while the representative body will take over. If the representative body does not draft a budget that is proposed by the authorized petitioner, then the representative body will be disbanded and the executive body will take over.
The positive effects of this law are most visible in the fact that only one local self-government has failed to adopt their 2018 budget. Compared with the previous year, when the statutory ruling at the time dismissed both the representative and executive body in a total of 52 cases because the budget was not adopted, it is now clear that new legal solutions have significantly contributed to a better co-operation between the representative and executive body when adopting the core financial act of any local self-government.
6. What are your priorities for the remainder of this year and for next year in terms of legislative changes?
In regard to legislative changes, we would like to single out the Law on Prevention of Conflict of Interest, Law on the Financing of Political Activities, Election Campaigns and Referendums, Law on Civil Servants, Law on the State Administration System, Law on Foundations, Law on the Organization of Ministries and Other Central State Administration Bodies, and the Decree on the Job Classification in Public Administration and the Decree on the Evaluation and Rewarding of Civil Servants and Civil Employees, as well as a series of other legislative activities …
7. What is your vision of public administration development and which position it will occupy in Croatia in 5 years’ time?
The three development goals of the Ministry of Public Administration that I want to achieve during my term in the office are: better quality and more efficient public administration, decentralization and digitization. We want a modern and efficient public administration that will be of service to citizens and business people and the driving force behind positive changes.
8. You also had students in mind when you developed a new service for them. Could you tell us how does this service function?
In cooperation with the Ministry of Public Administration, the Agency for Science and Higher Education (ASHE) created a new service „e-Exchange of student grades“, available at the e-Citizens web portal. By providing this service, we have joined the EMREX network which purpose is to stimulate student mobility and empower students to more effectively control their own student data and its exchange, especially beyond their state borders. Through the portal e-Citizens, university students, who are using the application, can request an electronic transcript of their grades at any time. Exchange students have been facing certain obstacles in the past, including the exchange of grade transcripts between their home university and the university at which they have studied for some time as a part of the student exchange programme.
This service will simplify the exchange process itself because it will enable students to request an electronic transcript of their grades and to upload it to the website of the university where they are going to study as an exchange student. In the event that a higher education institution is not an EMREX member and does not accept digital records, the student may submit an electronically signed document downloaded from the e-Citizens’ system. In addition to electronic exchange of grade transcripts, there is one more ASHE service available on the e-Citizens portal – applying for university degree programmes at higher education institutions in Croatia.
The e-Citizens’ system is designed to make it easier for all citizens to access basic documents and make them easier to use. Hence, we want to enable the system to reach its full potential and digitize as many services as possible.