Paperwork makes the world go round - that's the easiest way to summarize how well the Czech Republic is prepared for the 21st century. Specifically for digitization. And it wasn't until the coronavirus that we fully realized how far behind Czech authorities were in this respect. There are complicated forms for everything, and you have to serve them to the officials literally on a plate, the authorities are unable to exchange basic information and people spend endless hours paperwork and waiting in queues. When will it finally change?
I can start with a very recent personal experience. Thanks to the fact that I have a data box, I've been filing my tax returns online for years. Thanks to the unique identification, the tax office knows that it is communicating with me, it receives everything in digital form, so the officials don't have to enter anything in the computer, and I don't have to wait in long queues at the registry office, especially now that there's a danger of catching the coronavirus.
I did the same thing this year. Alas, a few days later, I got a call from a clerk, who informed me that I had changed my bank account and that I had to request a change using a special form. In person, otherwise they wouldn't be able to send me my tax returns.
Confirmation that the child exists
Does it seem ridiculous to you? I'd say it's rather typical. All working parents who are requesting child care support money at the time of coronavirus could tell you about it. Despite the fact that the state closed all schools and kindergartens, the application form for the social security authorities has to be accompanied by a confirmation from the school, stating that the institution is indeed closed and the child cannot attend. Why? Apparently, there's no other way for the state to verify whether the child really exists and goes to a particular school. Although we do have basic registers, an extensive computer system that stores personal data about each inhabitant of the Czech Republic, the officials are somehow unable to put two things together and make use of it.
And let's not even start about the companies forced by the coronavirus to apply for financial support under the COVID programs. The application includes proof of establishment of a business or company account, or a confirmation from the bank. Apparently, this serves to ensure that the money arrives at the company's account and not at the account of some fraudster. No one seems to care that right now, entrepreneurs have much bigger problems to solve than searching for old contracts or queuing at the bank. Why can't the state simply compare the account number in the application with the account from which the same company sends tax payments, when it can be easily found in the database? Hard to say. Instead, the ministries are full of excuses.
We could find countless similar examples of completely unnecessary paperwork and duplicate forms. When it comes to effective digitization of state administration, the Czech Republic is far behind the rest of Europe and is incapable to learn from countries where these things are not an issue. In Estonia, for example, you can take care of the vast majority of things online. They have special security and authentication tools there, thanks to which the office can verify that it is communicating with you, and a task such as filing a tax return is a matter of ten minutes. Not like in the Czech Republic, where entrepreneurs have to submit three complicated forms to three different institutions every year.
Coronavirus shows that it could work
The coronavirus crisis showed that Czechs would be interested in greater digitization. At the time of quarantine, the number of requests to set up a data box increased by tens of percent. That's more than in the time when the service was launched, and it turns out that those who already have a data box can take care of a great number of things efficiently, remotely. In addition to the already mentioned online tax return filing, you can get a confirmation from the catastral register, arrange a parental allowance, apply for a criminal record or a driver's point status, or send a letter to any office for free.
But that's not enough by far, most things still need to be dealth with in offices, in person. Yes, the coronavirus is changing some of the routine, ancient practices, thanks to which mothers with children or the elderly, who have been left without money and are applying for benefits, no longer have to wait long hours in queues at the labour office to hand in the necessary documents. But it would be bold to assume that this possibility will still be available once the quarantine and coronavirus measures are over.
Digitization as a priority? Not by far!
This week, for example, MEPs voted on the launching of a new online tax portal MY TAXES, which should make it easier for all people to deal with tax matters from the comfort of their own homes. And how did it turn out? Denied. Next year, there will be queues at the registries of tax offices again. And I'm pretty sure that in the fall, even seniors and moms with strollers will return to the waiting rooms to apply for a housing allowance every three months and provide a statement proving that they really don't have a secret inheritance from their uncle, who found gold in Alaska, in their back account.
Why is digitization not being introduced faster when it's obvious that it really helps in many cases? It took years for e-recipes and e-skills to work. From the beginning of this year, employees no longer have to worry about complicated sick notes on paper, where one usually couldn't be sure which part to keep at home and which to bring to work. And look how handy it is, now that the coronavirus has broken out in the Czech Republic!
The state should make the digitization of offices a priority. The systems of ministries and offices should be better interconnected, so that you wouldn't have to repeatedly send each piece of information to who knows how many places. It would save both time and money, there would be less unnecessary paperwork and queueing at the offices.
The pompous promises that politicians have been waving around for about for 15 years should finally be turned into actions. But not thoughtlessly! It's necessary to think, for example, of older people who aren't good with computers. They should be able to get an exception, so that they could keep using the paper documents they're used to. But young people should be able to handle the transition just fine, if it's not overly complicated.
If the state finds a decent compromise, it can be useful for everyone. The government already has information and plans on how to do it. After all, Prime Minister Andrej Babiš received advice directly from the aforementioned Estonia during his visit a few months ago. He also dreamed of digitization in his famous pre-election book, which he published three years ago. So let's hope that the coronavirus "kickstarts" everything and we will soon be rid of all the horrible paperwork.