In early 2019, the Government of Georgia declared the development of a universal digital municipal services platform as one of its main priorities. While the capital of Tbilisi and a handful of cities in Georgia have long provided e-services to citizens and businesses alike, modern digital technologies and electronic management systems remained beyond reach for most rural municipalities.
The COVID-19 pandemic and massive lockdowns of countries underscored the growing importance of e-government. Caught off guard by the raging pandemic, the Government of Georgia had to act swiftly and put in place various tools to ensure uninterrupted service provision during the crisis. From the outset of the pandemic, the Government launched a Covid-19 information site, created a database of contracted patients and introduced a website for registration and pre-registration for vaccination. While e-services were provided by all central government institutions, municipalities struggled to keep up with the growing demand for e-services. In a nutshell, the pandemic fortified the role of digital government but it also revealed the unequal development of e-governance on a national and local level.
Following its agenda to roll out an online platform for all 63 municipalities, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Development identified Municipal Services Development Agency (MSDA) as the municipal management system operator in Georgia capable of providing a sustainable software solution tailored to local needs. At the request of the Government of Georgia, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the World Bank joined the efforts to improve public services, to foster transparency and open governance, and to accelerate the implementation of e-government systems in all 63 municipalities of Georgia. In 2019, the Ministry officially announced the launch of the project in partnership with the SDC and the World Bank.
Since its beginning, the MSDA has already completed the activation of 13 modules in 21 municipalities. The project is ongoing, yet quantitative results achieved so far are impressive – a total of 13’601 users were registered, more than 57’000 documents were digitalized, and almost 6’000 online applications were submitted by citizens.
"The universal digital municipal services platform makes our lives easier", says Kesaria Mosidze, the head of the chancellery at the Zugdidi municipality. "On average, we would receive 100 incoming letters/applications daily, send them all to a Mayor’s office to further delegate to respective subordinates. It was a slow process resulting in delayed services to citizens. The new digital platform allows instant registration and distribution of citizens’ applications to respective departments. Not only do we reply via emails, but also send a text message (SMS) with a link to the document for download. We consistently receive positive feedback and commendation from the citizens we have served," Ms. Mosidze added.
Upon its completion in 2023, the project will yield three key results of different dimensions. First and foremost, all municipalities across Georgia will have around 17 different municipal services digitalized giving immediate access to citizens. The wide range of online services offered by this platform will span: asset and capital management, online applications and requests for various permits and services, such as cleaning and waste management, and participation in social and health protection programs. Digitalization requires adequate skills development of municipal public servants. To this end, the project will ensure that respective staff is provided with hands-on training as part of its digital literacy effort. Secondly, the digital platform will serve as a means to bolster citizens’ participation in development and decision-making processes. Namely, the platform will host inter alia, an up-to-date database of municipal information and a calendar of local events. And last but not least, the institution of digital services will propel the improvement of intra-departmental and intra-governmental communication and coordination.
Digitalization of services is part of a bigger "Second Regional and Municipal Infrastructure Development Project", which is co-funded by the SDC, the World Bank and the Government of Georgia. With a total budget of CHF 56’090’00, the project contributes to the overall decentralization process in Georgia, focusing on capacity building of municipalities for public service delivery.