Through recent amendments to the Law on the republic administration, Republika Srpska Government established a new ministry devoted to knowledge-based development and new technologies. Ministry for Scientific and Technological Development, Higher Education and Information Society is a key organization recognized as the carrier of activities that should introduce Srpska into the ranks of modern societies. As a new political face with great experience in the government, we talked with Srđan Rajčević about the vision and plans of the newly established ministry.
TST: Mr. Rajčević, is it time for e-Srpska?
RAJČEVIĆ: Absolutely! I draw attention to the fact that for the first time, digitalization of society becam a political goal that found its place in the Government’s Economic Reform Program, which is actually a political guide for the next four-year period. It is precisely because of this and other goals in this document that the ministry I am head of has been established, and I am extremely pleased that focus is on economic development based on the use of modern technologies. I think this is the optimal time for digitization, because we have enough experience in countries in the region and in Europe to learn about their good and bad practices, while at the same time paying attention to advanced technologies that we did not use until just a few years ago.
RAJČEVIĆ: In the plan and program of work of the Ministry for 2019, we have a precisely defined a timeline of activities. We expect adoption of the eGovernment Development Strategy in the spring and the accompanying action plan, which will define the timeframe in which each ministry and administrative body will develop their own electronic services. Ministry is about to supervise the implementation of the Strategy and coordinate this activity in accordance with the priorities. However, digitization does not only mean the development of an eGovernment system, it is a much wider concept. In the context of the state administrative apparatus, we must work hard to change the mindset of civil servants about their role, following the principle that administration is a service for citizens and the business sector. E-government is just a practical upgrade of this principle in which we will facilitate and speed up administrative procedures and the entire correspondence with the authorities with the use of modern technologies. All of this is actually very simple in principle while at the same time demanding in implementation, but we expect that certain basic electronic services will be implemented by 2022. After that, we are convinced, everything will go much easier, almost by inertia.
The name of the ministry you are head of is long and contains science, technology, higher education and information society. Why did these changes occur at the first place?
In the past few years, we were discussing the idea of relocating higher education sector from the Ministry of Education and Culture. Bearing in mind that primary and secondary education has a pedagogical, and higher education scientific-research role, it was logical to unify these sectors in one place, and for the purpose of their interconnection, the information society is added as well. Highly educated profiles that emerge from our faculties, especially those who play a key role in a knowledge-based society and innovation, should be put into the function of economic development of Srpska through scientific research. These activities will create new ideas that can be made available to our companies for the purpose of profit making, both in domestic and foreign markets. However, we need to create a “meeting point” for the research and business community which will include interested investors and other models of fast start-up businesses. We are working intensively on this, and I would not reveal the details yet.
TST: But why would anyone invest in the Republic of Srpska? What does Srpska have to offer to a foreign investor who, for example, wants to launch a company that will deal with software development?
RAJČEVIĆ: Srpska has many comparative advantages that we may not be aware of, and it is certain that we do not promote them sufficiently. Take, for example, wider Banja Luka region. In the area of several hundred square kilometers, in the “soft belly” of Europe, at the very border with European Union, we have a functional airport and a highway. We have a low price, yet high quality labor when it comes to software development. We also have a low price of electricity, and other utility and infrastructure, lower taxes on profits, a quality Internet link, university, and with all this, although it sounds paradoxically, we are not a member of the European Union and we are not subject to some rigid Brussels regulations. If we take all this into consideration, we will see that, when it comes to the software industry, we can be very competitive. I think that we must make significant efforts to promote these facts. As far as I’m hearing, certain companies from the region and Europe who are opening their representative offices in our country are already appearing. These are excellent indicators in the context of global economic trends, and the ministry I am heading will do everything to further promote and attract as much of such investments, among other things through facilitated electronic procedures for registration of companies. We are currently in the process of amending the laws that deal with these procedures.
TST: It is noteworthy that right after you assumed office, you started talking to foreign partners in the ICT industry. How do these activities go?
RAJČEVIĆ: While I was the director of the Information Society Agency, I have made numerous contacts with people from this area, from CEOs of big companies to small entrepreneurs. I intend to use this “social capital” in this role as well, and I already talked with representatives of many companies and our strategic partners. I want to hear from them, what would attract them to invest in us, to hire our people, and most of all how to modernize our teaching process at universities and match it with the needs of the modern age. In addition, I think that in the process of digitization we have to have a role model. For this reason, I have established certain contacts with people from the Estonian administration, and their practice and experience will be of great importance to us.