The digital island - Malta’s secret to success

Magazin-Malta-die digitale-Insel

Malta, a small island in the Mediterranean, is in reality a giant – at least in terms of digitalization. This small island state has already repeatedly taken the lead in the EU’s ‘eGovernment benchmark’ report – most recently in 2018. No other EU member state implements the requirements of the digital single market as consistently as Malta. A status report.

eGovernment pioneer rather than tax haven

Malta is in a state of upheaval. Entry into the European Union opened up new opportunities for the small island state, but it also destabilized long-established structures and redefined the political field. Like many other dwarf states, Malta managed to gain and maintain its independence through tactical skill. It is not without reason that the standard repertoire of such European micronations features special financial and fiscal rules. The southernmost EU member is no exception.

For some time now, however, the Maltese government has discovered a new topic: digitalization. This becomes strikingly visible in the small town of Sliema near the capital Valletta, for example, where a Bitcoin machine, suspended between modern glass facades and Victorian walls, can be used to convert cash to crypto currency – or vice versa.

Malta can do more than just Bitcoin

But Malta can do more than just Bitcoin. The state is pursuing an ambitious ‘Digital Malta’ strategy, which is to become reality by the end of 2020. Between 2014 and 2018, the Maltese government invested more than EUR 200 million in this campaign which is geared to achieve comprehensive digitalization of the island. In addition to ultra-fast Internet and legal framework conditions for new companies or local IT experts, the strategy also aims to meet the expectations of all stakeholders – be it entrepreneurs, citizens or civil servants. The face of the campaign is Minister of Economic Affairs Silvio Schembri. He hopes to achieve an economic advantage for his home country. Located between Europe, Africa and the Middle East, Maltese IT entrepreneurs have their sights set on three huge markets. Malta’s digitalization should open up completely new perspectives.

The implementation and application of Malta’s eGovernment strategy is ensured by the state-run Malta Information Technology Agency, MITA. The agency is much like an engine room that drives the strategies of politicians like Schembri or Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.

We want to improve the social and economic well-being of both our citizens and businesses and enhance the internal operations of the public service sector.
Silvio Schembri, Minister for Economy, Investment and Small Business

This is not only to benefit the economy but also citizens of Malta themselves. In Malta, 98 percent of all administrative services are available online – no other European country is so advanced. Simple, efficient design, optimized for mobile use – this is how the Citizen’s Portal, which was implemented by MITA, presents itself. A single web address opens the gates to more than 250 administration services which are clearly divided into twelve sectors. The clear, colourful user interface and search mask leads quickly to the desired goal with just a few mouse clicks required. Even with a smartphone, residents can access citizen services via more than twenty apps. MITA also promotes future technologies, such as the Internet of Things or Blockchain. Artificial intelligence will soon optimize administrative processes. The connected Innovation Hub regularly provides start-up companies with funds, sometimes as much as EUR 300,000. “We want to improve the social and economic well-being of both our citizens and businesses and enhance the internal operations of the public service sector,” says Minister Schembri.

Whenever a public sector in Malta wants to go digital, it passes through the MITA locks. With success. In the EU’s ‘eGovernment Benchmark’ report, Malta once again came out tops in 2018. Every year, this report examines the current status of digital transformation at Europe’s public administrations. Malta is the leader in all areas, including user-friendliness, transparency and data protection.

One-stop shops to support citizens

However, despite all of this success, there does seem to be a problem, as Malta struggles to cope with an imbalance between supply and demand: Digital citizen services are not being used as much as hoped, and many residents prefer to do their administrative work in the traditional way, with only 24 percent opting to use online services. This is simply not enough to achieve the government’s ambitious goals. That’s why the government believes that civic education is decisive for the success of digitalization. To achieve this, five one-stop shops have been set up on the island.

Staff working on laptops in these shops are there to assist citizens during their online visits to public authorities. In one of the shops, around twenty to thirty, mostly elderly, citizens use the offer each day. The number usually increases when new services are introduced. Are citizens satisfied? Yes, most of them, says one employee. With the experience gained from the shops, citizens should soon be able to use the online services independently.

Malta's plan can work – the groundwork has already been laid. If the Maltese concept is successful, the digital revolution will take place in all groups of the population.

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