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TWENTIETH ANNIVERSARY OF THE CONCEIVING OF THE ACT IN ELECTRONIC FORM

Cagliari, 5 March 1999
Pisa, 15 May 1999

Giovanni Duni

One stop shop: innovation and delay(*)

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a) Traditional window and technological window
The concept of “ window” concerns the relations between citizens and public administrations in both their positive and negative aspects. If we think about the window in the literal sense, the physical aspect is what comes to mind: a small opening through a glass counter where citizens can talk or give documents to public employees. The negative aspect prevails when we think of public administration in this strict sense.
Nevertheless, the window can also represent the place where citizens and public administration meet without any physical barriers; where the citizen is received by a functionary in a friendly and courteous manner.
The past few years, however, have seen the advent of a “technological window”. Information technology companies are now able to provide Public administration with very advanced equipment which brings Public administration and citizens into direct contact. This new technology is wonderfully simple, thus user friendly: often one only need to touch a screen. In some cases the equipment is sophisticated enough to recognize the user by means of a magnetized card.
The problem of these technologies is to exploit them fully so that the returns on the investment make the latter worthwile. There have been technological windows that were only able to give very simple information such as museum or office timetables.
Today technology is better exploited, especially in some municipalities in the North of Italy, where it is not only possible to obtain certificates from ATMS but also to forward documents to the Public Administration desired.
Since digital signature has acquired legal recognition in Italy, these possibilities have increased enormously. It is now possible to identify the person you are dealing with through the display screen and to be sure you are "talking" with the right person.
It should be pointed out that the automatic window solution is not the only one.
There are at least two others:
A) a window with an efficient display station used with the help of a public employee;
B) a virtual window, that is to say access to Public administration through the Internet.
The first of these has clear advantages. Citizens very often need to talk with an office worker in person: sometimes a dialogue can be very useful to solve problems concerning the use of the display station.
Until recently a virtual window by means of the Internet seem unreliable, but since digital signature has been chosen as a secure method of identification much has changed. E-commerce is playing an increasingly important role in commercial field while in Public administration some municipalities have developed very innovative projects using internet access for administrative procedures, as for instance in Trieste.
It is not easy to say which solution is the best because the needs of communication between Public administration and citizens vary a lot according to the local situations.

b) The recent legislation: legal sources

The one stop shop has always been a latent expectation for citizens. As we will see later, it was a central theme in teleadministration studies. In 1998 legislators chose to accomplish it without a complete computer based workflow system, limiting it to productive assets. But even in this way many difficulties are likely to arise: local authorities have recently expressed their concern regarding this point.
There already exist difficulties in identifying the legal sources that govern the subject.
The following texts should to be considered:

delegation for semplification and devolution of power as to art. 1 of Law No. 59 of 15 March 1997, and delegation-enabling clause in favour of the rule making power in art. 20, in reference to points 26,42, 43 and 50 of appendix 1.
Legislative decree 31 March 1998, No. 112, which as well as decentralizing powers of the State to regions and local authorities, sets up the one stop shop for productive assets (art. 23).
Ministerial regulation regarding the one stop shop (DPR 20 October 1998, No. 447, in G.U. 28 dic. 1998, No. 301).
Also to be noted:
Ministerial regulation on computer based record (DPR 20 October 1998, No. 428, in G.U. 14 dic. 1998, No. 291).
Article 7 of Regional Law No. 37, 24 December 1998, which acknowledges the rules on one stop shop and allocates funds.
 

The system of legal sources is quite complex since we have the enactment of two parallel delegations contained in Law 59/97: one for the legislative decrees (from which the one stop shop originated) and that of article 20, paragraph 8. Fortunately there seems to be no contrast between these acts. If there had been any contrast, it is unclear which act would have prevailed. If it is true that the Legislative decree prevails on the regulations it also true that art. 20 of law 59/97 aims at controlling the subject by means of regulations.
The right solution is probably the following: since the introduction of the one stop shop is higly innovative, the Goverment has preferred to intervene initially with a legally binding act, using the delegation in art. 1 of Law 59/97. The next rule, based on article 20, paragraph 8, has overlapped with art. 23 and with the successive articles of Legislative Decree 112/98.
Since the power of delegification has been exercised, the new text prevails automatically over the previous one (and does not integrate with it) albeit of a higher rank; because it governs the entire subject area, articles 23-27 are all abrogated, if no explicitly stated otherwise.

c) The recent legislation: the contents.

What do the above mentioned decrees establish and what discretions do they allow for? I think that there are no contrasts between legislative decrees and ministerial regulations. Nevertheless it is important to say that in the future, law making power will be sufficient to change D.P.R. 447/99.
Legislative decree 112/98 and DPR 447 provide for:
a) The unification of the proceedings and the possible decision making administrative body;
b) The direct involvement of the administrations (articles 4 and 7 of DPR 447) whose task is, according to current legislation, to issue “acts granting authorization and permission”; the function of these administrations is to guarantee public interests, such as safety or the safuguarding of standards and limitations regarding public lands, nature, seismic zones, water supplies, forests and environmentally sensitive areas, as well as places of important historical, artistic and archeological heritage.
c) General and “problem avoiding” computer based information on the procedures to be followed;
d) computer based management of the information on initiated proceedings.
However I believe that a more widespread use of telematics is necessary: in fact it paves the way to improvements in general efficiency without any need for new laws.
We can therefore identify two important limits in the set of rules:
1) The three aims concern the settlement of productive assetts, and so they do not concern private citizens.
2) Legislative Decree 112 and DPR 447 do not enforce a real computer based management of the proceedings. Therefore: paper procedure is still possible with all the steps being subsequently transmitted to an information system that could be modelled on the computer based record outlined by DPR 20 October 1998, No. 428.
It seems to me though, that the computer based record, separately considered, is not in itself an objective that satisfies those who pursue the best in efficiency.
Computer based information systems are certainly important to citizens (and to Public administration) but, if pursued in a paper world, it could represent a burdening of the procedures.
DPR 428 is not very clear on this but there should be a link with the aims set in art. 2, paragraph 2 of DPR 447/98. The inevitable consequence would be a rule according to which no paper document should be moved from one desk to another if the employee responsible for the computer based record has not taken note in order to simultaneously activate the computer based information, which would mean a further burden.
The main gap in the law, which is that it limits advantages only to productive assets, has to be filled as soon as possible, by extending the system of the one stop shop to all administrative procedures and therefore to all citizens.
This objective requires a more thorough use of delegification as to article 20 of Law 59/97, which provides for the extension of the one stop shop system, in particular to municipal administrations (for example the granting of building permission to all those who are entitled to it). I believe that, by means of telematics, the one stop shop system should be a decentralised service, also applied to procedures where jurisdiction lies with the state, the region or province, without necessarily involving the local authority.
Bringing the citizen closer to public administrations should be the general objective, and not only in filing procedures regarding local government. When we book a flight (or so I'm told) the booking procedure goes through a data elaboration centre located in India.
Why then shouldn't documentation regarding motorcars or firearms licences, or building plans for a secondary school be initiated in a local authority, and then processed by another organisation? The chief aim should be to meet the needs of the citizen according to responsibilities laid down by the law.
As regards both the resolutions of the Presidential Decree 447 and these other
wider projects, it is clear that telematics must now play a more central role: I believe the time is ripe to eliminate paper documents and to set up "single telematic window in the most complete sense, i.e. a datacommunications workflow that begins within one administration and links directly to other administrations that need to be involved in the procedure". Such a solution, which is essentially what can be termed teleadministration (first conceived in 1978 and perfected in 1991-93), resolves every possible problem (no extra protocol procedures are necessary) because the telenetworking system itself automatically creates the information to be protocolled; the question of the physical location of windows is irrelevant, since the networks make the distance factor redundant and it will no longer be necessary to come to Cagliari to apply for documents whose issuing is normally the competence of the region or the state.

d) The one stop shop and the telematic one stop shop. Teleadministration
As I have stated, new technology enables us to find new solutions. The difficulty lies in its application, or rather adapting new technologies to law and the law to new technology and then finding effective solutions with the available means.
One of the first suggestions for effective modernisation that I had the task to formulate was to combine all the filing procedures of any given documenation into one single public administration. This is the basic principle of teleadministration.
However, it is important to note:
Teleadministration is based on concepts which were first elaborated 20 years ago: electronic form, computer networking management of procedures and electronic signatures identifying the employee responsible. It has its origins in a paper I presented at the five yearly conference of the Italian Supreme Court of Appeal in 1978, in which I first set forth the hypothesis of an administrative act in electronic form, telematic procedure and electronic signatures.
The word teleadministration was adopted later, in 1991, at another conference of the Court of Appeal, and in 1993 the main principles of this new administration management philosophy were laid down.
There are 10 principles, but I will mention here only those that concern the one stop shop.

-A CITIZEN PRESENTS A REQUEST FOR DOCUMENTS AT A PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION OFFICE,WHICH IS THEN RESPONSIBLE FOR THE ENTIRE PROCEDURE
-ONLY ONE FILE IS OPENED,IRRESPECTIVE OF THE NUMBER OF SEPARATE ADMINISTRATIONS INVOLVED
-AT ALL STAGES OF AN ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEDURE, WHETHER INTERNAL TO THE OFFICE OR THOSE REQUIRING EXTERNAL (NO IMPEDIMENT) AUTHORISATION, A SIMPLE ORDER TO PROCEED IS SENT TO THE OFFICE MANAGER WHO WILL THEN EFFECT THE NEXT STAGE FROM HIS OWN TERMINAL, THUS BECOMING RESPONSIBLE FOR THAT PHASE OF THE PROCEDURE
-ALL RELEVANT INFORMATION ALREADY STORED IN PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION FILES WILL BE ACCESSED ELECTRONICALLY, WITHOUT THE CITIZEN NEEDING TO DEAL PERSONALLY WITH DIFFERENT OFFICES
(the bringing into effect and bypassing of article 18, paragraph 2 and 3, of law 241/90).

OMISSIS

There are other principles, but the first three in particular clearly state that teleadministration and one stop shop are practically the same thing and came into existence in 1991-1993.
Besides, it would have been absurd if such a new and at the time revolutionary solution were merely to reproduce in electronic form, all the defects of a paper office.
By eliminating paper altogether (even though it may have many advantages, such as being less tiring on the eyes), we can be sure of smooth data workflow: only electronic signals travel along wires and therefore only electronic documents will be accepted in the new system. Furthermore, having sacrificed paper on the alter of workflow, it would be insane not to restructure the system so as to maximise available potential.
It was for this reason that the idea of a citizen dealing simultaneously with various offices was excluded; as was the possibility that workflow be carried out using electronic mail, which has at least two disadvantages: 1) Documents are duplicated every time it is used, creating problems of exact reference ; 2) it interrupts the line of "one telematic procedure" at the server used by the competent administration.

e) Legislative decree 112 and DPR 447 between innovation and stagnation. The problem of relationships between different administrations.
Why did Legislative decree 112 and ministerial regulation 447 also provide for a one stop shop system in the field of paper administration as well?
It was considered important not to delay the practical advantages for the entrepreneur citizen, where teleadministration coming into full effect might require a longer period of time. The "Confindustria" ( Italian Business Confederation) urged the government to push through legislation on the one stop shop and the state obliged: by May 27th 1999 all municipalities were to be able to deal with applications for setting up productive businesses (2 months for the regulation DPR 447/98 to come into effect + 90 days= 27 May).
It is not simply a question of payment due dates: the entrepreneur citizen has a well defined legal status: "simple legitimate interests are his main concern, so any demand for compensation for damages incurred would probably not be considered; however, letter h of paragraph 5 of article 20 of Law 59/97 does state that money compensation will be paid for delays caused by public administrations: a regulation which embodies the guiding principle for delegifying regulatory power, which has not however been adopted in the issuing of the regulation concerning the one stop shop.
Leaving aside worries for the 27th May deadline, let us look at other aspects of this innovation.
The citizen must deal with only one administration, which will carry out the whole procedure. In the provisions examined, the said administration is the local municipality.
And since these are the most geographically widespread administration in the country, it is destined to become the one stop shop for all procedures. Presidential decree 447 is , in my view, only a starting point.
The provisions that we are examining have merely initiated the simplification process, giving the local authorities an extra burden, which will require greater interaction between public administrations: no light burden, and one from which not even self certification procedures provided for by article 6 and 7 of Presidential Decree 447 are exempt. Such procedures will require a series of checking stages to be carried out by the administrations involved.
But will all this work without telematics? Can the often inadequate local administrations really replace the post-man citizen in transmitting all the required documentation to the administrations charged with granting authorisations and nulla ostas?
From the viewpoint of information technology and telematic networks, the new legislation is a breath of fresh air since it obliges people to use a network (internet?) to register and start up a business. Another clearly positive step is the moving of documentation from one administraration to another using a network system. (I believe that in Trieste they already have such a system in place, whereby an application is forwarded telematically, via internet, with the sender using a digital signature as identifation).
But May 27th is near and there is bound to be a measure of disappointment, except where the following conditions pertain:

1) The municipality has little need to collaborate with other administrations, because there do not exist serious limitations or restrictions as regards territorial environment, seismic danger, hydrogeological conditions, environmentally protected areas of forest, which often mean that they are assigned artistic, archaeological or historical importance.
2) In other cases, two conditions must be met:
a)The municipality must have the will and ability to implement telematic procedures.
b) they have to be able to interact with other administrations likewise equipped to dialogue telematically.

Why such pessimism if these conditions were not to be met?
I base my fears on a comparable experience.

Law no. 241(1990), art. 18, intended to facilitate procedures for the citizen, eliminating certificates and going beyond self-certification: it would be sufficient to state that all data was registered with another administration. But this never worked; indeed it proved necessary to bring back self-certification, in 1998.
It is evident that only a telematic system can make the one stop shop function effectively. Otherwise Decree 447 runs the risk of paralysing most of the municipalities that are still far from being efficient: without the assistance of the citizen post-man, the municipal authorities will be bogged down with extra problems that will simply slow down the speed of proceedings even further.

A telematic system, on the other hand, that works according to the principles of teleadministration, tends to unify into one single procedure what is today a series of connected procedures. The concept of administrative procedure will eventually be replaced by this unifying administrative act.
Pessimism turns to optimism though if we consider that many of the more progressive municipalities see the challenge as a kind of competition to see who can go furthest beyond the minimum requirements of the new legislation, towards more complete telematic management.

I am hopeful that teleadministration will become a reality through the one stop shop system: not limiting itself to the minimum innovation requirements set by the law, but that it will develop its technical advantages and translate these into advantages for the non entrepeneur citizen too.

f) Preventing the one stop shop from becoming a computerised tower of Babel.
There is one major worry concerning the overall one stop shop system: if this danger is not taken into account, there may be several simultaneous overlapping solutions which if left running too late, will require great expense and energy to put right.
Every public administration has its own self organising autonomy, and so could adopt different computer systems, making it then difficult to collaborate with other administrations involved in the same procedure. The single telematic window could well fail as a direct result of the variety of simultaneous concrete solutions adopted.
What might happen: a large municipality or a group of smaller municipalities may choose one type of telematic system, say type A, while others might opt for different systems, B,C etc.
All these municipalities will however need to dialogue with the same regional or central government administrations whose job it is to safeguard specific public interests.

If the rudimentary electronic mail system should be avoided ( I have indicated above why this would be problematic), the central ( regional or state) offices that need to dialogue with several "municipalities" will have to use the same interface software for all local authorities:
it would be unrealistic to expect a functionary to learn 10,20, or 100 different systems, even if the final objectives are similar.
This would happen because with telematic management of procedures, according to regulations set to make the one stop shop operate and those aimed to bring the citizen closer to public administrations, a central administrative office would technically become a terminal for those on the periphery, and not vice versa. It may seem strange, but new organisational strategies are needed if administrations and citizens are to be brought closer together.
We trust that this message will be heard by those able to take action. (Until we can guarantee global solutions- in the working dialogue with local administrations it will perhaps be preferable to resort to the imperfect system of electronic mail).

Ideas coming from university research or other research sources often have unpredictable destinies: they may lie for decades before being taken up seriously; or they may be adopted enthusiastically - with blind regard for the final objective- and hence risk not paying due attention to those problems that need to be addressed from the start in order to reach the final objective.

I will conclude by saying that this danger of a tower of Babel for one stop shops should not manifest itself in Sardinia if, as is hoped, the Bill of Law presented by the 8th regional reform group, is passed. In order to guarantee the complete computerisation of local administrations throughout all of the regional area, the Bill provides for the creation of a consortium between the Region of Sardinia and all other administrative boards in order to oversee and direct all decisions that affect different administrations.

Thank you for your attention.

 

 


(*) This study is based on the speech held at the University of Cagliari on March 5, 1999 (Computer based single counter). The author then gave a talk at the University of Pisa in May 1999 on the same subject and the title of this article was derived from this talk. torna al testo