Estonia: Government Innovations Lead the Way

The Baltic States remain the greatest economic successes of the old Soviet Union.  Estonia has not only promoted economic development but pioneered government reform.  McKinsey & Co. recently lauded Tallinn for creating an e-government model which “gives residents easy access to both public and private services.”

Like most of the former Soviet republics, Estonia began in a deep hole.  Observed McKinsey in a new report on government innovation, after winning independence Estonia “was left with little public infrastructure and virtually no commercial activity.”

In 2003 the government launched its first e-government portal.  The site was limited to start.  Today, however, noted McKinsey:  “Estonia’s 1.3 million residents can use electronic ID cards to vote, pay taxes, and access more than 160 services online, from unemployment benefits to property registration.  Private-sector entities, such as banks and telecommunications companies, also offer services through the state portal—and thus have an incentive to invest in maintaining the infrastructure backbone.”  The system receives 10,000 visitors daily.

Tallinn obviously had advantages that other former Soviet republics did not.  Nevertheless, Estonia’s e-government experience demonstrates that even a small nation can take an innovative lead.  Siim Raie, who works for Estonia’s president, observed that “In so many things, we had to start from scratch—so we were free to make big choices.”  That’s a lesson even bigger countries should take to heart.

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