Citizens to get vital new information and service centers by end of 2003

A thousand Citizens’ Information and Service Centers (KEP) will be functioning by the end of 2003 in order to relieve people of time-wasting dealings with state services, with even the most remote municipalities to get one center each. Today, there are about 500 KEP branches in as many municipalities, which will be linked to all state services online, enabling them to transfer documents electronically, issue pensions, deal with tax cases and even carry out banking transactions. From spring, the public will be able to submit their tax forms at the centers. Through KEP, a farmer from Komotini, for example, will be able, from next March, to receive his pension in his own municipality, regulate issues pertaining to subsidies, ask for compensation owing to bad weather, carry out transactions with the Agricultural Bank, and later with other private banks, and pay electricity and telephone bills. The Interior Ministry aspires to being able to issue farmers’ fund (OGA) pensions without delay, so that the first pension check issued comes on the exact day the farmer hits 65. Deputy Interior Minister Stavros Benos has envisaged the day «when the pension will be given to the pensioner the moment he reaches the age of 65, with a bouquet of flowers and a letter thanking him for his services to the country.» Kathimerini asked the minister – in disbelief – how this would be done. «Already, we are digitalizing all the documents needed for OGA pensions. KEP branches will have records of the number of pensioners in their areas. The necessary forms and documents will be collected for each citizen, a year earlier, at the age of 64, that is, with the goal of providing the pension a year later.» The gray corridors of public buildings will give way to state bureaus, the deputy minister said, «where all citizens’ administrative business will begin and end, quickly and efficiently, [covering anything] from a simple birth certificate to a pension.» The centers already issue statements of tax status and all kinds of certificates. Over 500 administrative procedures have been simplified and digitalized, while by the end of 2003, 1,000 electronic forms – corresponding to an equal number of administrative matters – will have been incorporated into the system. The KEP branches are connected electronically to each other and with other state services and all administrative procedures will be given electronic form. If someone wants to renew a driving license, the corresponding form is typed up on computer. The application is submitted instantly. The citizen authorizes a KEP employee to collect, on his behalf, all the requisite documents, which may be scattered around different parts of the country. He or she might need a birth certificate from Alexandroupolis, a diploma from Thessaloniki and a declaration of a clean criminal record from Ioannina. The centers will be able to acquire all of these electronically, and then the entire file is sent to the department. People will even be able to receive what they applied for at home. In December 2002, 10 KEP offices served 121,250 citizens. The majority of requests were for information on municipal rolls, army rolls and criminal records. Citizens ask for certificates from courts of first instance (e.g. on marriage dissolutions), the renewal of driving licenses, affidavits from social security funds, transfer of electoral rights, transfer of vehicle ownership, passport issue or renewal, issue of teaching permits, certificates of study and copies of degrees. There are now 4,500 KEP employees on short-term contracts and 2,000 permanent municipal employees. In 2003, municipalities will announce 2,000 new posts, while from 2004, six-month contracts for technical college students will be possible. Interior Minister Costas Skandalidis also has immediate plans to promote, through KEP, the volunteer program for the Olympics.