At a glance
Just over a month after giving birth to her first child, Mirela brought her young son - wrapped in a heavy winter blanket as protection against the cold - to one of Tirana's Civil Status Offices (CSOs) to be registered.
Mirela had seen a campaign on TV about Albania's new computerised National Register of Citizens, from which she knew that citizens were called upon to register their newborn children within 60 days of the birth.
"Fortunately, it did not take us too long," she says. "We just provided the name we had chosen for the baby, other necessary details and supporting documents, and within minutes, the Civil Status Office employee had printed his first certificate."
It wasn't always this quick and easy. Until recently, Mirela would have had to queue for hours to get her son's first official certificate. But now, thanks to a project by the OSCE Presence in Albania funded by the EU, things are very different.
"In Albania, citizens need a certificate issued by the CSO in order to receive services such as drinking water, electricity and education, open a bank account or apply for a visa. A new certificate is required for every service," explains Frank Nan, who heads the OSCE Presence's project to help modernize the country's address and civil registration system.
"To get a certificate, people first had to wait in long queues. The process took a very long time because everything had to be prepared by hand: the CSO employee had to find the name of the person in the civil status books and then copy all the data manually to the certificate. It was frustrating, time-consuming and one could never be absolutely sure that the employee had not made a mistake," he adds.
Since September 2008, the situation in the CSOs has improved dramatically. Through an EU-funded technical assistance project, the OSCE Presence provided extensive help to the Ministry of Interior in modernizing the address and civil registration system.
All hand-written civil status records have now been computerised and a nationwide civil registry database has been created. More than 650 data entry operators, supervisors, trainers and co-ordinators worked to computerise the records of more than 4.2 million Albanians. The task was completed in just nine months.
Faster, better, safer
Now, when citizens go to the CSOs, there are no more long queues and they receive better services. All their data is retrieved from the civil registry database within seconds and the possibility of errors is minimized, so CSO employees can issue electronically-printed civil status certificates on the spot.
The fact that the state institutions have higher-quality information means that they can also deliver better services in other sectors. But as Frank Nan points out, "The quality of the data in the National Register of Citizens is paramount. While the new system is much better suited to providing modern services, it is dependent on the civil status data being complete, correct, and up to date. Maintaining that information requires a lot of effort.
"The computerised civil registration system is an important tool for improving public services. To keep it functioning smoothly, all parties have to contribute to its maintenance and accuracy. In addition to the work done by the state, every citizen has to fulfil their duty to register civil status acts in a timely and correct manner," Frank Nan adds.
As part of the project, a public awareness campaign was launched to inform people about the new system and its benefits, and to encourage them to act responsibly by registering civil status acts promptly. It was this campaign that Mirela saw.
And the benefits of the new computerized register extend beyond merely shortening queues at Civil Status Offices. The data will also be used to produce the new biometric passports and ID cards for Albanian citizens.