Public institutions in the pandemic

The time of social isolation showed how important it is for the public administration to get accustomed to provide digital public services. According to NIK considering the risk of future crises these services need to be made more available and popular as soon as possible. None of the audited institutions developed or implemented a separate strategic document on computerisation, including provision of e-services. Essential changes which govern the functioning of public institutions during the epidemic were developed, completed and updated only on an ad hoc basis. All of the audited public institutions had traditional, paper workflow. Employees had the opportunity to do their work on a remote basis but not all of them had computers, access to their institution’s IT system or e-mail. Employees of half of the audited facilities used their private computers in their remote work but the cost settlement principles were defined only in one of them.

NIK also verified how local governments reached the persons needing support, such as social welfare or domestic violence prevention in the crisis situation. The NIK audit revealed that the majority of the audited institutions did not take any additional measures, apart from efforts taken before the epidemic. A study of the actual situation of disabled persons and their carers conducted by the Pedagogical University of Krakow indicated that during the epidemic as much as 86% of respondents experienced more difficulties in their everyday functioning. Also the demand for specialist assistance skyrocketed. In June 2021, as compared with March 2019 (audited period), the number of domestic violence interventions made by employees of the audited institutions, went up by 64%.

According to NIK the supervision exercised by the audited local governments over schools in the remote learning period was insufficient. In over half of the audited facilities irregularities were identified in terms of organising and conducting remote classes. In one case NIK filed a report to the Prosecutor’s Office concerning inadequate supervision over the activity of  a school in Nowogard.

Poland at the far end in digital transformation

Problems related to the public administration functioning during the COVID-19 epidemic showed clearly that digital access to public institutions is a critical and urgent issue.

In 2020, in the EU report on digital transformation Poland took the 24th position (one of the last places). Nearly half of the Internet users used the electronic administration services in a given year (the EU average: 64%), and the availability rate of digital public services for citizens totalled 65% (the EU average: 75%).

Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) in the EU

No wonder then that during the COVID-19 epidemic the basic form of contact with the audited local government authorities were mailboxes and the key method of documenting the course and resolution of issues was the paper workflow. Only 24% of technical staff had the personal qualified signature.

Share of public services provided in various ways
Graphic description

Share of public services provided in various ways:

10% electronically

27% mixed (both in paper and electronically; decisions in paper)

63% in paper

Source: NIK’s analysis based on audit results

Websites of 11 of 14 audited institutions were responsive, i.e. adjusted to mobile devices, including mobile phones. Only half of those facilities, though, despite the crisis situation enabled citizens to make an appointment via Internet.

Mobile access to public institutions
Graphic description

Mobile access to public institutions:

  • making websites responsive for mobile devices, including mobile phones
  • possibility to make an appointment in a public institution via Internet
  • free Internet access point provided by municipalities

Jan 2019-Mar 2020: 11/14

March 2020-Jun 2021: 11/14

Jan 2019-Mar 2020: 3/14

Mar 2020-Jun 2021: 7/14

Jan 2019-Mar 2020: 5/10

Mar 2020-Jun 2021: 4/10

Source: NIK’s analysis based on audit results

NIK auditors also revealed that despite limitations in direct access to the audited institutions, none of them developed or introduced a separate strategic document on computerisation, including provision of e-services. Three public institutions failed to develop or implement the Information Security Management System.

Social welfare unchanged during the epidemic

All the audited institutions took efforts related to crisis management. Most of them adhered to the guidelines that were effective before the COVID-19 epidemic outbreak.  

In the audited period the audited social welfare facilities did not take any additional efforts to reach persons in need. Therefore, the local governments could not have complete information about such persons. A study of the actual situation of disabled persons and their carers conducted by the Pedagogical University of Krakow indicated that during the epidemic as much as 86% of respondents found their everyday functioning more difficult, 76% of them experienced less support than before the epidemic but only 10% took benefit of the social welfare. They stood in a position that system solutions that were to make life easier for disabled persons were insufficient or not tailored to their actual needs.

During the epidemic the demand for interventions in case of domestic violence and specialist assistance for its victims increased. One of the reasons was joint isolation of family members in homes with the violence record. In June 2021 against March 2019, the number of interventions made by the audited facilities went up by 64% (from 381 do 626), whereas the number of registered Blue Cards increased by 11% (from 233 to 259). According to the World Health Organisation during the pandemic all member states reported a 60% boost in the number of domestic violence hotline reports.

During the epidemic local governments also provided food products or money for meals or food products. Nevertheless, the number of persons covered by support in 10 audited municipalities went down in June 2021 by 9% on average (against March 2020) and by 15% (against March 2019). According to the audited institutions’ heads the reasons included the lack of requests for such assistance and implementation of remote learning in schools.

In the audited facilities, apart from standard measures taken before the COVID-19 epidemic, helplines were launched for persons covered by home quarantine or isolation and food was delivered directly to their place of residence.  

Insufficient school supervision

The NIK audit also indicated that the school supervision exercised by local governments in the remote learning period was insufficient. Over half of education facilities reporting to the audited institutions improperly organised and conducted classes using remote learning methods and techniques. An example is the school in Nowogard. The mail exchange between that facility and the District Authority Office in Goleniów implied some irregularities related to recording of teachers’ active working time, students’ activity, manner of verifying teachers’ remote work or data protection. Despite significant doubts as to overtime payments, the Office did not make an audit, nor did it request its conduct with the chief education officer. Therefore, NIK filed a report to the District Prosecutor’s Office in Goleniów of “possible criminal activity consisting in the failure to exercise proper school supervision”.

Education experts appointed by NIK made surveys in 15 facilities reporting to the audited institutions. They checked if the schools properly conducted remote classes from 25 March 2020 to 26 June 2020. The experts identified problems in over half of schools and had objections to 20% of them. They were related among others to teachers using various internet tools. That was not good because students varied in terms of their digital skills. Only one of 14 audited institutions ordered schools to use one communication platform and supported them financially in this area.

In the experts’ opinion classes in the remote learning period became unattractive and tiring, peer relations deteriorated and psychological and pedagogical support for students was reduced. Besides, a new phenomenon occurred, namely students “disappearing” from the education system – they were absent from online classes, did not do their homework and schools did not know what was happening to such students.

The audit showed, however, that all persons in need who did not have their own computers or laptops and reported that fact, received support from the local governments. They provided such persons with hardware and software (purchased as part of programmes: “Remote School” and “Remote School+”), free-of-charge internet or enabled participation in remote classes in a facility.


to the Minister of Digital Affairs:

  • to define digital standards of public services for the local government administration, propagate cloud solutions and coordinate activities in this area.

to the Minister of Education and Science:

  • to strengthen effectiveness of supervision over entities overseeing schools in terms of conducting classes with the use of remote learning methods and techniques.

to the Minister of Family and Social Policy:

  • to urgently submit an act introducing remote learning regulations in the Labour Code for further legislative works, including definition of that working mode, and also implementing rights and obligations on part of the employer and the employee, in particular related to the way of settling costs of remote work.

to executive bodies of local government units:

  • to computerise public services,
  • to re-identify risk, in case of significant changes to the entity functioning conditions to guarantee business continuity,
  • to provide methodical system support for teachers in terms of adequacy of conducting classes using remote learning methods and techniques.

Article informations

Date of creation:
04 February 2023 20:17
Date of publication:
04 February 2023 20:17
Published by:
Marta Połczyńska
Date of last change:
08 February 2023 13:59
Last modified by:
Andrzej Gaładyk
Photo collage: COVID-19 image, Polish public institution and a laptop with a person's hands on its keyboard © Adobe Stock

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