Bulgaria passes law requiring government software to be open source [UPDATE]
Bulgaria now requires all software written for the government to be open source. We asked Bozhidar Bozhanov, adviser to the Deputy Prime Minister at Council of Ministers of the Republic of Bulgaria, and Stoyan Mitov, a business development director at Dreamix and co-founder at Grajdanite.bg, to comment on this new law and its benefits.
According to Article 58 of the Bulgarian Electronic Governance Act, administrative authorities will have to include the following requirements: “When the subject of the contract includes the development of computer programs: a) computer programs must meet the criteria for open source software; b) all copyright and related rights on the relevant computer programs, their source code, the design of interfaces and databases which are subject to the order should arise for the principal in full, without limitations in the use, modification and distribution; c) development should be done in the repository maintained by the Agency in accordance with Art. 7c pt. 18;”
Bozhidar Bozhanov, adviser to the Deputy Prime Minister at Council of Ministers of the Republic of Bulgaria, wrote in a Medium post that the new law means that “whatever custom software the government procures will be visible and accessible to everyone.” We talked to him about Bulgaria’s new law, how it came into being and what other countries can learn from its move.
JAXenter: Bulgaria recently decided that all code developed for government use to be open source. Does this help or prevent a country from becoming relevant to software policy on a global scale?
Bozhidar Bozhanov: I hope so. We are not the first country to push open source policies, but I think we are setting a good precedent by putting it in the law. Then we will be able to share how it all went — what are the challenges, what are the best practices, etc.
JAXenter: What does this decision mean for Bulgaria and how did this law come into being?
Bozhidar Bozhanov: The change hopefully means better software. Currently the administration does not have the capacity to assess the software quality, and as a result it is sometimes below industry standards. The idea of developing it in the open should improve that. As for how the law came into being — we decided to make changes to the existing law and “fix” many problems that were found throughout the years. We wanted to apply modern software engineering standards to government software, and open source seemed like a thing that could help. In fact, open source is already a requirement for all projects in Operational program “Good governance”, so we just took the definitions from there.
JAXenter: Does this mean that things will change dramatically?
Bozhidar Bozhanov: Probably not, at least not overnight. I see it more as a gradual process and building a culture of transparency and quality.
Quality is something one would pay attention to if he knew his code is going to be public.
JAXenter: What are the pitfalls of this law?
Bozhidar Bozhanov: We are still to find out the pitfalls. Maybe some companies will try to circumvent it in various ways, so we’ll have to find a way to actually enforce it. The e-governance agency we are now creating will be the main mechanism that will enable us to enforce it.
JAXenter: In a recent Medium post you mentioned that this decision is “a good step for better government software and less abandonware.” What do you mean by that?
Bozhidar Bozhanov: Software gets built, support contracts expire, and then it either goes into oblivion, or continues to exist with many, many problems until it eventually gets replaced…and the story goes on. Few companies are willing to support and extend software they have never seen, and so many systems are practically “dead”. And as I mentioned earlier, quality is something one would pay attention to if he knew his code is going to be public. Even if companies themselves don’t care about their reputation, individual engineers do — having your name on a piece of code may be an asset, or a liability. I’ve seen a lot of projects that no good engineer would ever want to publish, and I hope this change would prevent such things from going into operation, especially given that millions are paid for them.
We wanted to apply modern software engineering standards to government software, and open source seemed like a thing that could help.
JAXenter: What should other countries learn from Bulgaria’s decision?
Bozhidar Bozhanov: If you put experts in the right position, and have political will and capacity to support them (as the deputy prime minister does), you can quickly change the landscape. Though this is only the first step, I hope results will follow.
Thank you very much!
“The open source act is a huge victory for transparency”
I am a huge believer that each person should be responsible for their own deeds — praised for the good decisions and penalized for the bad ones. The open source act is a huge victory for transparency, which plays an essential part in removing corruption. Moreover, I think that the quality of the projects delivered will be better than before.
Having the open source requirement incorporated into the law is a big step, but as Bozhidar said: “It’s not enough.” Although there will be many other obstacles and challenges ahead, a good start is half a victory.
I was in the Valley more than a year ago at an event with the Estonian prime minister where he gave Estonian E-citizenship numbers 2 & 3 to Tim Draper and Steve Jurvertson. Then he announced that they will open source everything and I was thinking: “Wow. When will this come to Bulgaria?” Now, thanks to Bozhidar and the Deputy PM, it finally happened in my country and I’m very pleased with how things went.