, November 15, 2005
(STAR) By Aurea Calica - Wonder why it sometimes takes forever to place a call to various government offices and agencies?

This is because, in the age of high-speed Internet connections and fiber optic phone lines, most government agencies — including the Palace — still rely on human operators rather than voice prompters that can automatically connect callers dialing trunk lines to different local extensions.

But five years into the new millennium, Malacañang has finally caught up with the latest telecommunications.

According to Deputy Executive Secretary Waldo Flores, the Palace has started installing voice prompters or call routers to improve efficiency of call handling.

Flores said in an interview yesterday that he himself was surprised that Malacañang did not have the call-routing devices that are readily available and relatively cheap.

"They tell me that we will have problems with the telephone operators that we have. But we cannot sacrifice efficiency anymore at this stage," Flores said.

"So we have to find new job orders for them. We will have to retire or transfer some of them. Only a few will have to stay just to make sure all the machines are working and calls are taken," he added.

There are currently 25 telephone operators at the Palace and six technicians.

So far, five voice prompters have been installed.

"Even small companies use these," Flores noted.

Flores added he has also instructed government agencies to do away with messengers to deliver documents to different offices, if these could be sent through e-mail.

He said it would be easier to check by telephone to confirm that e-mail messages have been received.

Flores noted these were only some of the small improvements that could boost efficiency in the government and which must be addressed promptly to improve service to the people.

President Arroyo once told Flores on national television that he should stop calling personal meetings to discuss the government’s energy conservation measures.

The President said there should be more "virtual meetings" through the Internet to save time in getting things done.

She claimed this would reduce traffic jams and unnecessary use of fuel, aside from the fact that the exchange of information and ideas would be faster.

When he joined the department, Flores said the accounting department would routinely ask him to sign hundreds of checks before paydays — an activity that could eat up most of his time in the office.

"So I told them, I did not accept this job to just sign checks and ordered the release of employees’ salaries through the ATMs (automated teller machines)," he said.

Before, Flores said a staff member would distribute the paychecks to every employee and have each of them sign a document as proof of receipt.

"That has to be changed and now they have this ATM-cum-ID (identification card) so the loan sharks cannot just take away all their cash," Flores said.

In terms of communication, the government was also criticized recently for spending a whopping P3.7 billion last year on landline and cellular phone bills.

The President ordered the Department of Budget and Management to reduce phone calls to cover only those used for official business and urgent operations.

"She also wants networked solutions that are less costly, more efficient and taking advantage of the Internet," Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said.

"We expect all government agencies to strictly implement our standing austerity measures. Modern information and communication technologies should be rationalized for speedy and smooth government transactions that maintain the quality of service we deliver to the people," Bunye noted.

To save on phone expenses, a lawmaker suggested that agencies connected to the Internet use the new technology called "Voice over Internet Protocol," or VoIP, which could allow a user or subscriber to place phone calls through the Internet without costly long-distance or mobile phone charges.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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