Note: This column represents the opinions
of the writer and as such, is not purported as fact|
I recently dropped an email to the Hon Paul Swain, Minister of Communications,
asking him whether the government plans to do something about the sorry state
of DSL broadband services in this country.
the contents of Aardvark's "million-dollar ideas" notebook
are revealed for all to see!
I was surprised but perhaps not disappointed that I didn't immediately
receive an automated "thank you for your email" type of response -- I'm
not a great fan of these Net-equivalents of an answerphone anyway.
What surprised me most of all however, was the response I eventually got from the Office
of Paul Swain.
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But first, let me remind you that the present government tells us that it
is firmly committed to transitioning to the Net, many of the day-to-day
interactions between government and citizens.
This move to e-Government is a sensible one. Why waste taxpayer funds and
the valuable time of state servants by bothering them with relentless phone
calls requesting the same old information when that same material can be
put up on the Net and readily downloaded by anyone who needs it.
To this end, the government are to be commended for the efforts they've
made to date.
There's already a good amount of information and a wide range of forms
available for download, something that makes life so much easier when
you're applying for a passport, registering a new company, etc.
Given this commitment to using the Net as a method of cutting costs and
boosting the efficiencies of government-citizen communications, I was therefore
gobsmacked to receive the following response from Paul Swain's office:
"Thank you for your correspondence. Your email is with the Minister for his
Could you please provide a postal address for the Minister's reply. Thank
I had received similar responses a year or two ago and understood that some
less IT-literate ministers, or those with a vested interest in keeping NZ Post
profitable, might have taken a while to get to grips with this
"internet" thing -- but why was the Minister of Communications still shunning
email as a method of responding to correspondence?
Well it seems that it's all to do with signatures.
After I queried this seemingly paradoxical state of affairs, I was told that
a response could be forwarded by email if required, however it's standard
procedure for the Minister to sign all such correspondence and that "there
has been a preference to send the signed letter".
Given that it's the taxpayer who ultimately pays for the paper, ink,
envelope and other overheads involved in printing and delivering a
snail-mail letter, I'd have thought that it would be quite reasonable
to reply to an email, by email and save everyone a little time and money.
Why did I actually have to ask that the reply was emailed to me rather
Is it time for a change of practice in the corridors of power?
I think it would be sensible to respond to all communications in kind. If
a message is received by post, then respond by post. If it's received by
email then respond by email unless a request is made for a more formal
Experts all over the world concur that email is the single most popular
and important service provided by the Internet. If the government and its
ministers are going to fully embrace the concept of e-Government then they
really need to be more proactive in making full use of this fast, efficient
and effective tool.
Surely the Green Party ought to be concerned that the government is opting
to burn hydrocarbons transporting lumps of ink-stained dead tree around the
countryside when the same information can be delivered in digital form using
little more than the power of a little water falling through a turbine
Have your say.
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