MaltaToday: Information Technology in action
OPINION | Sunday, 30 December 2007

Information Technology in action


In this day and age of Information Technology and of constant hammering in our minds of how much we have advanced in IT in this country, it is about time that the government translates its words into action by introducing online payments and other online services that are more consumer friendly and that provide an instant receipt to any payment effected on line.
Many government departments and other bodies associated with them promote online payment, but I am afraid to say that the system is distancing the public, rather than encouraging it, from its usage. Let us take the case of online payment of contraventions. If you pay online, you run the risk of being faced once again with the bill and you will have to phone Tom, Dick and Harry to remind them that you have paid online. Until they trace the payment, you will have wasted the same time or more that you would have taken to go to any local council to pay for the contravention directly yourself.
So what is the use of paying online, when the system is still light years away from being efficient, as there seems to be no programme in their computer to automatically inform the local councils that such penalties have been paid?
Other government-related companies offer the consumer the opportunity to pay online, but we still have long queues of people in the post office branches and in the banks waiting to pay their bills for the reason that they still do not trust the computer system with which these institutions are endowed. Members of the public want to have a speedy acknowledgement of their payment; not only that, but they also want the assurance that such payments are recorded in their account so that they will not be faced with the hassle and waste of time of running here and there to persuade the service provider that that payment was actually made.
It is very strange that so far, the government has done nothing to make these services more consumer friendly and more efficient. We speak of SmartCity but we fail to address the fact that notwithstanding that many services of payment are made online, many people still opt for the traditional method of payment. Even in the banks this is highly conspicuous and people prefer to stay in line rather than use the deposit or the ATM machine.
Why this still happens is very odd indeed: maybe we are lazy and see no incentive for doing the work ourselves; maybe, as I said, we do not trust the system; maybe we want to have the actual receipt of the payment we made there and then. I do not know the real reason but if you were to ask me why I prefer to queue and not pay directly online, I will tell you that first of all, some of these sites are not consumer friendly and secondly, I am one of those persons who want to have the receipt of the payment there and then.
Even at Mater Dei, the state-of-the-art hospital, there is somebody who is still hesitating to introduce the system of payments online or through credit or debit cards. I recently met somebody whose son needed a vaccine worth Lm440, and by the time clearance was given for the medication to be provided under the national healthcare, they opted to buy it now and get the refund later. But when he went to pay by card, he was told that they only accepted cash – as if we go about with hundreds of liri in our pockets! So, poor chap, he had to go to the nearest ATM at university and get the cash from all his debit and credit cards until he reached the sum of Lm440.
I do not know who gives the orders at Mater Dei and neither can I understand why they opt for cash as the only method of payment when in this day and age, cash should be used as a very last resort as there are many other ways of effecting payment nowadays. I would appreciate it if the people at Mater Dei took this seriously and changed the system of payment.
They must realise that the people who go there are already burdened by the problems and difficulties that any ailment brings with it, and they do not need to be faced with the additional burden of going round the hospital with hundreds of liri or euros in cash because somebody in his cushy office dictated that payment must only be cash. It is true that no government department accepts payment by credit or debit card, and oddly enough there are others that take cheques and cash only, but this old usage must stop.
It seems that no amount of holdups can make the government realize that the system of payment must be changed, so that payments online and/or by credit or debit cards be encouraged. I find it quite odd for some of the government departments to accept payment by cheque (when the risk of dishonouring is there) but refuse payment by card.
Not to mention the risk that all the cashiers working in the government departments are taking by having all this cash in hand. Why should they continue to be allowed to accept payment by cash or cheques? I always thought that the government was all out against laundering of dirty money, but because of the system it adopts, it may, albeit unwittingly, be an accomplice in money laundering.
We witness this also in the payment of bail deposits in court: thousands of liri or euros are accepted by the courts in cash, with no questions asked. Most of the time the money is deposited by people who are unemployed or by their lawyer, when this is totally illegal because no lawyer can guarantee that his client will abide by the conditions of bail.
But for the administration of the Courts and of the justice system, as long as you’re paying your dues, there are no questions asked. The least effort they can do to dissociate themselves from any suspicion of money laundering, is to make sure that such payments are made by cheque or by means of a credit or debit card only, and abolish the cash system of payment altogether in cases where deposits over a certain sum of money are concerned.
We boast that we have SmartCity. We boast that we are making great strides in the information technology industry. But we still fail to put our house in order and think IT by devising consumer friendly methods of payment.

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