Saturday, September 24, 2005

Dagupan City adopts paperless Sanggunian sessions

DAGUPAN CITY – Until recently, members of the city council here had to laboriously sift through a thick file of documents neatly fastened on a folder every time they held their sessions.

These papers contained the agenda, minutes, proposed resolutions and ordinances and official communications received by the Sangguniang Panlungsod that had to be furnished the 13 members of the legislative body.

Today, these stacks of documents are gone. On the city councilors’ desks instead are laptop computers, where digital copies of the documents have been stored for the councilors to easily access.

“We now hold paperless sessions and information technology has made all these possible,” said Vice Mayor Alvin Fernandez, who vigorously pushed for the electronic session (e-session) project, the first of its kind in Pangasinan and maybe, even in the whole country.

The system

The project required the installation of 13 laptop computers in the session hall, one each for the 12 councilors and the presiding officer.

These laptops are run by a customized user-friendly program that allows the councilors to immediately access everything they need during sessions, such as the agenda, transcripts of minutes of past sessions, committee hearings and committee reports, draft resolutions, draft ordinances, communications, memorandum, informative materials, and other electronic documents.

An archive of past resolutions and ordinances since 1950 has also been digitized and uploaded into the city council’s computers.

“All we have to do now is click the mouse,” Fernandez said.

Through an LCD projector, electronic copies of documents being taken up during sessions may be beamed to an interactive white board set up inside the session hall for the public and the media to see.

The city councilors can also submit proposed resolutions and ordinances, communicate with one another through instant messaging, and access the Internet through their laptops.

Cyber-session

The Internet access actually crystallized the idea of holding cyber-sessions.

And in a pioneering piece of legislation, the city council allowed Fernandez to preside over city council sessions via cyberspace, making him perhaps the only vice mayor in the country today to have such privilege.


But as a condition, Fernandez must be in the Philippines and the city councilors should be properly informed at least three days before a cyber-session.

“We now have the technology and we might as well make use of it to save precious time and resources,” Fernandez said.

From any point in the country where there is an Internet presence, the vice mayor simply calls the city council’s IP (Internet protocol) address through his laptop and connect it to the SP information technology system.

Using Microsoft’s Net Meeting software, which is hooked to a camera in the city council’s central computer server, he is then able to see and hear all discussions in the SP session.

The city councilors, in turn, would see the vice mayor on a projection screen through a webcam attached to his laptop and hear him preside clearly through its “surround” sound system, as though the vice mayor were personally present in the session.

“There will only be a second’s delay in the transmission on both ends. This is why the SP will have to apply for a higher bandwidth to minimize the delay the best way possible,” Fernandez said.

Website

In addition to the cyber-session, the city council will soon launch its own fully interactive website (http://www.citycouncil.dagupan.gov.ph/).

Fernandez said that the website will provide Dagupeños, including those outside the city, the opportunity to democratically participate in the governance of the city.

“The website features downloadable ordinances, agenda, forums, news, as well as streaming video of past sessions,” he said.

Through its forums section, the people may post suggestions, report violations of ordinances, or air their concerns on vital local legislations.

Fernandez said that the website will also provide updated news on the city council, especially on the status of pending ordinances that directly affect the people’s day-to-day lives.

As he waits for the launching of the website, the vice mayor in the meantime maintains a blog (http://vmalvinfernandez.blogspot.com/), where he regularly posts his daily activities and views on various issues.

Cost saving

Fernandez said that despite spending almost P850,000 for the project, the amount is still insignificant compared to the savings that the city council will generate in the future.

Before the computerization project was set in place, the SP uses at least five reams of copy paper every week just for the agenda, transcripts of minutes of the sessions, committee hearings and committee reports, draft resolutions, draft ordinances, communications, memorandum, informative materials, and other documents.

“How about the (cost of the) folders, the drum kits for the photocopiers, the computer ink, the gasoline for the distribution of the agenda?” Fernandez asked.

He said the photocopying machines often break down because of the volume of documents that are reproduced every week. “And having these equipment repaired is expensive,” Fernandez added.

Fernandez also noted that with paperless sessions, the council is in effect helping in the waste reduction program of the city government.

“Although paper is a recyclable material, it is still far better if we use just a little of it,” he said.

“Hopefully, the new system will dramatically reduce the volume of paper and other supplies used in the city council. As it is now, it is already a big help in the electronic storage and filing of documents for each of the city councilor, making it easier for them to review past discussions on local legislations,” Fernandez said.

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