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Philippines appoints new ICT chief

Chairman of Commission on Information and Communications Technology outlines his top priorities, including the "difficult" poll automation project.

PHILIPPINES--The newly-appointed head of the government's Commission on Information and Communications Technology (CICT) has unveiled his top priorities, noting that one task--the poll automation project--remains "difficult".

In a press briefing Wednesday, the Commission's chairman Ray Anthony Roxas-Chua, disclosed that his office will focus on three key areas: sustaining the growth of the local business process outsourcing (BPO) industry, the automation of government processes, and the creation of a full-pledged IT department.

The CICT is responsible for planning, implementing, regulating and administrating ICT systems for government agencies across the Philippines. It also oversees the provision of e-government services to citizens.

Formally appointed CICT chair by the Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo early this month, Roxas-Chua said his office has started working on the agency's top priorities, particularly the multi billion-peso poll automation project which failed to take off in 2004.

"The CICT has already conducted a meeting with the Commission on Elections (Comelec) regarding the automation of the 2010 elections," he said. "Hopefully, this time, the government will no longer have to contend with technical issues for this project."

The government's new IT chief said his agency is currently working on a recommendation paper that will be submitted to the Comelec.

Roxas-Chua admitted the poll automation plan remains a "tedious" and "difficult" project, but noted that the government "has enough time" to complete the project by 2010.

The government in 2004 failed to implement the poll automation project, which was plagued by several "technical" issues.

Roxas-Chua said the CICT and Comelec now only need identify and resolve the obstacles because most of the technology is "already there".

"We are hoping that this time, the poll automation plan will not be derailed," he said.

The government official added that the CICT will be working on a parallel recommendation, albeit on a smaller scale, for the poll automation of the country's Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), slated for deployment next year.

He noted that the CICT and the Comelec have agreed to implement the projects by the designated deadlines. "But there are no guarantees," he said.

Roxas-Chua further said that he will continue to push for the creation of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), which he said will have "more authority when it comes to IT policies in government".

However, the Department cannot be established just yet as bills for its creation have yet to be approved, and implemented in Congress.

When queried about the controversial national broadband network (NBN) deal, Roxas-Chua said the CICT fully supports the project's objectives, including the lowering of telecommunications costs for the government.

"Unfortunately, the project has been generating [some] negative feedback," he said, without elaborating.

On the local BPO front, Roxas-Chua said the CICT will continue to work with other government agencies to meet the government's target of generating 1 million BPO and technology-related jobs by 2010.

He also pledged to initiate more "dialogues with other government agencies" for all proposed projects.

"Surprise" appointment
Roxas-Chua's appointment came as a surprise, even to the man himself.

The official was previously president of a glass manufacturing company before accepting the appointment in the public sector, He had a long stint abroad, and was vice president of the technology investment banking unit under the Citigroup, before returning to the Philippines in 2005.

Roxas-Chua admitted he was "surprised" to get a call from the Presidential Management Staff (PMS) of the Office of the President, with an offer for the top CICT position. He said the PMS had initially wanted to "gauge" his interest to work for the government.

"But when I was informed that it will be a full-time job and not just a consultancy arrangement, I was really surprised," Roxas-Chua said, adding that it only took him 15 minutes to think about the offer before accepting the post.

Joel D. Pinaroc is a freelance IT writer in the Philippines.