Free calls for Helb, birth certificate queries

Citizens have been grappling with challenges of reaching government agencies

In Summary

•The national government contact centre is designed to use short code 1588 as a toll-free number. All kinds of help, even hailing an ambulance.

• Almost ready for use.

Staff at a Call Centre in Nandi county responding to residents' queries.
CALL CENTRE: Staff at a Call Centre in Nandi county responding to residents' queries.

The government has established a toll-free call centre for round-the-clock response to emergency and enquiries.

ICT Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru recently disclosed to Parliament that the national government contact centre is almost ready for use.

The ministry, the CS said, has already installed and activated the pilot line, and a voice response line with 30 channels.

The government has also secured office space for the call centre at Post Bank House as well as equipment for putting the contact centre into operation.

Mucheru said professionals are working on the regulations and the standard operating procedures for the call centre.

The national government contact centre is designed to use short code 1588 as a toll-free number.

The short code has already been allocated by the Communications Authority of Kenya for interactive voice response, SMS, and USSD.

All service providers – Safaricom, Airtel, Telkom, Equitel - will mask their telephone numbers to a pilot line – 0204800000.

“Citizens will be able communicate with the government at no cost using the toll-free number once ongoing consultation with the service providers are completed,” Mucheru said.

“Citizens will have access to information on government services through interactive voice response and SMS.”

The contact centre , he said, would be a one-stop shop where citizens will have access to information on government services.

The messages would be shared through interactive voice response, email, short message service and social media.

Former Telkom services personnel will be redeployed as contact centre officers, a process which has begun.

Ex-Telkom staff who had been designated by the Public Service Commission as of December 2018 would be considered for the job. About 500 Telkom workers were retrenched in December 2015.

Mucheru said the call centre would provide a platform for response to public enquiries and data sharing among ministries, departments and agencies.

Members of the public will communicate their complaints and have their queries answered by dedicated customer relations officers.

Embakasi West MP George Theuri had petitioned Parliament to probe why state agencies were yet to instal dedicated emergency response lines, and why state agencies rely on mobile telephony companies to provide the emergency call service.

He argued that whereas a few government departments run emergency toll-free numbers, the majority still relies on the telcos that charge taxpayers exorbitantly.

“Millions of Kenya are unable to access information from various departments of government primarily because the typical contacts provided are mobile numbers or landlines for both regular and emergency enquiries,” Theuri said.

He thus asked the government to secure toll-free numbers in all vital and non-vital state departments manned round-the-clock.

Theuri further sought that the ICT ministry teaches members of the public how to use toll-free numbers for faster feedback and to facilitate emergency response.

The ICT committee chaired by William Kipsang (Marakwet East MP) conceded that the existing government toll-free lines for emergency services are often inaccessible, "and therefore, impairthe noble intention of establishing them.’

“The committee recommends that the ministry of ICT fast-track and operationalise the national government contact centre within 90 days of adoption of this report,” Kisang said in the report tabled on December 22.

Kenya has had a challenge with running its emergency hotlines, a situation which saw it work with Safaricom to coordinate Covid-19 emergency response.

The 719 call centre is based at Safaricom, with the company saying it can be transitioned and housed in institutions like NHIF to help deal with medical emergencies.

The telco in its website quotes Dr Wangari Ng’ang’a - Presidential Policy and Strategy Unit in the Executive Office of the Presidentn - saying the helpline could also provide first aid advice virtually and even help with hailing an ambulance.

The government also launched a Covid-19 contact Centre for front line workers at the National Nurses Association of Kenya (NNAK) in June last year.

(Edited by V. Graham)