State officials often ignore citizens’ e-mails
Public officials in Finland fail to answer, and sometimes fail to read so many e-mail messages that the National Audit Office sees it as something of a problem.
Tomi Voutilainen, who heads state IT activities at the National Audit Office says that responses are not given to initiatives, and not even the minimum requirements of Finnish legislation are always met.
This happens when a message sent to a state office is not even acknowledged electronically.
National Police Commissioner Mikko Paatero does not remember if he read one e-mail message that he got a day after the school shootings in Kauhajoki last year.
Paatero says that he received hundreds of e-mails in the weeks that followed the shootings, and that the message in question had a notation according to which he would have read it the following morning. “I might have only looked at the subject line”, he admits.
Officials have been criticised by the Minister of Justice and the Parliamentary Ombudsman several times for neglecting to keep up with their e-mail.
Deputy Parliamentary Ombudsman Petri Jääskeläinen stated in December that civil servants are required to read messages that come into their personal official e-mail.
Olli Mäenpää, a professor of administrative law at the University of Helsinki, says that following e-mail can be considered an official duty.
When the e-mail is sent to their work address, they must be read every day.”
Voutilainen feels that good administrative practice dictates that all reasonable messages should be answered.
Reading all messages that come is a tall order for anyone in the information business, says Matti Vartiainen, a professor of occupational psychology at the Helsinki University of Technology. High-ranking officials can receive up to 200 messages a day.
“Separating the appropriate messages from the others in these conditions is really difficult.”
If the flood becomes overwhelming, the mail should be handed over to a secretary for filtering. However, not every civil servant has a secretary.
Paatero says that he gets a few dozen e-mail messages a day. “If I am gone, my secretary keeps track of them.”
The importance of e-mail is wanning, because there is much unnecessary noise there, says IT expert Petteri Järvinen. Spam filters sometimes eliminate messages that are not junk mail.
Therefore, those who send messages should think what the right route would be to make sure that it is seen by the right person.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Police officer who let school shooter keep weapon faces criminal charges (1.10.2008)
Police actions to be examined in detail (24.9.2008)
National Audit Office of Finland