Sat, Sep 09, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Ministry slammed over hotlines

LINES CROSSED One legislator said the interior ministry's decision not to set up an independent help line for financial problems reflected bureaucratic ineptitude

By Max Hirsch  /  STAFF REPORTER

Women's rights groups and legislators wrangled with Ministry of Interior (MOI) officials yesterday over whether a new hotline service targeting economically disadvantaged callers should be integrated with an existing hotline for victims of domestic and sexual abuse.

The ministry had planned to establish a 995 hotline to dispense financial advice to callers, such as how to avoid or reduce debt, and to address other severe but common economic difficulties.

However, due to a number of difficulties encounted in the planning stage, the ministry recently announced that it will merge the proposed 995 hotline with the already operational 113 hotline, which helps callers with questions on domestic and sexual abuse.

The merger would place all of the services originally associated with the proposed 995 hotline under the 113 line, which women's rights advocates say will detract from the latter's effectiveness in helping abuse victims.

Kao Hsiao-fan (高小帆), director of the Taipei Women's Rescue Foundation, hosted a press conference yesterday where legislators from both the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) questioned the wisdom of the ministry's plan to combine the two hotlines.

"The two hotlines' services are not compatible," DPP Legislator Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴) said, adding that the merger could prevent callers from receiving the help they need.

Chang Chin-li (張錦麗), director of the Modern Women's Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting women's rights, said the merger could be lethal because the domestic and sexual abuse hotline (113) helps many callers experiencing life-threatening emergencies.

Deputy Interior Minister Lin Chung-sen (林中森) acknowledged during the press conference that the merger "wasn't the most ideal plan" but said that it was the only way to get another much needed hotline launched in the near future.

"Folks enduring severe economic hardships can't wait -- we want to get the hotline up and running before someone does something extreme, like take their own life," Lin said.

He added that the new hotline would merely be a "service window" under 113 to which calls regarding economic hardship could be forwarded.

Lin said that technical and budgetary problems had resulted in the plan to link up the proposed hotline with the already operational 113 hotline.

KMT Legislator Joanna Lei (雷倩) said she thought the ministry's intentions were good, but found it hard to believe that with the technology available in Taiwan, the ministry couldn't set up a separate hotline.

The ministry's failure to set up an independent telephone line for the new service reflected how ineffective and unwieldy the nation's bureaucracy was, she added.

"It's taken quite some time to get 113 off the ground and advertise the hotline among victims of domestic and sexual abuse," said He Bi-chen (何碧珍), executive secretary of the National Alliance of Taiwan Women's Rights Association (NATWRA).

Combining two hotlines offering two totally different sets of services would only confuse callers, and make it harder for them to know what services are available on which hotlines, He said.

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