Thursday, September 22, 2011

Online Grievance: A Black Hole in eGovernance?

The Philippines recently declared its commitment to join a worldwide initiative for a more open government. President Noynoy, together with Obama and other world leaders, met up at the Google office in New York to launch the Open Government Partnership (OGP) which seeks to promote openness and accountability by increasing the availability of information about governmental activities and support civic participation with the help of new technologies. According to their declaration of principles, the partnership intends to harness new technologies to make more information public in ways that enable people to both understand what their governments do and to influence decisions.

Even prior to this partnership, the Government has been taking on initiatives in engaging the citizenry to help the administration in its credos for the “Matuwid na Landas” and “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap”. P-noy boasted of online campaigns like Pera ng Bayan (or the People’s Money website), the electronic Official Gazette and social networking accounts of other government agencies that interact with the citizenry for a more direct approach to governance.

How do these campaigns affect the ordinary person? Not much, it would seem. Take the Pera ng Bayan website for example. The site is supposedly a venue for tipsters against corrupt officials. But the campaign has been lackluster enough to go undetected by the net-savvy citizens for a year now. Who would’ve thought such a grievance mechanism exists. Surely, some sort of publicity could be of some help?

The campaign prides itself on having 127 reported cases, most for tax evasion of private individuals and corporations– but no updates as to what happened to these cases are recorded. The tips go from the web admin’s inbox and then forwarded to the government agencies like the Department of Finance and its affiliated agencies, the Bureau of Internal Revenue and Bureau of Customs. But as practice has it, whether online or in real life, the grievance filed appears to be sucked in a black hole. Filed but not prosecuted. Campaigns like this should recognize that netizens take the time and guts to complain against erring public officials. The least that the government could do is to show that it has the same time and guts to prosecute the same. The campaign, after all, is not a mere platform. It is a concrete step towards the ‘tuwid na daan’.

Without public awareness and progress reports, public interest in taking part in this open government partnership would remain a lofty goal. If this partnership seeks to make sustainable a people power movement in the internet, the government should realize that a website could only do so much. While netizens are willing, they are also exacting. Actualizing tips into real cases is the online Ombudsman that Filipino netizens are willing to be part of.


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