Most of the attention on governance in developing countries is on developing efficient rules and regulations. That is, given the social and economic priorities of a country, rules and regulations should work towards achieving priorities in the least costly way. However, another dimension of governance that must be discussed is accessibility of government officials to the public. Arguably, better access would increase transparency and help citizens and businesses voice their ideas and concerns, thereby allowing for more effective implementation of laws. What are some innovative ways of improving accessibility to government officials?
I came across an interesting answer to this question by a high-ranking government official in the Kanpur district of northern India. He believes that the popular networking site, Facebook, could become a powerful tool for the public for accessing government officials. As quoted in a leading newspaper in India, this is what he had to say:
I have clearly conveyed my instructions to all the senior officials of the district administration to open an individual account at the earliest and then join the account that I have created in the name of Kanpur District Administration. … I believe the move will not only help the public, but will also serve as an efficient communication medium among officials of the government departments.
…On one hand, the public will get easy access to officials for airing their grievances, at the same time we would also be able to track the activities being undertaken by different government agencies so that the officials from various departments can co-ordinate to achieve the ultimate goal of serving the public. … From complaints related to poor roads, improper sanitation, garbage disposal and other civic problems, all can be posted on the account. Depending upon the nature of the complaints, they will be sorted and then forwarded to the department concerned.
…The officials of a particular department will also be required to update the district administration by sending alerts on the account of the Kanpur district administration. This would surely be liked by the public as they would also be able to track their complaints. In simpler terms, it would facilitate transparency in the functioning of government officials.
Perhaps in a few years we will have an idea of the benefits of the initiative above. Will it really reduce, for example, the number of days it takes to obtain a construction permit? And if yes, then by how many days? I encourage the relevant groups within the World Bank to set up similar Facebook experiments at the sub-national level to better answer these and related questions.