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December 17, 2018
MULTIMEDIA

Pakistan Citizen’s Portal: Public Takes To Govt Complaints App Despite Tech Troubles

Islamabad — Pakistani users lodged over 100,000 complaints about civic issues through the Pakistan Citizen’s Portal smartphone app within one month of the app’s launch, according to the Prime Minister’s Performance Delivery Unit (PMDU).

Details shared by the PMDU show that nearly 17% of the 101,171 requests were resolved up until 24 November. The remaining 84,339 complaints are being processed.

Prime Minister Imran Khan inaugurated the app on 28 October as part of his “Naya Pakistan” agenda to make government accessible to the public. The app and its integrated system were developed by the PMDU.

PMDU Deputy Secretary Adil Saeed Safi told Media for Transparency the portal circumvents typical problems citizens face in reaching out to government departments. The portal helps citizens avoid running from one office to another or file countless applications to record their grievances.

“This is a system in which all of these problems are addressed,” Mr. Safi said. “There is no inconvenience, no need for a reference and no need to go somewhere to get things done.”

The app is reportedly connected with 4,000 government offices. Citizens who register on the bilingual app can choose from 20 categories of government services to lodge a complaint. They could also send suggestions to PM Khan himself or the chief ministers of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the two provinces where the Mr. Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf (PTI) is in power.

Pakistan Citizen's Portal App Categories

Screenshot of the Pakistan Citizen’s Portal app shows some of the government service categories users can choose from while lodging complaints.

So far, 454,994 have registered with the app. The number of users is perhaps not extraordinary — it accounts for less than a quarter of the federal capital’s population alone, and not even 1% of the country’s 60 million 3G and 4G subscribers — but it is impressive given only one month has passed since the launch.

Despite the interest, the PMDU is aware the app might not guarantee a seamless transition away from traditional bureaucracy.

Challenges of Technology

Mr. Safi said they are facing two major challenges with the Pakistan Citizen’s Portal. One challenge concerns the user interaction with the app features.

“The public does not understand how to use the app,” he said. “They put in their complaints in the wrong categories.”

For example, Mr. Safi said, someone directed a banking sector complaint to the human rights ministry.

“The complainant should have chosen the Investments section from the app complaints menu,” he said.

Mr. Safi said the portal is only for complaints and suggestions but citizens sometimes also ask for information. In one instance, he said, a user asked for the number of the Pakistani embassy in Riyadh using the complaints system.

Pakistan Citizen's Portal main screen

Screenshot of the Pakistan Citizen’s Portal smartphone app shows the home screen where users can lodge new complaints, give feedback and see the status of their submitted complaints.

The other problem is in the way the government departments respond to the service.

“The officials in government departments are not used to this,” Mr. Safi said. “People there are traditionally used to the papers and applications.”

He said the officials think there will be a paper file to accompany a complaint on the app and the file will need to be moved to different offices.

“To be honest, even I sometimes face a problem using mobile technology,” Mr. Safi said in a lighter vein, trying to explain that technology use might not be intuitive for many civil servants. “I mean, on Facebook I only know how to share a post.”

While the challenges remain, Mr. Safi said the response from most government officials has been “awesome” thus far. He said even when some departments receive complaints not meant for them, they proactively forward it to the concerned departments and even voluntarily provide information to help the citizens.

Deadlines and Responsibility

The citizen’s portal is not a first-of-its-kind initiative, Fayyaz Yaseen said.

Mr. Yaseen, who is the Pakistan director of Accountability Lab, said the Punjab government had started a feedback mechanism for citizens during former chief minister Shahbaz Sharif’s tenure.

“The feedback initiative had problems though; only the department heads would be taken to task,” he said. “Unless the specific officer is held responsible, the mechanism will not become effective.”

The PTI-led government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had also introduced the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Citizen’s Portal in 2016. The provincial portal has over 229,000 registered users and claims to have resolved nine out of every 10 complaints it received, according to numbers on its website.

Mr. Yaseen said setting deadlines to resolve the public’s complaints is also important for the app’s effectiveness.

“There is a trust deficit between the masses and the government,” he said. “Unless the government seriously follows up on this initiative, people will view this as a gimmick or a run-of-the-mill thing by the government.”

Mr. Safi said the PMDU has created dashboards for government officers to view complaints once these are submitted by users. He said the system generates default deadline depending on the type of requests.

“If the officer is not able to resolve the complaint, it is forwarded to his superior and if the problem persists, the Prime Minister’s Office starts to monitor the progress,” Mr. Safi said.

Need for Awareness

The government needs to promote the portal if it wants the initiative to succeed, Mr. Yaseen said.

“So far we have seen no advertisements in the electronic or print media which would introduce the initiative to the public,” he said, comparing it to the Chief Justice’s Diamer Bhasha dam fund, which gets regular coverage on the news media.

Mr. Yaseen said notices should be put up outside government offices to inform people about using the portal and contacting its helpline in case of no response. He said Internet connectivity alone cannot be taken as a measure of people’s literacy of using smartphone apps properly as most Pakistanis only use it for Facebook and WhatsApp.

Users have an option to give feedback on their experience of using the portal. According to the PMDU, over 60% of the complainants have left a positive feedback about the way their complaints were resolved.

PMDU officials said the highest number of complaints received through the portal is regarding municipal services, which include issues such as cleanliness, street repairs, parking, and utility services. But exact figures for the municipal complaints were not made available.

Education is also among the top thematic areas for complaints. According to the PTI’s official Twitter account, over 12,000 complaints related to education have been submitted through the portal, and only 867 were resolved by 24 November.

The PMDU’s official Twitter account posted that users have filed 6,200 complaints regarding human rights violations and only 10% of these have been settled.

In the energy sector, which deals with electricity and gas distribution issues, the response rate seemed higher than average. Nearly 70% of 9,505 complaints have been claimed to be resolved, according to the PMDU.

Citizens have also sent around 21,000 suggestions to the prime minister and two chief ministers during this period. Out of these, nearly half are regarding public policy matters.

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