Himamaylan Launches App To Boost Citizens’ Governance Participation.

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Himamaylan Launches App To Boost Citizens’ Governance Participation

RECOGNIZING the need to boost local governance participation, the City Government of Himamaylan is launching today, March 5, a mobile application positioned as platform for its citizens to raise issues and concerns particularly on infrastructures.

Vice Mayor Justin Gatuslao, in a phone interview with SunStar Bacolod Wednesday, March 4, said the CPaG, or Citizen Participation in Governance, mobile app is a local digital democracy initiative in the southern Negros Occidental city.

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Gatuslao said it is envisioned to empower ordinary citizens to petition the local government on policies and programs, and as a monitoring mechanism for the implementation of infrastructure projects.

“CPaG, which sounds like sipag, a Filipino term for zeal, is a call to action for citizens to be passionate in keeping the government accountable and doing their part in the project of nation-building,” he said, adding that it seeks to harness social media and technology for citizen engagement.

Downloadable through Google Play Store, the mobile app was developed in partnership with the Bacolod-Negros Occidental Federation for Information and Communications Technology (BNEFIT) using the 2,500 dollars grant from the US-based International Republican Institute.

Himamaylan City is the only local government unit (LGU) in Negros Occidental to receive a grant in this funding round, which was secured by Gatuslao as a fellow of Kaya Natin’s Young Leaders for Good Governance and in partnership also with Jessy Robredo Foundation.

How it works?

The app that can be downloaded for free is managed and controlled by a small group, a task force, composed of representatives from the Office of the City Mayor, Sangguniang Panlungsod, and Information Technology Office.

In order to access it, one has to log in either using email or Facebook details to establish a certain personality.

In submitting the report, complaint or any concern, residents have to provide requirements including selection of category, or the type of infrastructure being complained -- from water system to drainage, electricity and public parks, among others.

Other information required are specific place like sitio, purok and barangay; a brief description of what the complaint is all about; and photo attachment.

Gatuslao said the reason why photo is required “because it’s very difficult to pinpoint exactly if the concern is legitimate without photographic proof.”

Maintained by BNEFIT’s service provider, the app also enables the residents to even send complaints directly to the local government.

Gatuslao pointed out that, usually, citizens have the tendency not to report due to many “filters” before reaching to the concerned offices especially that of the mayor.

The other thing is, they opt to slam the local government through social media rather than lodging actual complaints to seek actions, Gatuslao.

“So we’re trying to find a middle ground where the platform is social media - based,” he said, adding that “I call it Instagram for governance issues because apart from submitting, one can also view the submissions of others.”

The unique feature, however, is that user of the app would not know who is complaining. “Only the group managing the app has access to the identity of the complainants.”

The vice mayor stressed that it does not matter if the account is fake, as long as the report or complaint is legitimate which can be validated through the app’s geotagging feature.

It will be the local government that will address the concerns by forwarding these to the concerned offices, but the residents can engage by “liking” or adding information to the submitted complaints, Gatuslao said.

The “assessment” period will be every two weeks, wherein the team will meet to discuss the concerns and find out possible solutions, he added.

Addressing gap

The City Government has recognized that there’s a gap or problem in general as far as local governance is concerned.

“We are supposed to be listening to these concerns,” Gatuslao said, as he pointed out that some constituents are “shy” to voice out if they don’t have “friends and connections” in the government.

So this is really trying to democratize the process on government, the official stressed.

Gatuslao said they recognized that there’s an ongoing problem on how people feel excluded from the process of governance.

“So this is really an attempt to go beyond the usual. Through this app, we are reaching out to them because we want them to be part of the process,” he also said.

Connectivity, limitations

The local government, moreover, recognizes the limitations of the system given that not everybody has access to smart phones and internet.

But, banking on the Philippine’s profile as the social media capital of the world and with high penetration of mobile phones, it expects that significant population of Himamaylanon will be able to participate.

Gatuslao said they are ramping up their public library that is currently providing internet access to the public.

It set to implement a program where students and professionals of the city will be given one year free internet access by just purchasing library cards worth P40 and P100, respectively.

The effort will be further boosted by the free internet program of the Department of Information and Communication (DICT).

“As far as connectivity now is concerned, Himamaylan has good connection,” he said, adding that “we made sure that the app is easy to download using less amount of data.”

Impact

Amid this challenges, the local government remains upbeat that this innovation will positively impact the community.

Its official said the policies they implement especially in terms of infrastructure spending, which is very critical, really address the most pressing needs of the people.

Gatuslao said that if there are concerns raised through the mobile app that require budget allocation, the government can prioritize it.

“Once institutionalized, we can eventually allocate a certain percentage of our infrastructure development fund to those directly coming from the suggestions gathered from the CPaG app,” he said.

Looking forward

Moreover, Himamaylan City is looking forward to champion the implementation of the program and eventually share this to other cities and municipalities in the province.

In an initial discussion with the BNEFIT, the latter said “if this works in Himamaylan as the as the microcosm of it, or as an example in the entire province, we are happy to share the technology.”

Gatuslao said they are happy to note that BNEFIT is expanding beyond providing support services from business process outsourcing (BPO) and knowledge process outsourcing (KPO).

“This proves that the IT industry can also partner with LGUs to provide solutions using technology,” he said, adding that the mobile app, focusing on infrastructures now, will later cover all aspects of governance.



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