Citizen Feedback Monitoring Program – Reviving Democracy in Pakistan

Saturday, February 14, 2015
What does democracy stands for? Is it about the elections held every five years? Is it about a parliament of a few hundreds taking decisions for millions? Is it about bureaucracy which is not answerable to anyone? I doubt the idea. It is much more than that. Democracy is about the will of the people as a basis of the authority of the government. Unfortunately, such will is devoid in nominal democracies where institutions are not democratic in true nature. People have no rights in deciding the fate of dysfunctional individuals and institutions. Pakistan is not an exception to this notion.

State seeks feedback from citizens through mobile phone, making them the true source of power

So, how do we give power back to people? Citizen Feedback Monitoring Program (CFMP), formerly known as Citizen Feedback Model (CFM), is the answer to the question. CFMP is a citizen empowerment program giving voice to thousands of citizens every day to comment on quality of services provided by the government.

Starting from the district of Jhang as a pilot project back in 2008, it has become one of the flagship projects of Punjab Information Technology Board under the dynamic leadership of Dr. Umar Saif and has been expanded to all over Punjab catering all governmental services. CFMP takes feedback from citizens who avail a government service such as police, health care or land registration, using mobile phone technology.

Whenever a citizen visits a government office, the transaction is recorded along with the phone number. Until now, 7.2 million such transactions have been recorded from the 17 government services in 36 districts of Punjab. CFMP team acquires the data and makes robo calls followed by SMSs asking the citizens about the quality of the service and whether they were asked to pay any bribe. So far, 5.9 million such contacts have been made with the citizens.

The project has become a huge success in improving service delivery in Punjab and the federal government has asked PITB to facilitate it in rolling out the program at federal level. It is a unique kind of m-governance innovation from Pakistan which leverages mobile phone technology for good governance. Even among the poorest 20% of households, 80% now use phones in Pakistan. The world organizations such as The Economist has acclaimed and quotes it as a globally scalable project in removing corruption and improving service delivery. 

But the initiative is much more than merely improving the governance. It ensures that the ultimate power remains with the public and every public official is accountable to them. Meanwhile, it is not an open platform but is based on seeking feedback proactively only from those who avail a service so that it could not be misused against the honest officials. 

In Rawalpindi, clerks who issued certificates of residency were suspended based on more than 100 reports of misconduct reported by citizens through CFMP.

So, how CFMP is reviving the democracy? It is a citizen centric model of governance providing a platform to common citizens to vote in favor or against an official. Their feedback will decide whether the official will remain in the job or leave. It is a powerful practice strengthening the citizen empowerment and accountability pillars of democracy.