Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Social Media as a Tool for Promoting Transparency in Bayelsa State

By: Idumange John
Senior Special Assistant to the Governor of Bayelsa State on Research & Social Media
Transparency is one of the eight cardinal pillars of good governance. In fact, it is the backbone of open government. Transparency is the easy and unrestricted access to government information by the citizenry. It im

plies the ability for the citizens to see what is going on in their government and provide feedback on policy packaging and implementation. Christian Wolff (2009) holds that “Transparency and compliance with the rule of law are factors for further development” President Obama espoused that “Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their government is doing” Former United States Vice-President Al Gore in The Assault on Reason posits that the Internet “is perhaps the greatest source for hope for re-establishing an open communication environment in which the conversation of democracy can flourish.” All these assertions underscore the centrality of ICT in the promotion of transparency in government.
Good governance has eight major characteristics, but transparency stands out because only a transparent government can be accountable enough to allow for participation of the citizens in policy processes including adherence to the rule of law. Other features of good governance such as equity, efficiency and effectiveness depend on transparency.
Social media provides vast opportunities to lead and communicate government policies to ensure aid effectiveness by fighting corruption and enhancing political accountability? Within the context of government, two types of transparency can be identified. Radical transparency is a paradigm where nearly all decision making processes are subjected to public scrutiny. Corporate transparency, which is a variant of radical transparency, implies the removal of all barriers to free and easy access to corporate information. These include opening-up policy making and budgetary processes; adherence to due process in the award of contracts; promoting public participation in programmes affecting the people etc.
Since the assumption of office of Governor Henry Seriake Dickson, deliberate steps have been taken to promote transparency through the monthly Transparency briefing, waging an open war against corruption, verification of the payrolls and Vouchers to weed out ghost workers; promoting an open bidding and tendering process and reconstitution of major Boards, Agencies and parastatals to ensure they operate in tandem with the transparency ethos of the Restoration Agenda. Government has never wavered in this onerous responsibility.
Social Media: Social Media has assumed the momentum of a revolution. Social media refers to the publication and dissemination of media content such as text, images and videos, through online social interactions via highly accessible and scalable publishing platforms such as websites, social networking sites, blogs and media aggregators. In spite of the popularization of ICT and the fact that successful governments thrive on the core values of transparency, most governments are still locked up inside the walls of an office.
Social networking now accounts for 22% of all time spent online in the US and part of Europe. A total of 234 million people age 13 and older in the U.S. used mobile devices in December 2009. This has increased exponentially. Twitter processed more than one billion tweets in December 2009 and averages almost 40 million tweets per day. This has also tripled since then. Over 25% of U.S. internet page views occurred at one of the top social networking sites in December 2009, up from 13.8% a year before. Again, the number of social media users age 65 and older grew 100 percent throughout 2010, so that one in four people in that age group are now part of a social networking site. As at June 2011 facebook has 750 Million, and whereas the facebook tops Google for weekly traffic in the U.S and part of Europe, the Social Media has overtaken pornography as the Number one activity on the web. The overriding logic, which sustains the social media, is Digital Darwinism- the survival of the loudest and most opinionated.
Social media and blogs are important components of journalism. In fact it is a phenomenon that has assumed the momentum of a revolution in Journalism. They narrow the distance between journalists and the public. They encourage lively, immediate and spirited discussion. They can be vital news-gathering and news-delivery tools. It is assumed that most actors and bloggers are journalists who should uphold the same professional and ethical standards of fairness, accuracy, truthfulness, transparency and independence when using social media. Practitioners must always remember that social media postings linger on as online archives. Correct and clarify mistakes, whether they are factual mistakes or mistakes of omission.
A media revolution on the social media sphere is transforming, fundamentally and irrevocably, the nature of journalism and its ethics. This implies that publishing is now in the hands of citizens, while the internet encourages new forms of journalism that are interactive and immediate. Our media ecology is a chaotic landscape evolving at a furious pace. Professional journalists share the journalistic sphere with tweeters, bloggers, citizen journalists, and social media users and this expands the frontiers
Vivek Kundra (2011) in his Building the Digital Public Square asserted that”…at the forefront of a new era of government is the Social Media driven by the internet, which creates unfettered access to government. Through these advances, constituents can hold their governments accountable from the privacy of their homes. The DC is bringing people closer to government, through collaborative technologies like wikis, data feeds, videos and dashboards” Farzana Nawaz ( 2010) holds the belief that the use of ICT is a cost-effective and convenient means of using transparency to reduce corruption.
In Nigeria, with the signing into law of the Freedom of Information, Act by Mr. President on 28thMay, 2011, we are now faced with the challenge of deploying the Social media platform for effective management and dissemination of information. In fact, it appears that there is a deluge of information in the cyber space that our main challenge now is how to manage it for the optimization of society’s ends, which is good governance.
It is germane to draw a distinction between Social Media and the Conventional Media. Both industrial and social media technologies are capable of reaching a global audience, but industrial media, uses a centralized framework for organization, production, and dissemination, whereas social media are more decentralized, less hierarchical, and distinguished by multiple points of production and utility. Essentially, too the means of production for industrial media are typically government and/or privately owned but social media tools are generally available to the public at little or no cost; and this is why control is very difficult.
In terms of usability, industrial media production requires specialized skills and training, but the Social Media does not require some training but emphasis is on a modest reinterpretation of existing skills. Invariably, the time lag between communications produced by industrial media can be long (days, weeks, or even months) compared to social media, which is capable of virtually instantaneous responses; only the participants determine any delay in response. Industrial media, once created, cannot be altered (once a magazine article is printed and distributed changes cannot be made to that same article) whereas social media can be altered almost instantaneously by comments or editing.
Efforts at Repositioning the Social Media in Bayelsa State:
For the past 4 months, the Social Media office in Bayelsa State appears to be the most dynamic and vibrant in Nigeria. The Governor Dickson administration has taken five major steps to ensure an active and vibrant Social Media in the State.
Firstly, conscious of the benefits of unifying and standardizing Social Media practice in the State, Government through my office performed an inauguration of Social Media Practitioners on May, 2nd, 2012 in Port Harcourt. The event was successful as a total of 69 persons cutting across the cyber spectrum were inaugurated and given certificates. The fall out of Port Harcourt round for was the constitution of two Committee namely: Technical and General to evolve strategies for unifying the practice in the State. Now, a Constitution that would streamline Social Media Practice is in the making.
Secondly, Government sponsored some members of the Bayelsa New Media Team to attend the Ist African Conference on the New Media and Good Governance in Abuja from May 14th to 15th, 2012. The Conference exposed participants to the complex issues of cyber-space in a fifth wave economy and how Bayelsa State can key into it.
Thirdly, On July 7th 2012, the Bayelsa New Media Team was inaugurated. The Deputy Governor who formally inaugurated the Bayelsa New Media Team on behalf of the Governor H.S.Dickson presented certificates of merit to worthy members of the Team. The high point of that event was the presentation of lectures by two renowned scholars of Mass Communication and Social Media who gave insights to the need for standardization of the social media and use it as a tool for promoting good governance in Bayelsa State.
In a paper titled Social Media Practice: Ethical Issues, I called attention to the fact that the Dickson Administration has already taken measures to strengthen existing institutions and created new ones, namely, the Bayelsa State Income and Expenditure Transparency Bill 2012, Reorganization of the bureaucracy, legislating laws to curb cultism to create an investment friendly atmosphere and inculcating the habit of saving into the public consciousness. There is also “Bayelsa State Fiscal Responsibility (Amendment) Bill 2012; Bayelsa State Government and local Government Compulsory Savings Bills 2012 among others. The Dickson Administration has also embarked on a huge range of policies designed to promote transparency, public participation and institutional consolidation.
The event also saw the inauguration of the Central Coordinating Committee in the Bayelsa New Media Team to create a healthy partnership between the Bayelsa New Media Team and the government of Bayelsa State. Two computers were presented to the BNMT. More of these kind gestures will continue in the months ahead. The import of all these initiatives is that although social media had been recognized by previous administrations, the commitment and enthusiasm demonstrated by the Dickson Administration is unprecedented. Bayelsans are convinced beyond any iota of doubt that Governor Henry Seriake Dickson understands the efficacy of the Social Media in our bid to enthrone good governance ala Restoration in Bayelsa State.

Fourthly, on the basis of the experience the BNMT has acquired, we have been able to open blogs and facebook accounts – which are used to articulate the policies and programmes of the restoration administration. As part of efforts to encourage active members of the BNMT, government has within the limits of available resources, presented 10 mobile phones to some member of the BNMT on August 22, 2012. News Reporting Jackets have also been provided to members to visit the MDAs to report updates of government policies and Programmes.
Fifthly, government has mandated my office to employ some active youths – who will take social media practice as a job. This is a pointer to the fact that the Dickson administration is poised to invest in will invest in ICT infrastructure and train social media practitioners to practice the art in line with the policy thrust of government.
Social Media provides critical information on government policies and helps to uncover corruption. It is a powerful for mobilization, policy articulation and anti-corruption. On balance, the Dickson administration has used the instrumentality of Social Media to promote transparency in the following areas:
Monthly transparency briefing
Open budgeting system
Transparent award of contracts
Accountability of government income and expenditure
Verification of pay vouchers & weeding out of ghost workers
Drastic reduction of wage bill
Reconstitution of the e-Governance & Due Process Bureau
Re-organization of the Central Treasury; Internal Revenue Board; SUBEB
Repositioning the price intelligent unit
Encouraging Council Chairmen to be render account on a monthly basis to the people
Enforcing the policy of Zero tolerance for corruption, among others.
These are commendable steps in the push for transparency and good governance in Bayelsa State. Verily Governor Henry Seriake Dickson has laid the building blocks for a Social Media Revolution in Bayelsa State. Now, we have set up a coordinating framework and evolved the right strategy, what is left is to equip a huge segment of practitioners with ICT equipment such as Blackberry smart phones, laptops, iPods, Ipads, Cameras etc and some training on the use of these gadgets. Such a worthwhile investment will not only create job opportunities for the youths but also empower them to analyze government policies and communicate same to the citizenry. Investment in ICT is also in line with the human capital development agenda of government. Indeed, we are at the threshold of cyber-revolution and the Dickson administration is determined to provided much-needed leadership.***

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