New policy will require ministries to involve public in decision making
The Ministry of Information and Communications Technology (MICT) recently announced a public consultation on a draft of an e-participation policy, one which would increase citizen access to information from ministries and provide them with the ability to participate in certain areas of decision-making.
The broad objectives of the new e-participation policy will be to push all government agencies to, according to a document released by MICT, “actively consult, solicit residents’ opinion, feedback and input through public consultation, engaging and empowering the people to be involved in the process of policy and decision making through various online communication tools.”
The introduction of public consultation, where the public and key stakeholders will be asked for their views and ideas before implementation of policies, will likely be a welcome change. The MICT has held an open consultation process for a while now with regards to its policies and has seen active participation and received feedback, which is publicly viewable, from firms such as Ooredoo, Vodafone Qatar and Qatar National Broadband Network, increasing transparency within the sector.
The scope of public consultation, however, is limited according to the same document. Specifically, it states “any policy issue or a related matter that has a direct impact on the general public, communities or businesses in Qatar as service recipients, should be identified for public consultation.” However, there are exceptions singled out, policies related to the State of Qatar’s internal security, bilateral or multilateral relations with other countries, internal procedural matters and, “any other issue as deemed sensitive or unrelated to public, communities or businesses in general in Qatar, may not be subjected to public consultation,” stated the document.
Hassan Jassim Al Sayed, assistant secretary general, Information Technology Sector, ICT Government Programs, ictQATAR, said, “It is imperative that to successfully embrace e-participation in the State of Qatar, thereby ensuring social and economic progress of the nation, all government agencies implement the provisions as laid out in the draft policy provisions.”
In order to make sure that ministries take public consultation seriously, the e-participation policy will require departments to acknowledge responses, provide summaries on the views expressed by the public and, perhaps critically, publish the agency’s responses with reasons for rejecting suggestions.
The public consultation policy guidelines suggested by MICT are very similar to those it has implemented for itself, and would add transparency to the other ministries in the State. In addition, ministries will also be required to maintain social media accounts and allow the public to make suggestions on general governance issues. Despite the rising number of social media users online in Qatar, a trend also seen in the wider region, governments’ use of the Internet and social media channels to communicate have been somewhat limited.
Fadi Salem, director of the Governance and Innovation Program at the Mohammed Bin Rashid School of Government in the United Arab Emirates, and member of the Gulf Cooperation Council Government Social Media Summit 2014 advisory board said, “Arabs today have a positive attitude towards governments engaging with citizens via social media channels.”