The policy will encourage government agencies to garner public feedback in the design and implementation of public policy

Media: In what will open up access to Facebook, Twitter, and WeChat, among others, during office hours, the Cabinet has approved the social media policy.

“The Cabinet has passed the social media policy in principle, but written instructions from the Cabinet to this effect is yet to be received,” information and communications minister, DN Dhungyel said. “Upon receipt of the directive, the relevant department will initiate its implementation.”

However, it is not known when the social media policy will come into full effect.

Lyonpo DN Dhungyel pointed out that the policy was endorsed for three reasons. One is to use social media to disseminate and receive information, and as a tool for collaboration in the formulation of public policy. Improving the design and delivery of public services is another objective.

“It is also expected to give a sense of ownership of government policies and services, and thus instil greater public trust in government,” Lyonpo said.

The social media policy was drafted in 2014 at a cost of USD 12,740, which would be Nu 853,850 at today’s exchange rate. The UNDP funded its creation.

On why it took more than a year to be accepted by the Cabinet, Lyonpo DN Dhungyel said no delay occurred. “The Cabinet approved on submission from the ministry as per policy protocol without undue delay,” he said.

Lyonpo added that everyone on the Cabinet was in agreement about the need for the policy. “As was expected, there were many views and concerns expressed on the policy,” he said.

“However, everybody was in agreement on the need for a policy to make more effective use of social media and to achieve desired governmental objectives, such as promoting citizen engagement as well as enhancing effective transition to e-governance.”

A major challenge for the government could be mindsets unwilling to embrace social media use for public service and interaction with the public as was the case when Google Apps was adopted.

“We do not foresee any major resistance as the policy’s objective is to maximize the potential and minimize the challenges and the negative use of social media,” Lyonpo said.

“Awareness raising and building up the capacity to plan, reduce risks, manage and monitor the effective use of social media may pose some challenges in implementation which can be addressed through proper awareness highlighting its benefits and co-operation from all agencies and stakeholders concerned,” he added.

Social media was banned in government offices in early 2011 on the grounds that it was affecting the productivity and efficiency of civil servants.

However, many have observed that the ban has largely been ineffective as civil servants were able to bypass any block through their personal smart phones and other devices.

Many also observed that the problem was not about access or technology but work culture.

The Department of Information and Media recently conducted a survey to gauge if the ban has been effective on the instructions of the Prime Minister, who has always been an avid social media user.

The findings of the survey, which could not be accessed by this paper, are likely to have contributed to the Cabinet’s decision.

The policy requires government agencies to set up social media accounts to increase citizen participation in policy development and public service design and delivery.

While some agencies already have social media accounts, the policy would provide them with specific guidelines that would broaden their responsibilities from simply publishing their own news, as is the case now, to responding and interacting with citizens.

For instance, it was pointed out to this paper that if the policy had been in place earlier, citizen feedback could have been obtained on the design of the model bus stop prior to its construction. The design of the model bus stop has been discontinued following public feedback.

While the policy would provide access to social media sites during office hours, civil servants would be limited to using social media only for work related activities. How this is ensured or if some personal use is permitted is likely to depend on the mindsets of agency heads. For instance, the head of one government agency recently pointed out to this paper that social media is permitted for both work and personal purposes in that particular agency as long as assigned work and responsibilities are met.

Other guidelines for civil servants such as ensuring political neutrality is maintained when commenting online about government policy, not revealing confidential information, and responding promptly to citizen inquiries, among others, are some other aspects covered by the policy.

Gyalsten K Dorji