Internet-savvy Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif is determined to counter Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s ‘party for the youth’ image – and he’ll do whatever it takes.
Top district officials and policemen in all 36 districts of the province, as well as regional police officers and commissioners have been asked to join Shahbaz’s official Facebook page to boost his popularity, sources told The Express Tribune.
In addition, the chief minister has let all top officials know that they are to remove PTI-related material from their Facebook accounts and not ‘like’ any PTI page.
His efforts have not always been successful. In the last week of May, the Punjab government issued a letter, sent to all officers, requesting them to join Shahbaz’s official webpage and to train themselves in social media networking.
Whether it was out of discomfort with using technology or some other reason, sources said that none had complied with the orders, which irked the chief minister. Shahbaz then directed Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB) Chairman Umair Saif to convene a meeting and convey the message directly to concerned officers.
Saif held a meeting at Arfa Karim Software Technology Park on June 1 in this regard, telling the administration officials that a number of citizens conveyed complaints to the government via the chief minister’s Facebook page.
Saif added that the Punjab government has deployed moderators who will collect complaints and forward them to a portal named “Electronic Complaint Mechanism System (ECMS).” He said that officials would be provided a username and a password.
The PIBT chairman explained that half of the complaints involve working with either the revenue or police department – so when any such complaint is received on Shahbaz’s Facebook page, it will immediately be transferred to concerned officers.
This seemingly smooth-running virtual reality is not to go unmonitored – Shahbaz regularly visits his Facebook page from 12 to 2 am every night, Saif said according to sources. He is to check ‘personally’ which officers have joined his Facebook page.
Senior police officials, however, remain sceptical. They expressed reservations over complainants not leaving contact details on the online page, which rendered it impossible to address their complaint. One revenue officer from Esa Khel asked Saif a pertinent question – since he doesn’t have any internet facilities in his area, is he supposed to travel 80 kilometres to Mianwali to check if there were complaints and then return to Esa Khel to offer solutions? Another senior police officer said that the Punjab government has to provide electricity if it wanted to tackle problems online.
Saif had a simple answer for the audience, according to those present – the officers don’t have a choice. Joining the Facebook page is mandatory, the PITB chairman said, adding that the chief minister wanted to portray to internet users that their complaints would be addressed.
While talking to The Express Tribune, Saif said the government is trying to centralise the complaint system. He said the chief minister’s complaint cell would be launched soon in which 30,000 people will be interacted with on a daily basis.
Saif said that the request for officials to join Shahbaz’s Facebook page and address complaints via the page should be viewed positively.
He added, however, that no anti-PTI directions has been issued to the officials regarding Facebook browsing.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 6th, 2012.