“Information is power, and truly empowering when placed at the hands of the citizens.”
In developed countries, e-governance (that is, a computer-based system of delivering services) is an emerging trend. You nee d your license or birth certificate, or you need to bid for government procurement, you click the computer. The result is immediate. It is fast and efficient because it is free of red tape. There is practically no opportunity for corruption.
Naga City under the leadership of Mayor Jessie M. Robredo is opening the door to such a system for a developing country like the Philippines.
Through the program called i-Governance, Naga City promotes good governance by providing the people with information on city government policies, programs, and operations.
Essential to the program is the existing network of computer and mobile phone services in the city. Almost all households have at least one mobile phone, and 30% have access to the Internet. All private schools have computers and provide Internet training.
Internet connection is growing at 91% annually. There are 8 Internet service providers (ISPs) and at least 28 cyber cafes, mostly located in the central business district. There are computer stations in barangay halls to serve residents. Cyber schools, of which there are 35 (27 elementary and 8 high schools), serve about 37,000 public school students.
Through this network, the Nagueños can access the city’s website at www.naga.gov.ph, get information, and monitor practically all aspects of city operation. Information openness is a principle of the program. Another is inclusive governance, which seeks to embrace, rather than exclude, individuals and sectors in running the government. Still another is information exchange, through continuing Internet dialogue between authority and constituency.
The website has four main contents: (i) the Sell Naga, which provides information on business and tourism opportunities to attract investments and visitors; (ii) the Serve Naga, through which the Nagueños can avail themselves of services, such as business licensing, etc.; (iii) the Share Naga, which provides information on the city’s budget and expenses, financial status, procurement notices, etc.; and (iv) the Star Naga, which contains city awards to promote civic pride, abstracts on governance innovations, and advocacies.
The program also has a TxtNaga component. It is a feedback mechanism that allows mobile phone users to send inquiries, comments and complaints through text messaging and get a reply within 24 hours.
The program has generated meaningful civic participation. Website hits increased from 16 per day in 2000 to 1,000 per day at present. Both e-mails and text messages average 10 per day.
By opening itself to public scrutiny, the city government was able to “do more with less.” For example, processing time for business permits has been reduced from 1 day to 30 minutes, and the number of signatories has been reduced from 6 to 2. Garbage collection is now 86% efficient, and response time for garbage collection requests has been reduced from 24 hours to 3 hours.
By providing a means to monitor cost standards and operational efficiency, the city government was able to reduce the costs of road construction by 42%, medicine by 70%, and supplies by 33%. As a result, the city can now channel more funds for basic services. For example, the number of patients served by the city hospital increased by 10%, and annual enrolment in public schools grew by 7.7%.