PESHAWAR -- The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government's long-term communication strategy, launched about six months ago, has started restoring citizens' confidence in local government institutions, officials say.
"The new system has increased the confidence of people in government as the number of public representatives were increased and so were the chances of the issues being addressed," Peshawar District Council Member Noor Shehzad Niazi told Pakistan Forward.
The KP Local Government, Elections and Rural Development Department (LGE&RDD) in April formally launched its communication strategy for 2016-2020, calling it "From Complexity to Clarity".
Seeking public input
The purpose of the strategy is to inform the general public regarding activities and accomplishments of the KP government in an institutionalised way and to invite citizen input.
"The new system has given more integration to our existing social fabric and created awareness among its members to work in cohesion for peace," Niazi said. "Their confidence and sense of responsibility have increased, and the new system has given [the people] an easy option to resolve their problems and to prioritise the goal of establishing peace and serenity in their localities."
The system of grass-roots representation that emerged after power devolved to local governments in the reforms of 2001 has created a dedicated citizenry, Liaqat Ali, another member of the district council, said.
"Their energies can be utilised for monitoring and disseminating [information on the] ill effects of militancy on society, thus deterring militants from making inroads and enticing the young generation," he told Pakistan Forward.
"We want to bridge the gap between ordinary citizens and the department by giving people easy access to our work and highlighting the government's efforts to improve the welfare of the general public," KP Minister of Local Government, Rural Development and Elections Inayat Ullah told Pakistan Forward.
Modern demands must be met
"This age of fast communication demands well-organised and efficient ways of interaction to exchange ideas," he said. "The endeavour will also streamline and project the continuous efforts of the department aimed at public welfare."
The LGE&RDD is focusing on communication as a way to facilitate services for citizens and to update stakeholders regarding its activities, Inayat said.
The strategy will give citizens a chance to forward their proposals to concerned authorities for consideration in a reliable and well organised way, he said.
"The communication strategy was conceived and afterwards prepared, keeping in view the need to highlight the effective work of local government departments," said Muhammad Bashir, assistant director of information technology for the LGE&RDD.
"Owing to the vast scope of the local government's work, there is a need for its activities -- including budget making, rules and regulations, procedures and modalities -- to be made known to the public," he told Pakistan Forward.
A Communication Working Committee comprising local government authorities as well as international donor organisations, was formed to consider aspects of the communication strategy, he said.
"The committee was assigned the tasks of developing a website, preparing a communication guide, publishing a newsletter and making a documentary," Bashir said.
"All the tasks have been accomplished in a satisfactory way, and citizens can now lodge their complaints and grievances on www.lgkp.gov.pk," he said. "The department also has made Twitter and social media accounts to help the general public."
Budget is approved
The KP Annual Development Plan approved a budget of Rs. 20m (US $191,076) to establish a professional public relations department, Bashir said.
The unit will disseminate LGE&RDD information and set up an appropriate channel for inviting suggestions and proposals from the general public, he said. Three Communication Devolution Officers will be hired from print media, electronic media and social media to work in the unit.The KP government developed the strategy with the support of the German Society for International Co-operation (GIZ) and the UN Development Programme, LGE&RDD Additional Secretary Barkat Ullah Khan said.
The partnerships aim to boost the LGE&RDD's performance in meeting public demand for information, Barkat Ullah told Pakistan Forward.
The strategy will provide an effective conduit for the public to express grievances and float suggestions for improvement, he said.
"The strategy also will catalyse the work of the department through the active participation of citizens and through media management," said Barkat Ullah, who is also heading the department's Reform Management Cell (RMC).
The RMC was established within the LGE&RDD to liaise with development partners and evaluate the on-going agreed upon reforms, according the department's newsletter.
"We are strongly focusing on effective reform management to deliver results for the betterment of citizens," Barkat Ullah was quoted as saying in the newsletter.
Adjustment needed from time to time
Peshawar-based journalist Riaz Khan Daudzai expressed the importance of having a fluid strategy that can adjust to public demand.
"Communication is an on-going process, and its upgrading demands continuous inputs from all stakeholders," he told Pakistan Forward.
"A system loses objectivity in the absence of the factors that make it compatible with the growing needs and demands of its beneficiaries," he said. "Stagnation and putting the strategy under an unnecessary system of impediments will deprive the public of its benefits."
"The strategy should be adjusted time to time," he said.