The Citizen Feedback Monitoring Program (CFMP) works as follows: “Whenever a citizen visits a government office, the transaction is recorded along with the phone number.
“Until now, 7.2 million such transactions have been recorded from the 17 government services in 36 districts of Punjab.
“The CFMP team acquires the data and makes robocalls followed by SMSs asking the citizens about the quality of the service and whether they were asked to pay any bribe.
”So far, 5.9 million such contacts have been made with the citizens.”
Another link tells us that by “November 30, 2014 over 690,562 voice calls and 6,092,665 robot calls were made to the citizens and responses were logged.”
“Proactive governance,” the rubric under which programmes like CFMP are slotted in international development discourse, was first introduced in 2011 in the Punjab province.
A World Bank blog post tells us some more: “Since the launch of the program, more than 4 million SMS requests for feedback have been sent to citizens. Over 400,000 citizens have responded.
“A survey in 2014 showed that more than half (55%) of the citizens surveyed said that overall service delivery had improved, 63% said timeliness of service delivery had improved, and 71% said staff attitude had improved.
“75% of those who responded with SMS requests for feedback said they believed this feedback model would help improve the services in the future as well.”
Together, these are a lot of aggregate numbers but the trouble is they aren’t telling us much. There is statistical evaluation – in vogue in much development and academic practice – but there is also the evaluation of lived experience.
This latter kind finds little room in dominant discourses. Indeed, exclusive attention to aggregates may be insulating policy makers from lived experience.
At a government policy institution in Lahore last year, the invited speaker – an eminent academic – said to an audience of 50-60 bureaucrats:
“What you’re telling me, based on your decades of experience in service, is important but it isn’t data. These are anecdotes. Policy formulation needs data, not stories.”
After that, most of the officers became quiet, and we lost the suggestions and lessons learnt from officers’ years of service.
They were then given forms to fill – their stories mattered insofar as they corresponded with a point A or B for tabulation and aggregation.
But policy formulation has much to gain by heeding stories. So here’s one:
He is a few years over 60 – he must be, for his pension began then. He retired after decades in government service. Getting his pension payments started was a bit of a challenge – he paid one of the men Rs20,000 to process his paperwork.
One of his friends’ wives had to pay some Rs40,000 to some three or four men to get her deceased husband’s salary payments started.
So he reasoned, if there’s no lihaaz for a dead man and his widow and three young children, why would they make an exception for him.
He did have some choice though – one man asked for 20,000, the other promised to get his work done in 13,000. He asked around and was advised to pay the 20,000 for “pakka kaam.”
He has driven four children to school – and elsewhere – most of his life for a living. He took them to school, then college, then university – first the one, then the other, the third, and then the fourth.
He knows the routes better than any of those children. He drove on the same roads for 20 years until all four had graduated from college.
A few years ago, some officials decided that road names and sign-posted directions needed to be in English. Suddenly he got lost. Suddenly, someone took his dignity.
At every roundabout his hands waver on the steering wheel. It’s almost as if English has its own geography, its own maps.
Madam is being driven to an office on Davis Road today. When she emerges after her meeting, he isn’t waiting by the car as he usually does, but is at the entrance to the office. He says to her with urgency, “The wazir-e-ala just called me.”
There is a tremor in the December air. “Yes, yes he called me himself. Just now when you were inside! He asked me about the theft that day and they want my feedback. Can you have a look? Now?”
He thrusts the phone in her face, “Look, please.” It is an old phone – everyone can’t keep up with smartphone times. Maybe the tremor is in his voice.
She looks at the message on the grievously smudged screen – he has indeed received a message from the wazir-e-ala. It is written in English, but it speaks Urdu. “Aap nay kuch roz pehlay police ko…”
He can not read, but he listened to the voice recording that came before the message. He says he was trying to open the message but might have pressed a wrong button somewhere so the wazir-e-ala probably decided to leave him a voicemail instead. There are only 15 buttons on his phone.
He says again, “The wazir-e-ala called me himself. He called me himself just now. Maybe we can get the car back – we must give him honest feedback. Do it now. He asked me about the FIR we registered for the car theft.”
She suggests in a faint voice that sometimes people are selected for these recorded calls. She hears herself saying something about data points, ICTs, technology, computers.
“Yes, yes I’m telling you I was selected for this call by the wazir-e-ala himself.” Maybe he didn’t hear. He insists, “We must respond to the wazir-e-ala’s message quickly.”
She starts typing a message, blinking furiously. The alphabets are smudged or the eyes are wet – she is unsure what keys to press in what order.
He has so much to tell the wazir-e-ala. “Tell him that at first the thana wouldn’t register my FIR.”
He gives her names. “Write them all down. Send him the SHO’s name. Tell the wazir-e-ala that the FIR was only registered after your father called the thana. Tell him there are CCTVs along the Mall Road and if they want they should be able to locate the car within hours.”
“Are you done,” he asks impatiently. “Send it, send it now. The wazir-e-ala might take those police officials to task – we might get the car back!” It wasn’t even his car.
The CFMP employs the idiom of democracy. It aims to “give power back to people” and its website states that it is “reviving democracy.”
Further, that it “is a citizen-centric model of governance providing a platform to common citizens to vote in favour or against an official.
“Their feedback will decide whether the official will remain in the job or leave.
“It is a powerful practice strengthening the citizen empowerment and accountability pillars of democracy.” It seeks to ensure that “the ultimate power remains with the public and every public official is accountable to them.”
He doesn’t know what a robocall is but the wazir-e-alacalled himself and he makes clear that that’s all that matters. “Did the message go?” he asks again.
Digital Punjab won’t automatically be democratic Punjab. Fourteen months later, he has given up on retrieving the car but a part of him is still waiting for a response to his text.
Hidden among beautiful old trees, and sprawling and equally beautiful and old houses in Lahore’s GOR-1, and five or six check-posts and 10 or 12 security officials, is the Chief Minister’s Complaints Cell.