Date Published: Sept. 25, 2017, 9:38 p.m.
he city uses WhatsApp as a real time and online platform to monitor the service performance of contractors of waste management and public cleaning. This tool has proven to improve the efficiency and transparency in public service delivery.
Petaling Jaya City (MBPJ) is one of the pioneer local government in Malaysia for implementing Local Agenda 21 and Low Carbon City Framework since 1996. Developed in 1950s as a satellite town to alleviate the housing problem of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Capital, the city has transformed into a self-sustained commercial hub with a total of 170,000 houses to 700,000 people within an area of 97.4 km sq. Presently, many multinational corporations have set foot in Petaling Jaya. The nearly saturated township is undergoing urban renewal programming especially at the dilapidated industrial areas. Many manufacturing activities have been moved out and replaced by commercial services, hospitality and financial activities.
The Mayor is an officer of the Federal Government appointed by the state administration after obtaining the consent of the Chief Minister. The Administrative Council consists of 25 Council members led by the Mayor. Council members are appointed by the Selangor State Executive Council.
The people of Petaling Jaya are among the most educated with high income levels amongst the Malaysian. MBPJ has a staff force of 2,200. The urge for greater involvement in the development planning process and information dissemination for greater transparency in governance has implanted with daily routine of the community with town hall meetings on community programs and development planning, stakeholders participatory monitoring mechanisms for urban services, budgetary planning process, property tax rebate for environmental friendly house owners and PJ Food Bank just to name a few are initiatives taken place in MBPJ. The City targeted to achieve sustainability by 2030 through various public engagement activities, implementation of strategic local plan and city carbon action plan.
The population of Petaling Jaya has high expectations regarding public services. Waste management and public cleansing (road sweeping, drainage clearance, waste collection, and buster) is provided out-sourced through open tender processes (as for today, there are 138 selected contractors).
The municipality faced some challenges regarding the efficiency of the service: (i) high expectations combine with limited competency and capacity of contractors; (ii) high levels of complaints and not rapid answer from the administration; (iii) low sense of ownership towards the neighborhood; and (iv) lack of a platform to disseminate and communicate information regarding the service. To respond to those challenges, the city developed an innovative solution based in the use of WhatsApp as a tool of communication to bridge issues of accountability, transparency and expectations.
From 2014, the City of Petaling Jaya has used WhatsApp as a platform to monitor in real time the service performance of contractors in waste management and public cleansing and to solve faster the requests and complains from the citizens as well as possible damages and failures of the services. This gadget, used as a municipal management tool, has proven to improve the efficiency and transparency in public service delivery.
Previously, WhatsApp has been used widely for internal communication between the staff as well as one-to-one directives given and received between staff and service providers. At time, receiving complaints about quality of service from the public through the same platform was increasing. Upon receiving the complaints, Council’s staff had to rechannel it to the service provider for remedy. The Council became a postman acting as an intermediate and the process was time consuming. The challenges was overcome by setting up group chat and using the features of WhatsApp (e.g. files attachment, voice call, etc.).
The idea was discussed and well received with various stakeholders. Group was, then established at each service area or neighborhood with the respective area supervisor acting as an administrator. Group members were included by invitation or recommendation by the Council member of the respective area. It is not uncommon to have more members from one neighborhood area or absence of any representatives from one particular area if the respective neighborhood area decided not to be involved. At times selective participation was done although not common. The group was started in effect with group members on board.
WhatsApp puts in contact the different stakeholders engaged in waste management and public cleansing service delivery (citizens, representative from associations, local officials and government departments, contractors, etc.). It is used to share reports, to communicate the schedule of works and to manage complaints, among others. From October 2014, 68 groups are active for these purposes covering most areas of the city.
WhatsApp was considered as a great option since it was immediately available, it is mobile-based, user friendly and inclusive (all stakeholders can easily access, and no skill development is needed), it is low cost, and it provides real time and geo-related communication and information.
The group comprises of a Councilor, Council staff, and supervisor of contractor, residents representatives, representative of elected State assemblymen and other interested individual who have shown interest in participatory management. The Contractor would post their monthly and daily schedule of work onto the group within time allocated as well as photos showing works performed for scrutiny. At the same time, members of the group are empowered to post any photos or comment for immediate response or remedy actions. Penalty would be imposed to the contractor if remedy actions are not taken within time permitted and remedial actions are not informed back to the platform.
Information about any crisis (flash flood, vehicle broke down, temporary closure of landfill disposal site) is also provided so that everyone on board are alerted on progress of works. This has enable residents’ representatives to gather first-hand information on incidents of service disruption so that this information could be disseminated to members of the community and to the city officials. The data collected are tailored with the E-Aduan, a city-wide complaint management system for the municipality. The application has its own challenges such as observing right code of ethics by all parties, check and balance, personality and egoism and other management issues.
The tool has served to monitor performance of contractors and also to spot informal services and illegal activities at inaccessible areas. Video or photos captured are being used as proof for property tax re-evaluation on newly extended building and imposed penalty on public area cleanliness offences. The information is shared with affected stakeholders for further discussion and solution searching. Therefore, the mechanism has further strengthened good governance and partnership on improving urban services delivery.
As main innovation of the project, we can highlight that it enables multiple stakeholders’ involvement in real time and online monitoring of urban services delivery without any hindrance of physical, human and time constraint. The initiative in itself is an innovation. Secondly, the application of WhatsApp, a social media platform commonly used by many actors in daily routine is much cost efficiency and easier to start with.
No legislative or regulatory modification was required but the code of ethics has been set for all members to observe. These include the protocol, languages as well as the do’s and don’ts on written messages and photos to be uploaded. For instance, members are not allowed to post messages related to politics, religion and ethnicity.
While the relevant stakeholders are invited to join the respective group, interested individuals or community representatives keen to participate are also invited. No barrier has been set for membership acceptance.
The project is mooted and coordinated by the Department of Solid Waste Management and Public Cleansing of Petaling Jaya City Council. A total of 68 Group administered by the area supervisor of the Department was formed for each neighborhood area. The area supervisor is tasked to invite participation of stakeholders, to bridge communication between group members, to monitor the running of the Group, to disseminate information and to receive feedbacks or responses on behalf of the Council and Department. Contractor selected by the Council to provide urban services will have their representative to sit in the Group. The daily task of the representative is to update the Group on services rendered and to take immediate response on complaints lodged over the platform or to inform the Group if any interruption of service is encountered. For example, lorry break down, traffic situation affecting the service time or unethical acts of public in environmental pollution. Community representatives could be either the residents nominated by the local neighborhood group or individual volunteers will provide first hand feedback on the service performance of contractor appointed by the Council. Other members include the council member of the respective zone or State Assemblyman whom might step in for dispute resolution, if any.
One of the reasons for WhatsApp application being chosen is the cost factor. Basically, no financial burden is required to reinvent the application. Having said this, the future plan of the Council to install features on archiving, recording and analysis function as well as inter-changeable with the public complaints system in long term will require budgetary commitment.
The platform is so popular that other urban services such as road maintenance, landscaping works, public facilities have also been requested to be incorporated. The application has helped in reducing 15% of complaints received for 2016 compared to last year. Reporting of local performance issues in urban services has been noticeably reduced.
The experience encountered a number of challenges, from ethical issues and lack of commitment of the public contractors, to the misuse of the tool to demand and request for other services out of the scope of the group. Additionally, the system is still primitive and focused in information and communication, so it very limited for other functions, as retrieving past records, analyzing data, or coordinating with other existing Management Information Systems (MIS).
In order to have a better impact and development of the tool, the city has recognized that the city should have enable connection with existing MIS since the beginning and better select stakeholders to be included in the groups in order to improve representativeness.
Commitment and dedication from all stakeholders is the key components to ensure success of the project. Stakeholders have to play each role well and with due respect to other group members. It is a platform to disseminate and update information on services in which heroic attitude should be avoided. Secondly, sustaining the interest of group members to continue their efforts and role is also critical. Some group members discontinued after initiate enthusiasm gone due to lack of efficiency in problem solving as they envisioned. Thereby, quick response on any correspondence is critically important.