The progress in the development and use of ICTs and particularly mobile phones offers many opportunities for engaging government and citizens in an innovative and efficient way. Accordingly, ICTs have the potential for strengthening accountability by facilitating access to information that could help citizens hold governments accountable, enhancing the rule of law by making information supplied by governments easily accessible to citizens, and fostering participation like consultation and feedback from citizens.
The use of ICTs in the DRC started with the aim of reinforcing governance capacities and the performance of the public sector through the strengthening of civil society as partners for building a dialogue for achieving better governance through the use of technologies. The first component of the project was to detect central problems that the population was facing. As water was detected as the key issue, the question raised was how to use ICTs to improve the quality of the public service they were receiving.
The pilot mobile-based survey was developed in Kinshasa neighborhoods on water points, mainly regarding quality, quantity, access and cost. The first step consisted on using ICTs (mainly SMS) for receiving user’s feedback and complains. The second one referred to REGIDESO, the public water company. The company’s response team should act regarding what they receive, which involves receiving the feedback, analyzing it and doing something about it. Afterwards they should inform the population what they are doing about it. Throughout all this process ICTs act as the link, from where people fill surveys through SMS for sending their feedback and then the response team take action, also through SMS.
This pilot is under the direction of a multi-stakeholder committee composed by many parties: the government, civil society and the main mobile operators. Under its direction this feedback mechanism is being developed facilitated by ITCs, and the response team was set-up at the national water company for sustainability.
Consequently, ICTs are performing a key role for social accountability in the DRC. This is helped by the growing penetration of them, mainly of mobile phones. In the country the mobile phone penetration is of 16%, and the estimated access in 2013 is of 47%. 55% of the country’s population is covered by a network, including most of South Kivu rural areas. In fact, in developing countries mobile phones have become the technology with the lowest gender gap, the highest reach amongst the poor and are being widely used as the best way to reach remote populations.
As SMS are the best tool, in the DRC a partnership was made with the biggest mobile operator called Airtel, which gives the geographic location of the user and allows direct interaction by SMS with its users. Besides being used for improving public services, SMS are used also to invite, mobilize and sensitize population to Participatory Budgeting like a mass media, to simplify voting process through a Beta testing of SMS vote (additional voting channel), to inform population of the voted decision, and in the future as a way to get back to the population and as a follow up tool regarding the implementation of voted projects in each district. As an example, 133,992 SMS have been sent to Ibanda, 27,466 to Kadutu and 7,268 to Bagira.
Also in the DRC the mapping of public services and budget allocation is being used. It helps track the implementation of the public works decided through PB and citizen initiated mapping is already taking place to locate existing services.