x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

TRA is on Facebook: like or dislike?

UAE Government employees are among the first in the world to be encouraged to use social media.

DUBAI // Two government employees at the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) are among the first to be allowed - and even encouraged - to use Twitter and Facebook at work.

Their assignments are part of a long-term "eGovernment" project led by the TRA for all ministries and departments to provide more services and solicit user input over the internet.

"Social media needs to be part of overall communications and capacity-building strategies," said the TRA director general Mohamed Nasser al Ghanim, according to WAM, the state news agency. "It provides them with greater opportunities to share more information [and] helps them in obtaining the required feedbacks."

While other government bodies have built increasingly interactive websites, few have embraced social media, often fearing it could harm their reputation, said Fadi Salem, the director of the governance and innovation programme at the Dubai School of Government.

"Until today you have government departments that not only block social media tools but also ask their employees not to use them, especially in their professional capacity," he said.

Their concerns - that private information would be leaked, the department's reputation could be damaged, inappropriate content would be posted, or employees would be less productive - were addressed in a 24-page set of "Guidelines for Social Media Usage in UAE Government Entities" released in February.

"These risks can be mitigated by applying the proper controls," the document said.

The TRA said it guards against offensive posts by monitoring comments on its Facebook page and vetting comments on its YouTube page before they go live.

But most of the few posts so far have been mundane - such as questions about telecommunications law or directions to the office. "It is still a new field," a spokesman said.

The push for eGovernment reflects the popularity of the internet and social media. Forty-five per cent of residents use Facebook - the highest rate in the Arab region and the ninth highest rate in the world, the Dubai School of Government reported this year, citing official Facebook data.

Not all government websites perform well, however. An internal review in March found that, of 40 federal-level sites evaluated, 15 were "below par" and nine were "adequately compliant", scoring between 65 and 84 out of 100.

In a recent report by the World Economic Forum, the UAE ranked fourth out of 138 countries in using information and communication technology to improve the efficiency of government services, with a score of 6 out of 7.

However, in terms of the Government's delivery of online services, it came in at 96th between Nicaragua and Georgia. It placed 80th for its "quality, relevance, usefulness and willingness" to provide info and receive feedback.

This week, the federal Government relaunched its online portal. The site provides all sorts of services, from sending a message to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, to printing application forms to have a sample of fertiliser tested.

chuang@thenational.ae