Editorial: Citizen watchdogs

WILL it work?

Rona Joyce T. Fernandez reported in SunStar Cebu on March 29 that the Cebu City Government is screening about 500 senior high school graduates to work as “watchdogs” this summer.

The first batch of successful applicants will start work on April 15; the second batch, on May 16.

Cebu City Youth Commission head Jess Anthony dela Cruz explained a watchdog’s duties: inspect and recommend ways for improving programs initiated by the Cebu City Government, such as the scholarship grants, financial assistance for senior citizens, and the Long Life Medical Assistance Program.

Will the youths be effective as watchdogs?

Auditing involves a thorough review and assessment of a system to check if a process is operating as planned. It is also expected to surface problems or consequences that were not foreseen or intended, which should lead to measures addressing constraints or improving performance.

Auditing is part of feedbacking, so crucial experts are often tapped to evaluate and recommend.

Aside from maturity and experience, two sets of mindsets affect the watchdogs of the Cebu City Government. Certainly, the first they have to deal with is their own mindset.

If the senior high school graduates view their duties as a step to securing favor and future positions in the Cebu City Government, they are not suited as watchdogs.

A watchdog refers to a person or a group that monitors the practices of an entity providing services.

It is frequently associated with a journalistic tradition of holding power accountable.

According to the Nieman Reports, watchdog journalism is perceived by many as investigative journalism, which entails finding out and exposing official secrets.

Yet, watchdogs also tackle a lesser known practice that is “crucial… especially in this age of relentless public relations and spin.”

Watchdogs call attention to what “may well be in plain sight.” This means showing the contrast between what officials say or claim to exist and what people actually experience.

It means ensuring that the feedback of the public, who are the direct consumers of government services, reaches elected and appointed officials, employees, and the rest of the system of government service providers.

Acting as watchdogs means taking the side of facts: “rebuffing and rebutting misinformation, and sometimes even taking a position on what the facts suggest is the right solution,” points out the Nieman Reports.

The first two functions can be handily done by Millennials. After being thoroughly briefed on a program’s objectives and expected outcomes, the watchdogs can tap traditional and digital tools to spread as widely as possible the net for feedback reflecting how Cebu City Government programs works in actuality.

Wasn’t it engineering student Mitch Roldan who messaged Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña on the social media site Facebook to suggest keeping the Dr. Jose Rizal Public Library on 24/7 operations so students could have a free place to read, study, and research?

Responding to Roldan, the mayor authorized the public library to stay open since March 9, 2018, adding additional staff, guards, air-conditioning units, and wi-fi routers to ensure the safety and convenience of library users.

Perhaps encouraged by the public’s enthusiastic response to the public library’s extended hours of operation, the mayor plans to convert the second floor of some public markets into study centers.

As watchdogs, though, the 500 or so senior high school graduates engaged by the Cebu City Government must look beyond their special interests.

Their third and most important duty is to monitor and, if needed, oppose spin and deception, even if it comes from officials.

If the citizen watchdogs accomplish this task, will Cebu City Hall officials and employees have the mindset to accept criticism, correct or improve their performance?

That is the next most important question to answer.
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