PESHAWAR: The caretaker government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has ordered the closure of a project involving more than 1,000 social media influencers, who were hired by the last Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government in the province to promote its positive image.
Through a letter dated April 5 and addressed to the planning and development department, the information department said in the wake of the “current economic crisis followed by the unavailability of funds,” it had been decided to wind up the project immediately.
“It is requested to stop further release on account of the project with an immediate effect,” it said.
The information department informed the finance department that after the dissolution of the provincial assembly and formation of the caretaker government in the province, whose constitutional responsibility is to hold free, fair and impartial elections, the social media influencers project had lost its relevance.
Over 1,000 social media influencers were hired for the initiative
It insisted that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) banned the start of new development projects and fresh recruitment and therefore, the caretaker government was not mandated by the law, rules and regulations to carry out the project objectives. In this light, the continuation of that image building project is a waste of taxpayers’ money, it said.
“As all activities of the project are closed, it is requested that all expenditure, including salaries of the project management unit and stipends for internees, be stopped with an immediate effect in the best public interest,” it said.
Last month, caretaker information minister Feroz Jamal Shah Kakakhel told reporters that the last PTI-led government had employed around 5,000 social media workers against the monthly salary of Rs25,000 to promote the ruling party’s interests.
He, however, said the information department had just 1,200 such recruits, who highlighted the PTI government’s policies and acts while staying home.
“Our [caretaker] government will ask the Federal Investigation Agency to probe recruitment by the last government,” he said.
The project documents available on the information department’s website show that the project was titled the “establishment of social media participatory platforms for public awareness and feedback regarding reforms initiatives and encouraging civic responsibility” and was conceived at the cost of Rs870 million in 2021-22 ADP.
The project’s objectives listed in PC-I said the initiative was aimed at spreading awareness right up to the grassroots level regarding reforms of public interest.
It added that it was also supposed to counter fake news, information and notifications regarding government initiatives, directives and functionaries, and counter negative propaganda against the provincial government or its initiatives with facts and figures.
Also, the project had listed highlighting loopholes in public service delivery, tracking and trace of any human rights violations and public grievances surfacing on social media, seeking public opinion on any proposed initiatives of the government, promoting unity and national integration, communication skills development of public especially youth, financial support for career struggling unemployed individuals through engagement on social media at its objectives.
Besides, the project was also geared towards developing a culture of positive use of social media, creating public platforms for promoting participatory culture and spreading social education regarding precautionary measures against coronavirus and polio, promoting cleanliness and tree plantation, creating awareness of the repercussions of encroachment of state land, and launch campaigns for people’s education on government lands and check adulteration, hoarding, wall chalking, use of polythene bags and other matters of public interest.
Outlining the project’s rationale, the department in the PC-I document said that social and digital media was no doubt an effective tool of communication for sharing ideas and the best forum for awareness of the society but at the same time used negatively both at the international and domestic level to create instability and chaos through spreading disinformation and false information.
It added that the information department should be well equipped to cope with the communication challenges of the new era and should tactfully perform its role to inform and educate the people and bridge the gap between the government and the people.
“It will not only give projection to the reforms initiatives of the provincial government but also inform the government about the public pulse. There is no facility available at the government’s level to ensure real-time direct liaison of the policymakers with the general public,” it said.
Published in Dawn, April 6th, 2023