Platform for petitions to Govt taken down as it was just for internal testing: GovTech

The website has not accepted any live petitions or signatures, said a GovTech spokesman. PHOTO: GOV.SG

SINGAPORE - A platform being tested to let citizens put up petitions to the Government has been taken down after the team behind it decided not to pursue the idea.

GovTech’s communications and marketing group director Chong Wan Yieng told The Straits Times on Thursday (May 5) the PetitionsSG website was a prototype that had never been live, and was built for internal user testing during this year’s run of its annual hackathon.

“The Government actively seeks out views and concerns of citizens through various channels but we do not make decisions on the basis of petitions. The team has decided to no longer pursue the idea,” she said.

The website has not accepted any live petitions or signatures, she added.

PetitionsSG was created as part of the Open Government Products' annual Hack for Public Good 2022 initiative.

The website had been up since January this year. It had said petitions that garner 10,000 supporters within 180 days would be submitted to the relevant ministries for review.

The platform's developer, Open Government Products, is an experimental development team within GovTech, which works on technology for the public sector.

ST understands that several petitions had been tested on the site earlier in the year.

Senior software engineer Alwyn Tan at Open Government Products earlier told ST that PetitionsSG was created with the goal of empowering citizens to push for change and to connect the most important sentiments from the ground to ministries.

He said on Wednesday: “(PetitionsSG) has yet to go into production and as a prototype, the team is still exploring how best to move forward with the product, given the team’s bandwidth and the other products they are working on.”

He was part of a team of five who worked on the project.

The team said on the hackathon’s website that the platform was created due to “an increasing feeling of disconnection between people and government”, based on about 50 user interviews.

This included being afraid of speaking out due to potential repercussions, no assurance of reply from the Government, conversations with Government being top down and members of the public feeling unheard.

In the team’s user interviews with directors in charge of engagement in the ministry, there were concerns about legitimacy, authenticity and astroturfing on many online platforms Singaporeans were using to voice out.

Astroturfing refers to campaigns where the originators hide behind the scenes to give the impression that the campaigns are spontaneous.

Instructions on the PetitionsSG website had said the public can draft a petition for a cause which they feel requires the Government’s attention.

The petition must be endorsed by three other people, after which it will be published on the site.

If it receives 10,000 signatures within 180 days, it will be submitted to the ministry which oversees the issue. The ministry will have 90 days to respond.

Petitions that do not reach 10,000 signatures within 180 days, as well as petitions that are rejected because they received significant reports against them, will be stored in an archive that is available for public discourse, it had said.

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