BAHRAIN's ministers could be forced onto Twitter or Facebook, if parliament gets its way. MPs want ministers and senior government officials to set up at least one social media account, amid allegations that too many close their doors to the public.
They also want them to hold a weekly majlis (public meeting) where members of the public can air their grievances in person.
Parliament approved the urgent proposal yesterday and it will now be forwarded to the Cabinet, which can either approve or reject it.
Some senior officials are already active on social networking sites, with Foreign Minister Shaikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa among Bahrain's highest profile "tweeps".
However, Minister of State for Parliament and Shura Council Affairs Abdulaziz Al Fadhel told MPs at yesterday's extraordinary session that any comments made on such websites were not binding.
"Ministers and senior officials are government employees who follow their workplace's policies and regulations," he said.
"Their responses can't be issued through unofficial channels without an official complaint being lodged.
"Comments through social media are not binding and represent freedom of opinion, which ministers and senior government officials have every right to express -- whether in regard to their ministry or another.
"They are just social tools that bring people closer."
However, MP Mahmood Al Mahmood -- himself a former Under-Secretary at the old Information Ministry -- said the proposal stemmed from a feeling that people's complaints were being ignored.
"People want to feel that they are important citizens with ministers and senior government officials taking their pleas seriously," he said.
"Today they are not getting any response as they follow official procedures and social media could be a solution. Ministers and senior government officials can interact with people through weekly majlises too," he added.
Parliament first vice-chairman Abdulla Al Dossary said social media had become a key communication tool.
"The government should be happy with more feedback from the public," he said.
"Bahrain today speaks about transparency and this is one key to it.
"It is not necessary for a minister to respond personally. An authorised person can do it on his/her behalf."
Meanwhile, MP Isa Al Kooheji said the British government already obliged its ministers to have at least one social media account.
"Bahrain's government could be a leader in the region and start adopting the British example of communication through social media, wherein ministers have at least one account to directly listen to people's grievances and solve their problems," he said.
Yesterday's extraordinary session took place because MPs embarking on the Haj pilgrimage will not be able to attend parliament's
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