时事分析 | 公共行政及法制 | 2018-02-07 | 《信报》

智慧政府会怎样吸纳民意?以电子呈请为例



制度成熟的政府,都会有多种渠道吸纳民意,确保政策切合社会需要,例如派官员「落区」、委托独立机构进行民意调查,或是进行公众咨询。随着资讯科技进步,各地政府也开始探索如何利用资讯科技聆听社会声音,甚至鼓励民众主动就公共事务提出建议。在香港,政府亦将「以数据主导的模式改善公共服务」,列为建立智慧政府的目标之一。[1]

一个智慧政府,究竟可以怎样收集民意?在英国和美国等地,就有所谓的「电子呈请」,让民众在特设网站发起联署,就其关注议题要求政府或国会回应。[2]这种收集民意的方式,好处是政府无需「主动出击」也能得悉公众关注焦点;民众也可「反客为主」,不用等待政府咨询,亦能左右政府决策。

其中美国的呈请平台,在2011年9月设立至2016年底,就出现超过48万项呈请,涉及民权、经济就业、政府改革等议题,共收集了逾4,000万个签名。[3]这些呈请不乏「成功争取」的例子,例如禁止未成年人士接受改变性倾向治疗、让手机客户自由选择网络供应商,以至让一名民权斗士获颁发总统自由勋章。[4]这些成功例子,固然让希望影响政府决策的人憧憬。但要做到真正「有智慧」地收集民意,改善施政,仍需解决一些问题。

关注点一:如何识别真民意?

首先,如何确定网上民意没有「笃数」,已是一大挑战。英国在2016年一项关于再办「脱欧」公投的电子呈请,获得数百万个签名,其中有3.9万个宣称来自梵蒂冈居民──然而梵蒂冈的人口,实际上只有800人。[5]另外,尽管英国的电子呈请只供国民或居民签署,但核实方法只是要求签署者确认身份。[6]

为防有人「灌票」,英国表示会用自动化检查及人手检查应对,防止有人自行或利用电脑程式重复签名。[7]美国白宫则指,如相信有人利用自动化系统产生多个帐户或签名,便会封锁相关IP地址。[8]

关注点二:接受呈请的准则

如何防止有人滥用资讯科技的便利,推动没有意义的议题,是另一项挑战。英国及美国的电子呈请都设有人数门槛,发起人要得到一定人数和应,其呈请才会出现在相关网上平台[9];而要达到政府或国会作回应的门槛,该呈请亦要在限期内得到大量签名。[10]因此过于无聊或不合理的提案,理论上不会轻易过关。

不过现实总有例外。在2012年11月,有人就要求美国政府在2016年开始,兴建科幻电影《星球大战》中能够炸毁行星的武器Death Star。[11]这个玩票性质的呈请,居然也收集到3.4万个签名,通过当时白宫作回应的门槛,结果官方幽默地表示不支持炸毁行星,拒绝要求。[12]

当然,上述事件也可以归咎于门槛还未够高。美国皮尤研究中心发现,随着白宫将回应门槛逐步提升,达标的呈请比例也急遽下降。例如在门槛定为5,000个签名时,尚有44%的呈请达标,但其后当门槛提高至十万个签名,达标比例就仅余2%。[13]门槛提升,虽可令官方耳根清静,摒除无聊琐碎的呈请,但也有机会殃及池鱼,令一些富有讨论意义但未能吸引足够眼球的呈请石沉大海。

此外,也有呈请平台干脆禁止某类呈请。英国方面就提及,呈请者必须清楚指出希望政府或国会做什么,而不属于政府或国会责任的事、瞎闹或开玩笑的呈请,以及观点极端或具冒犯的呈请,例如基于种族、国籍而作攻击和批评,便会被拒。[14]至于美国的呈请,则必须针对联邦政府的行为及政策,不能具有商业宣传、暴力威吓、粗口或虚假陈述等成分。[15]

关注点三:聆听民意还是公关工程?

向政府提出建议,公众自然关心政府会否认真对待,还是只把电子平台视作门面工夫,实质对民众想法爱理不理?以美国为例,虽然当地的电子呈请不乏成功个案,但根据美国皮尤研究中心估算,白宫在2013年就平均需时271天,回应合资格的呈请。[16]近期特朗普政府称会尽力在60天内回应通过门槛的电子呈请[17],但在这之前,其政府仍未回应任何呈请。[18]

在英国,电子呈请理论上也只能获得口头答复。即使国会就呈请进行辩论,这些辩论也不能够直接促成法例修订,因为订立或修订法例,只能按国会立法程序进行,而这通常由政府启动。[19]英国政治及文化杂志New Statesman曾评估,2016年当地十大最多人转载的呈请,虽然都收集逾十万个签名,但其中四项没有在国会辩论,而且没有任何呈请能愿望成真。[20]

关注点四:会否造成撕裂?

但话说回来,有求必应的政府,对社会未必是好事,因为呈请反映的可能只是单一观点,若然政府不就呈请全面咨询就改变政策,那些持相反意见、没签呈请者的利益,便很可能会受损。

其实在很多时候,社会都会存在南辕北辙的想法。英国就曾经同时出现两个诉求完全相反的呈请──一个要求阻止特朗普国事访问英国,另一个则支持,而两项呈请都达到政府需要回应以至国会要考虑辩论的门槛。[21]若然电子呈请机制仅让议题对立双方比人数、斗大声,对解决社会问题恐怕无甚助益。

社会既需要有效地收集民意,也要有办法凝聚共识。英国国会曾就一些电子呈请召开听证会,邀请呈请发起人、有类似诉求的人士、专家、业界代表到场分享其看法[22];到辩论时,政府官员亦会出席会议,回应议员质询。[23]这种「回归传统」的处事方法有多大功效,可再作讨论,但背后尝试吸纳不同意见的精神,着实值得外界深思。毕竟,无论资讯科技能有多大潜能,但能否藉其令社会运作得更顺畅,带来真正的智慧政府,到底还是要靠人类的智慧。

1 《香港智慧城市蓝图》,政府资讯科技总监办公室,第25页。
2 "About We the People," We the People, https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/about, accessed February 5, 2018; "How petitions work," Petitions - UK Government and Parliament, https://petition.parliament.uk/help, accessed January 3, 2017.
3 Katelyn Sabochik, "Petition the White House with We the People," the White House - President Barack Obama, https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2011/09/22/petition-white-house-we-people, last modified September 22, 2011; "About We the People," We the People - The White House - President Barack Obama, https://petitions.obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/about, accessed December 28, 2017.
4 "About We the People," We the People - The White House - President Barack Obama, https://petitions.obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/about, accessed December 28, 2017.
5 Nicola Slawson, "Petition for second EU referendum may have been manipulated," The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jun/26/petition-for-second-eu-referendum-may-have-been-manipulated, June 26, 2016.
6 同5。
7 "Rejected petition: Stop Fake Petitions being debated in Parliament. Stop mass signings by 'Bots'." Petitions - UK Government and Parliament, https://petition.parliament.uk/archived/petitions/179928, accessed January 3, 2017.
8 "About We the People," We the People, https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/about, accessed February 5, 2018.
9 同2。
10 "About We the People," We the People, https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/about, accessed February 5, 2018; "How petitions work," Petitions - UK Government and Parliament, https://petition.parliament.uk/help, accessed January 3, 2017; "Find out more about e-petitions," United Kingdom Parliament, http://www.parliament.uk/get-involved/sign-a-petition/e-petitions, accessed December 29, 2017.
11 "Secure resources and funding, and begin construction of a Death Star by 2016." We the People - The White House - President Barack Obama, https://petitions.obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/petition/secure-resources-and-funding-and-begin-construction-death-star-2016, accessed December 29, 2017.
12 同11。
13 Paul Hitlin, "'We the People': Five Years of Online Petitions," Pew Research Center, December 28, 2016, pp. 11 and 12.
14 "How petitions work," Petitions - UK Government and Parliament, https://petition.parliament.uk/help, accessed January 3, 2017.
15 同8。
16 同13,第22页。
17 同8。
18 Zeke Miller, "White House temporarily removes petition too," Associated Press, December 18, 2017, https://apnews.com/5e95880b6f39476597ff930e2b70d4b6.
19 "Commons Select Committee: Debate on the cost of car insurance for young people," United Kingdom Parliament, http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/petitions-committee/news-parliament-2015/petition-debate-cost-of-car-insurance-for-young-people, last modified March 15, 2017.
20 Amelia Tait, "Do online petitions actually work? The numbers reveal the truth," New Statesman, January 30, 2017, https://www.newstatesman.com/science-tech/2017/01/do-online-petitions-actually-work-numbers-reveal-truth.
21 "Petition: Prevent Donald Trump from making a State Visit to the United Kingdom." Petitions - UK Government and Parliament, https://petition.parliament.uk/archived/petitions/171928, accessed January 4, 2017; "Petition: Donald Trump should make a State Visit to the United Kingdom." Petitions - UK Government and Parliament, https://petition.parliament.uk/archived/petitions/178844, accessed January 4, 2017.
22 "Your Petitions: A Year of action - Petitions Committee: July 2015 - July 2016," Houses of Parliament Petitions Committee, November 16, 2016, pp. 12 and 13; "Commons Select Committee: Debate on the cost of car insurance for young people," United Kingdom Parliament, http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/petitions-committee/news-parliament-2015/petition-debate-cost-of-car-insurance-for-young-people, last modified March 15, 2017.
23 同19。