John Baimba Sesay – China
Sierra Leone Telegraph: 6 August 2016
Citizen engagement is crucial to sustaining democratic governance. It allows for openness in the decision making process, and ensures trust and public confidence.
Participatory democracy is a process of collective decision making that combines elements from both direct and representative democracy.
Sierra Leone pays greater attention to public engagement and citizens’ participation in governance – both at the central and local levels of government.
At the local level, it is clearly manifested in the local councils, which serve as efficient, or as expected, conduit for ensuring proper service delivery and community participation.
President Ernest Bai Koroma, during a two-day National Conference on Community Engagement and Convergence in Freetown on 31 August 2016, underscored the role of participatory governance and citizen engagement in enhancing service delivery across the country.
This is impressive, given what his government has achieved in eight years of managing the affairs of State.
As mentioned earlier, at the local level, there has been the institutional framework for community participation, created through an Act of Parliament – the Local Government Act 2004.
Section 108 of the Act, focuses on the promotion of participatory approach to the decentralization process. Ward Committees are instrumental in the promotion of participatory approach to governance at the local levels.
Section 95 (2) of the Act outlines the composition of each ward committee; every Councilor elected from that ward; the Paramount Chief of the Chiefdom, in the case of localities with a system of chieftaincy; and not more than ten other persons, at least five of whom shall be women, resident in that ward and elected by the ward residents in a public meeting.
The committees, among other functions, provide a focal point for the discussion of local problems and needs, and take remedial action where necessary or make recommendations to the local council accordingly.
Since 2007, government continues to invest huge resources in local councils across the country, all in a bid to building their capacities to be able to execute their statutory functions.
Government’s unflinching support for the decentralization and devolution process, demonstrates the great value it attaches to the concept of participatory approach to governance.
Local councils across the country should therefore work assiduously towards making their ward committees fully functional.
This will eventually help bring about effective public involvement and enhance service delivery, something that is core to the president’s recovery programmes.
Eight years of democratic governance have seen the better side of things, with much progress achieved.
The Government, especially the political leadership, should also be credited for ensuring an open political space and enabling environment.
It has, since 2007, continued to open up the political space, set up appropriate structures and the required processes to enable participatory policy-making.
It has not only reinforced “coordination and dialogue amongst district Councils, chiefdom authorities and Central Government functionaries”, by reinstating District Officers, the platform has been created by this government in ensuring discussions on a range of national issues, like the national budget, all being part of the wider participatory approach.
The establishment of an Open Government Initiative (OGI) in 2008, serves as a platform for the promotion of good governance. It today serves as a link between the government (the three arms) and the people, providing citizens with open space to be a part of governance.
Civil society groups are today being provided with the environment to operate freely and in tandem with governance dictates.
This is very important, given that they serve as the arena outside of the state and the market, where people associate to advance common interests. However, it all depends on the enabling environment to be provided by political actors and thanks to the government for such an environment in Sierra Leone.
In a nutshell, the President’s call for constant development partners and all sectors to the development process to stay engaged with the people is timely, crucial and speaks volume of his commitment to the promotion of participatory democracy which, since 2007, his government has been promoting.
About the author:
John Baimba Sesay is the information attaché at the Sierra Leone Embassy in Beijing, China.