Sierra Leone Telegraph: 01 November 2020:
World Bank Country Manager in Sierra Leone – Gayle Martin, last Friday spoke at the government’s launching of its dialogue with civil society organisations as a drive to promote good governance, transparency, and accountability.
Addressing the assembled dignitaries, including the president, ministers, the international community, the press, and civil society organisations (CSOs), she said that for this government’s initiative “to be successful, it would be important that this structure and process are not politicized, that it is inclusive, transparent and allows honest exchange.”
She went on to say: “I am sure everyone can agree that development does not happen without engaging people. The economy doesn’t grow without engaging people. Reduced poverty doesn’t happen without people being at the center of such efforts.
“Improved prosperity, therefore, requires strong linkages between governments and communities. CSOs are a critical vehicle to accomplish these linkages. But development is also about sharing prosperity. Again, this is where CSOs are even more critical to ensure that that progress is shared and not the benefit just a few with voice and influence.
“The experience with COVID has amplified many challenges and but also highlighted underappreciated or underutilized opportunities. The ability of CSOs to reach communities was an example of an underutilized opportunity that was highlighted by COVID. CSOs were able to support the distribution of COVID-19 support packages, and also facilitated outreach and getting messages to households at greatest risk. This underscores the importance of why we are here today.
“Reduced poverty and shared prosperity are the twin goals of the World Bank Group, and the importance of citizen engagement has become more and more important in our operations, to ensure accountability of World Bank-financed projects, and CSOs can make an important contribution.
“For example, at the Annual Meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund with Ministers of Finance and Governors, CSOs from all regions always participate. On Tuesday (Oct27, 2020) the Bank’s two Vice Presidents for the Africa region had a virtual meeting with a large number of CSOs from the Africa region.
“Mr. President, I commend government for initiating this CSO coordination platform, and creating a government-CSO interface. For this to be successful, it would be important that this structure and process are not politicized, that it is inclusive, transparent and allows honest exchange.
“Such a platform could further support CSO’s role in partnership with the government, to monitor implementation, to improve accountability (including budget accountability), and to provide a voice for the voiceless. A key determinant of success of this initiative dependents on what happens after this launch, and what you discuss today is critical in shaping that the extent to which the objectives can be realized. I therefore wish you fruitful deliberations today.”
It remains to be seen how sincere and honest the government is in bringing together CSOs together to establish what the president says is a permanent structure to promote dialogue between the government and CSOs.
“It remains to be seen how sincere and honest the government is in bringing together CSOs to establish what the President says is a permanent structure to promote dialogue between government and CSOs.”
What dialogue? Of course, it is good for a government to have a conversation with civil society in order to identify the burning issues of the people, so that resources can be mobilized or diverted to address these challenges. In Sierra Leone, these urgent issues can even be narrated by the ordinary guy in the streets; though with less insight for their solutions. That is, the lack of jobs, invasion of civil liberties, suppression of human rights and a hopeless economy.
In trying to strengthen the interface between the functions of government and the role played by Civil Society Organisations – as reps, campaigners, service providers, watchdogs and agents of public awareness, will naturally create a conflict between the objectives of any government (esp one that has failed its people) and the paramount role of the institutions (CSOs) that are supposed to defend them (the people). Therefore, the idea of forging a “permanent structure” between the government and CSOs has the tendency of eroding the independence of civil institutions and consequently compromise their viability. Furthermore, this notion of establishing a ‘solid’ link between government and CSOs will continue to invite questions about the value, legitimacy and accountability of CSOs.
At extremes, rogue CSO officials will end up in the ‘payroll’ of an unscrupulous government, especially during a period of tough funding climate that will induce these officials to ‘follow the money’, and move away from the concept of their originality. Is the process of this discourse going to be always inclusive or are there going to be hidden conditions for joining this club? If the views and opinions of certain CSOs are not accommodated amid government plans, will these CSOs be labelled as APC sympathisers or pro-APC CSOs? Certainly, this partisan perception of CSOs will continue to strengthen the growing mistrust between CSOs and the public at large. At the end, the whole process can only be described as the POLITICIZATION of CSOs in Sierra Leone.
The CSOs or at least some individuals in their leadership, have been increasingly accused of being boldly partisan. Now, there is a world of difference between being partisan and being politically active. CSOs can be politically active because, no doubt they are humans in the organizations they serve and they play in the same field with politicians, with whom they work side by side, to achieve their missions and objectives. But what is fishy is, when the relationship of the civil societies and the party in governance is publicly, and boldly seen as inseparable in marriage, not serving the people’s best hopes but, those of the party in governance. It’s a skewed picture.
The role of CSOs is critical in a politically, economically, environmentally, tribally and regionally divided country such as ours. Because they are the people’s advocates and their last best chance to hold the government accountable, therefore, should not be party loyalists. It simply cannot work. However, but people have the option to quit serving in the capacity of CSO, to join political parties and campaigns, no questions ask. But should they chose to work as CSOs, which give them the mandate to act in the middle way between the citizens and the government, the CSOs must take these mandate seriously, give due regard to the lives and livelihoods of the public, who depend on their advocacy for social outcomes and their general wellbeing. CSOs cannot fully effectively and efficiently perform the role of a honest broker if and when their first loyalty is to the ruling party. It’s wrong and that’s the dialogue.