John Baimba Sesay-China
Citizen engagement is crucial to sustaining democratic governance. It allows for openness in decision making process and ensures trust and public confidence.
Participatory democracy, according to Aragone`s et el, is a process of collective decision making that combines elements from both direct and representative democracy (A theory of participatory democracy based on the real case of Porto Alegre. European Economic Review 2008)
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 serves as efficient, or as expected, conduit for ensuring proper service delivery and community participation at the local level.
President Ernest Bai Koroma, during a two-day National Conference on Community Engagement and Convergence in Freetown on 31 August 2016 underscored the role participatory governance and citizen engagement can play in enhancing service delivery across the country.
This is impressive given what his government has been achieved in eight years of managing the affairs of State.
As I said, at the local level, there has been the institutional framework for community participation, created through an Act of Parliament-Local Government Act 2004.
Section 108 talks about 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 as (a) every Councilor elected from that ward; (b) the Paramount Chief of the Chiefdom, in the case of localities with a system of chieftaincy; and (c) 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, amongst 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 the council’s across the country, all in a bid to building their capacities to be able to execute their statutory functions.
Government’s unflinching support to the decentralization and devolution process demonstrates the great value it attaches to the concept of participatory approach to governance.
The councils across the country should therefore work assiduously towards making the ward committees fully functional. This eventually helps bring about effective public involvement so as to 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 the open space and enabling environment. It has, since 2007, continued to open up the political space and set up the right structures and the required process to enable participatory policy-making process.
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 budgets, 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 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.