February 12, 2015 By John Baimba Sesay in China
The promotion of good governance dictates the involvement of a country’s citizenry into running the affairs of state. It also calls for openness, direct and indirect consultations in the decision making process, as well as the free will to elect representatives.
Often and again, attention appears to be focused more on the operations of Government, especially the level of the three arms – executive, judiciary and legislature. Fair enough, much cannot be achieved in the promotion of the pillars of democracy if those who execute government policies, or those who make laws plus those who interpret such laws do not move in tandem with what is expected of them. The point must be clear, that all those institutions are interrelated, with one or two not operating fully without the other if we are to talk about real democracy.
For instance, it is in line with the dictates of openness, transparency and the need for a participatory type of government that Sierra Leone, amongst others, enacted laws on local governance, free access to public held information, and towards fighting graft.
Take the Local Government Act, 2004 as a case study. It provides for the decentralisation and devolution of functions, powers and services through community participation, especially at the local level. As per the provisions in the Act, the councils shall be generally responsible for promoting the development of the locality and the welfare of the people in the locality with the resources at their disposal and with such resources and capacity as they can mobilize from the central government and its agencies, national and international organizations, and the private sector.
Specifically, subsection (2)(c) of Section 20 gives the councils the responsibility of initiating and maintaining programmes for the development of basic infrastructure and provision of works and services in their localities. In fact Section 95 calls for the establishment of Ward Committees, which shall be responsible to: “(a) mobilise residents of the ward for the implementation of self-help and development projects; (b) 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; (c) organise communal and voluntary work, especially with respect to sanitation; (d) make proposals to the local council for the levying and collection of rates for special projects and programmes…” (Section 96).
Again, Section 29(a) makes clear the need for consultation and community involvement since a councillor is to: (a) maintain close contact with this ward or chiefdom, consult the electorate on issues to be discussed in the local council and collate their views, opinions and proposals for that purpose.
Sierra Leone has been making steady progress when it comes to debating Government openness. The Government of President Koroma has even taken the bold step in enacting an access to public held information legislation, something previous regimes did find challenging to do. The ACC Act also calls for declaration of assets which is a clear manifestation of how open and transparent Government has been. The Local Government Act is also clear on that, when it comes to issues of openness.
However, whilst it is encouraging to expect much from central government when it comes to openness and more particularly in promoting the pillars of good governance, there also is the need to look at this crucial concept beyond the margins of what government does.
There are other key players like the media and right groups. It is believed that there are underrepresented actors who “are handicapped by a range of factors, including a lack of appropriate forums to promote dialogue and information sharing…”, thus the intervention of right groups to fill that gap.
Civil society groups therefore serve as a link between state actors and those underrepresented actors. We have seen how, for example in Sierra Leone, these right groups receive donor funds on behalf of the people. But the big question is how much have they accounted for what they have been doing and what they continue to receive in the name of ‘the people’. Generally, they are seen as lead advocates when it comes to government openness but the point to which they are open needs a national viewing. How do they account to the ‘people’ on whose behalf they claim to be acting?
Until we begin to also ask questions as per their operations, it only would appear as right groups are using the call for openness in government activities with the proclivity of keeping their activities away from public scrutiny. Giving a picture of who collected what and how such was spent, for instance, during the Ebola fight, by our right groups can be a starter.
Promoting the pillars of democracy and good governance is something we should not push to Government alone. Those leading such an advocacy should also play by the rules.