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Sierra Leone News: Accountability is a must for democracy

In President Bio’s first Speech at the State Opening of Parliament, there were intentions to reform some of our laws and structures that stand in the way of improving our democratic credentials. We can no longer treat our challenges with levity, immunity and impunity. Our development trajectory should no longer be like the blind men of Hindustan who naively described the elephant from the part they each touched. If we want our development to be transformational and sustainable, we need to look at the root causes of problems. The main focus of civil society work is improving the lives of citizens, thereby letting them live the fullness of life and raising their dignity as human beings. Many do this through advocacy, which looks at the bigger picture of why the world is the way it is and tries to find a better way of doing things. What is interesting and common about the world is that people are never happy about the status quo. Therefore, advocacy becomes a major tool for civil society work. Advocacy deals with structures and systems. It interrogates policies and attitudes. It goes far beyond wearing t-shirts, holding banners and talking about issues, drawing attention of stakeholders, to encourage duty-bearers to work to address the issue. Around the world, especially at election time, everybody yearns for change and almost all parties have change elements either in their names or in their motto or objectives. All around us we have many practices that perpetrate inequality and deny justice and human rights. This is what should be challenged and changed. Our Parliament should be doing a lot of advocacy on behalf of the people they represent through identifying laws that undermine good governance, democracy and human rights. Change will never come easily; citizens must be empowered to work for change. If our teachers are asking for money before they could give results to pupils, let us use persuasion, dialog and reason to stop the practice. When this goes with the necessary legislation, that is properly and diligently implemented, it will be effective, sustainable and transformational. Interestingly, there are various laws for various issues in our society but the laws are not put in force? Let us take the example of laws against littering in the streets. This was re-emphasized in 2004 when the Local Government was reinstituted but people still throw garbage in the streets, so much so that the new Mayor of Freetown later increased the fine in an effort to keep the city clean. It is very welcome news that the current administration has created the Civic Education Commission headed by a communication and information guru and we hope this Commission will think outside the box this time round and deliver efficiently and effectively. Until we address the root causes of problems, change will hardly be transformational and sustainable. It is like pouring water in a bucket with holes. In the rains we now know that because the drainages are clogged, flooding takes place. So, by keeping the drainages cleared, water flows freely and thus reduces the incident of flooding and the consequent damage of property. In order to get to the bottom of problems, one really needs to dig deeper into things in order to find the root causes. Staying just at the top may not solve the problem once and for all. Now, tell me why are our drainages, gutters and sewers clogged? They are clogged because with erosion along the hillsides, stones and mud find their way into the drainage. Why does erosion take place along the hills? Over the years and up till now, people cut down trees and build houses. Also, there are no properly constructed roads going up the hills. Also, there are no garbage cans in the communities and most people throw their garbage into the gutters at night. We can go on and on. If government cannot stop people from building on the hills, then good roads should be constructed up those hills to minimize dirt emptying down the main roads in residential areas. Through advocacy, we can achieve social accountability. It is important to know that all key stakeholders have to be involved in advocacy in order to bring about the necessary change. Although the word “stakeholders” is often loosely used, in simple terms for me stakeholders are those who affect the issue and those who are affected by the issue. These two must have a common ground. For effective change to take place. You cannot dig a waterwell in a village for people without discussion with them whether a well was their priority. If it is and the well is dug, you cannot put chlorine in it without first letting the people know the reason. Otherwise they will avoid drinking from that well. Of course, if you visit the village, you carry along processed bottled water from the city and drink while in the village, the people will not trust you nor the waterwell. Over the years, what many NGOs and civil society groups have done is traditional promotional advocacy with banners and T-shirts. The area of digging deeper to discover the root causes is mostly ignored. We have several examples of failed programs especially in the area of street trading in Freetown. The laws of our land have clear identification of streets on which there should be no trading at all. Unfortunately, these are the streets where you find the heaviest concentration of traders making it very difficult for pedestrians to move around. The traders flout the laws with arrogant impunity and will embarrass anyone daring them to push back. What has made it more difficult to remove the traders from the streets is the politicization of the issue. Politicians think they will lose votes by moving the traders from the streets and thus the traders see themselves as a very strong political factor especially when it comes to elections. So the situation remains the same. With the seriousness of our challenges, a lot of advocacy is needed using different types like “advocacy for”, “advocacy with” and “advocacy by” depending on the particular situation. What has been noticed over years of doing advocacy is that solutions to problems at community level are not necessarily found at the community level. They might need certain policies to be put in place at the central level before they could be addressed. Here, policies have to be impacted first. The other type is “advocacy with.” Here, you partner with those affected by involving them in the programs and activities at every level possible. For the “advocacy by”, it is done by those affected by the problem, organized, implemented and owned by the communities working together to solve their problems. The Sierra Leone situation demands that ministries, departments and agencies work with advocacy groups in order to add value to their efforts especially for service delivery. They should create common ground between the supply and demand sides of service delivery. The elements of the communities’ voice and participation have to be seen as happening. If we want to see a just world, we should always call for justice. We should always work for the dignity, rights and rights and all people. This way, governance will tend to be good and this is why the planned Commissions of Inquiry must hold to bring about social accountability. Our current Parliament has to work very hard on legislation that strengthens democracy and maintains a sustained development trajectory for our beloved country. If wealth is the secret to happiness, then rich people should be dancing on the streets; but only poor kids do that.

13/11/18

By Beny Sam

Wednesday November 14, 2018.

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