A Seat At The Table


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The presentation highlights case studies found in the report, “A Seat at the Table” which covers a range of environmental concerns including water quality, land use, data availability, and the use or absence of environmental impact assessments (EIAs). The findings and literature review show that the poor in these countries face a daunting array of barriers to access, including low literacy, high costs (including the costs of corruption), exposure to risk from participation, and lack of documentation of legal identity or rights to a resource that is necessary to influence decisions. Additionally, cultural norms that limit who may speak in public disproportionately exclude the poor.

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  • Hi. My name is Seelawathie Malinduwa. You can call me Seela……..
  • You see me in the center of this picture. I have three children – the one you see there is my oldest. The other two were in school that day. I have to keep my boy back to help me carry the firewood to the market. I am 37 years old and lived in the house behind. I earned my living by collecting and selling firewood daily. That gave me just enough to feed the kids and get them to school. The lady next to us is a distant relative – she is very helpful to us. She is a widow and has three children also. I was married but my husband went to the middle east to earn extra money. There is fell in love with another woman and left us. We struggled along mostly because we had our house – My siblings and I inherited it from our father. This is an ancient village and our family had been here for ages.
  • We were Ok until the government decided to build a massive highway through our village. It connected the Capital Colombo with the southern town on Matara. They said it was needed for the development of the country. The work on that road is almost complete now – and you can see it cuts right through our village. I lost my house to that road – we now live my neighbor – that woman you saw on the picture – and without our house, we are in a bad way. They gave us a small amount of money as compensation for the house – but that is not enough to even but a small piece of land today.
  • When this whole thing started, they say the government had some documents about the project. But I could not read them – I don’t read or write – and it was allin English. I don’t speak English – just the native sinhala. Once when I saw the documents on the local village officer’s desk m- they were 4 large volumes – and they had a lot of numbers and very technical looking diagrams in it. I could never understand any of that even if it was in sinhala.
  • When I complained about my house being bulldozed, the village officer told me the government had announced the project on TV, newspapers and internet. He even said that those who had mobile phones were sent sms. I only have a small radio at home and most of my information comes by word of mouth and local loudspeaker announcements. So I did not know anything till the officials came to take my house.
  • He said there had been public meetings in Colombo. How could I have gone for the meetings. Who will look after my children when I go? That trip to Colombo costs over 150Rs. That is what I earn for two days! I earn less than 1$ a day. If I go, I won’t be able to collect and sell firewood that day – I will loose a days earnings – and my kids will go hungry that day. And even if I go, only the educated people there get to speak – who will listen to me?
  • Just look what happened in Akmeemana – about 15 miles away. The village protested at a meeting – and there were police there. Some even got beaten up by the police. There were thugs brought by the road contractors. I am afraid to risk joining these protests and going for meetings – I am the only support my children have.
  • Besides, I don’t have an ID card. You see my parents were illiterate and they did not register my birth. I don’t have a BC and as a result can’t get a National ID. They might even arrest me, if I go.
  • Anyway, when they have meetings about village matters here – it is the men who go forward – they are the ones who are listened to. We women have to sit at the back and we are ignored. So I am helpless – Can someone out there help us?
  • WRI published SAT – because of people like Seela. Our partners in Paraguay, Sri Lanka, Philippines and Cameroon did case 24 case studies about poor people and access rights – meaning A2I, PP and A2J in environmental decision-making. We identified all of the barriers you saw that seela faced when government decisions affected her and her kids. And we have proposed 8 policy responses to ease the situation for people like Seela.
  • I won’t go in to all eight of them. But let look at three. Can the government have helped Seela understand what was in those English documents? We think so – for releatively low costs, project documentation can be simplified for illiterate people and information can be provided in ways (such as graphics and simle local language explanations and tell of project impacts). Government could also use appropriate channels to communicate. A radio message might have reached Seela – a village level loudspeaker announcement might have been heard by her. A local Buddhist temple announcement might have reached her kids when they went to Sunday school. The government could have offered to hold the public meeting closer to the village – than the capital city. It could have offered free public transport for the meeting. It might have made arrangements for some child care during the meeting so Seela could take the kids with her. Perhaps an official could have visited Seela and got her views – that way she would come to know and be heard. These are some recommendations we make –to change the way government does business so that poor folk like Seela can have a seat at the table where decisions are being made. These eight responses can takle different shapes in each country – and they need not be all taken at once.
  • There are four steps we think will need to be taken though in roughly this order. First, the government needs to create and establish legal rights to access. Without this basic framework, little progress can be made. Then the government needs to ensure that agencies apply these rights equally to all. Here there is considerable effort needed to develop government capacity to deliver of access and respect these rights. Third, we know that folk like Seela won't have the ability to exercise these rights because of poverty. So the government needs to take those steps we outline to help Seela’s ability to participate. Finally, Seela must be able to insist that the government takes these extra measures to enable her to participate - she must be able to ask for this assistance not just as a matter of favour – but as a matter of legal right. We can’t leave this to the discretion of government officials – the law must obligate them to do these things for Seela. That is why we think that the government will need to create extra rights for poor people – rights that will entitle them to the extra help.
  • If we adopt this agenda and advocate it strongly and consistently, there is a chance that one day, Seela and her kids will also have a seat at the table when government makes decisions that affect them.
  • If we adopt this agenda and advocate it strongly and consistently, there is a chance that one day, Seela and her kids will also have a seat at the table when government makes decisions that affect them.
  • A Seat At The Table

    1. 4. Illiterate
    2. 5. No Access
    3. 6. Costly
    4. 7. Risky
    5. 8. No Documentation
    6. 9. Taboo
    7. 11. <ul><li>Communicate: right form and channel </li></ul><ul><li>Reduce Costs </li></ul>
    8. 12. <ul><li>Rights </li></ul><ul><li>Equality </li></ul><ul><li>Ability </li></ul><ul><li>Extra Rights </li></ul>
    9. 13. ?
    10. 14. For More Information on the Access Initiative visit: www.accessinitiative.org