Open government initiative

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  • 1. Enhancing Domestic Accountability through Public Information, Citizen Participation and Dialogue in Sierra Leone: The Open Government Initiative Yuichiro Sakai Programme Officer・Governance Unit Unitted Nations Development Programme Sierra Leone 1
  • 2. Table of ContentsABSTRACT.........................................................................................................................................31. INTRODUCTION .......................................................................................................................4 1.1 Background ................................................................................................................................4 1.2 Overview of the Open Government Initiative (OGI) .................................................................5 1.3 Objectives and outline of this paper ..........................................................................................62. THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK AND RESEARCH DESIGN.............................................6 2.1 Transparency ..............................................................................................................................7 2.2 Participation ...............................................................................................................................7 2.3 Accountability .............................................................................................................................8 2.4 Research instrument ..................................................................................................................83. TRANSPARENCY AND CHANNELS FOR PUBLIC INFORMATION............................. 11 3.1 Town hall meetings .................................................................................................................. 11 3.2 Radio/TV discussion forum .....................................................................................................184. PARTICIPATION IN POLITICAL PROCESSES .................................................................18 4.1 Creating platform for political participation ...........................................................................18 4.2 Role of the media and civil society organizations ...................................................................19 4.3 Promoting participation of women and youth ........................................................................205. GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY......................................................................................22 5.1 Improved perception of accountability and transparency.......................................................22 5.2 Integrating citizen`s concerns into policies .............................................................................236. REFLECTIONS AND CONCLUSION ......................................................................................24 6.1 New platforms for public discussions ......................................................................................24 6.2 Citizen participation in governance processes ........................................................................25 6.3 Towards accountable and responsive government ..................................................................25ANNEX 1: Photos from OGI 2008-2009 .........................................................................................27ANNEX 2: Sample questionnaire ....................................................................................................29ANNEX 3: List of Past “OGI Hour – Have Your Say in Governance” ..........................................31ENDNOTE.........................................................................................................................................33 2
  • 3. ABSTRACTThis paper introduces activities of theOpen Government Initiative (OGI)between 2008 and 2009 focusing oncontributions it has made towardsgovernment transparency andaccountability as well as citizenparticipation in public space. OGIwas launched in 2008 by thegovernment with the initial technicaland financial assistance from the United Nations Development Programme(UNDP) to respond to the objectives of the government to enhance governmentaccountability and participatory decision making process as articulated in theAgenda for Change (PRSPII). Since its launch in 2008, the Open GovernmentInitiative (OGI) has promoted platforms through which the government and thepopulation can directly interact, and the Sierra Leoneans in the communities canreceive information on government policies and activities. The improvedaccess to information enables the public to check the progress and impact ofgovernment activities, and demand accountability of the elected and appointedofficials for the actions taken on their behalf. The government, on the otherhand, is provided with feedback on its performances and recommendations forimprovement. Through town halls with government officials including thePresident, ministers, parliamentarians, judiciary and local councilors, andthrough the interactive radio/TV discussion forum, OGI has provided newchannels for free flow of information for ordinary Sierra Leoneans.The paper fist examines whether OGI was successful in creating new channelsfor public information and two-way communication between the citizens andgovernment. This examination is concerned with how ordinary Sierra Leoneansbenefited from the additional channels of communication. The paper thendiscusses if and how OGI contributed to participation of the citizens in politicalprocesses. Special attention is given to the participation of vulnerable groups.Thirdly, the paper analyzes whether, through OGI activities, people`s concernsband views were utilized into government policies and actions. The paperconcludes with discussions on lessons and recommendations for way forward. 3
  • 4. 1. INTRODUCTION1.1 BackgroundIn 2002, Sierra Leone emerged from a decade-long civil conflict that left much ofthe country`s infrastructure and institutions ravaged. Some of the root causes ofthe conflict are traced to the alienation of the population, especially women andyouth in regions, from national governance and abuse of power and authority.Sierra Leone has since then made tremendous strides in peace building andstrengthening of democracy. The country has successfully managed nationaland local elections on two occasions each, since the end of the civil conflict—thenational (presidential and parliamentary) elections were held in 2002 and2007, while the local elections were held in 2004 and 2008. These electionswere peacefully conducted free and fair by international standards. The 2007Presidential and Parliamentary Elections brought a peaceful change of power forthe first time in the country`s history. Additionally, Sierra Leone has adopted adecentralization policy that resuscitated Local Council Administration after 30years of absence in order to improve public service delivery for the ruralpopulation. Furthermore, in order to effectively combat corruption, theAnticorruption Commission has been mandated with power to prosecute. Inorder to promote independent, neutral and tolerant media, Sierra Leone hasrecently established the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation, the secondindependent public broadcaster in Africa.Strengthening of democratic institutions in Sierra Leone in recent years has beenrecognized. Recently, Sierra Leone has improved its rankings in the globalgovernance reports, although it is still placed near the bottom of the UN HumanDevelopment Reports. In 2010, Sierra Leone was ranked 158th out of 169countries in the UN`s Human Development Index, placed 12 points from thebottom of the index.i Mo Ibrahim Index of African Governance shows SierraLeone has moved from 49th place among African countries to 30th place in thecategory of safety and rule of law between 2000/1 and 2008/9 while it remainedat 19th place for participation and human rights.ii Transparency International`sCorruption Perception Index also notes that Sierra Leone is fairing better thansome other countries in its anti-corruption efforts recently. Sierra Leone movedfrom 158th place out of 180 countries in 2008 to 134th place out of 178 countriesin 2010.iii 4
  • 5. Despite the steady progress made, there is still a general sense of disconnectbetween the government and the electorate who are often uninformed ormisinformed of government policies and actions. In this context, the OpenGovernment Initiative (OGI) was launched in 2008 by the government with theinitial technical and financial assistance from the United Nations DevelopmentProgramme (UNDP) to respond to the objectives of the government to enhancegovernment accountability and participatory decision making process asarticulated in the Agenda for Change (PRSPII).iv Since then, the OGI hasdemonstrated that a meaningful two way communication between the people andthe government is possible through simple yet innovative means. For the firsttime, Sierra Leoneans had the opportunity to receive the President and thecabinet ministers as well as other public officials in their communities for aface-to-face meeting for interactive question and answer sessions. SierraLeone`s Agenda for Change 2008-2012 views OGI as one of the tools tocommunicate its objectives, processes and impacts to the general public as wellas to enhance transparency and accountability of the three branches of theGovernment: the Executive, Legislative and Judiciary.1.2 Overview of the Open Government Initiative (OGI)Since its launch in 2008, the Open Government Initiative (OGI) has promotedplatforms through which the government and the people can directly interact andexchange information on the implementation of government policies andactivities. The improved access to information enables the public to check theprogress and impact of government activities, and demand accountability of theelected and appointed officials for the actions taken on their behalf. Thegovernment, on the other hand, is provided with feedback on its performancesand recommendations for improvement. Thus, the initiative focuses onimproving the capacity of the state institutions and officials in public informationsharing and dialogue while also focusing on the capacity of citizens to participatein governance and demand accountability. Officials including the President,relevant ministers, members of parliament and the Judiciary visit the districts tohave face to face discussions with the people in a town hall setting on their day today challenges, such as related to agriculture, energy supply, promotion of girlchild education, employment of youth, improvement of health, education, prisonand police facilities. People can ask any questions and the Government isrequired to answer them and utilize the voices of people into their policy 5
  • 6. development.In addition to government-public dialogue organized in town halls, the OGIalso organizes weekly television and radio show called The OGI Hour – HaveYour Say in Governance. The OGI Hour provides another sphere for thegovernment to reach out to the public and discuss emerging issues and actionstaken to address them. The OGI Hour is a question and answer discussion forumwhere listeners and viewers can send in questions and comments, and panelistsprovide responses. Panelists normally comprise of public officials and civilsociety representatives.1.3 Objectives and outline of this paperObjective of this paper is to examine the extent to which OGI contributed tostrengthen government transparency and accountability as well as citizenparticipation. The paper fist examines whether OGI was successful in creatingnew channels for public information and two-way communication between thecitizens and government in order to make information available and increasegovernment transparency. The examination is concerned with how ordinarySierra Leoneans benefited and what types of information was received.Secondly, the paper analyzes if and how OGI contributed to participation of thecitizens in political processes. Special attention is given to the participation ofvulnerable groups. Thirdly, the paper discusses whether OGI assisted thecitizens to hold government to account and whether citizens` views were utilizedinto government policies and actions.The rest of the paper is organized as follows: Section 2 provides theoreticalframework of the study by providing a brief literature review on the three keyprinciples of democratic governance. The section also presents the analyticalframework and methodology of the study, describing the method of datacollection and analysis. Section 3, 4 and 5 examine and discuss the findings ofOGI`s contributions to government transparency and accountability and citizenparticipation. Section 6 provides reflections on the findings and concludes thepaper.2. THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK AND RESEARCH DESIGNIn recent years, there has been a growing new consensus that good governance is 6
  • 7. an integral part of achieving poverty reduction and that institutions, rules andpolitical processes matter for development. Poverty reduction and humandevelopment are not only economical, social and technological processes but alsoinstitutional and political processes. Various studies have shown governancefailures such as widespread corruption and ineffective public services asresponsible for lagging development and persistent poverty. Discussions onpromoting good governance focus on making institutions and processes effectivefor ordinary citizens to receive basic services and center around issues such astransparency, participation, accountability and rule of law. It is also crucial thatthe institutions and processes are fair and ordinary people have a say andparticipate in these processes.vThe Open Government Initiative (OGI) was designed to promote these coreprinciples of governance, namely transparency, participation and accountabilitythrough town hall meetings and other means.2.1 TransparencyTransparency is concerned with making information available to the public.Sen (1999) notes that places for information and free flow of information such asopen discussion, debate, and exchange are essential for “processes of generatinginformed and reflected choices.”vi In order to make transparency meaningful,information needs of the people must be identified, cost of access must bereasonable, and information should be user-friendly. Access to information andcommunication in countries affected by crises are especially vital in identifyingthe opportunities and threats for crisis prevention and recovery and long-termdevelopment.vii In terms of transparency, this paper examines the extent towhich OGI provided channels for information flow and communication in orderto increase government transparency by making information available. Theanalysis will pay particular attention on how town hall participants benefittedfrom the two-way communication and the acquisition of information.2.2 ParticipationThe second area that the OGI was intended to promote was participation.Ability of the people to participate in political process and influence governmentpolicies and actions through public opinions is one of the core principles ofdemocracy.viii The UNDP notes that for information to empower citizens, they 7
  • 8. need to have capacity to understand and analyze information and be able tocommunicate their views and act on the information.ix Citing that famines donot happen in democracies, Sen argues that government response to citizens`needs and sufferings depends on the pressure that people put on the governmentthrough the exercise of political and civil rights. x The paper analyzes thecontribution of OGI to enhancing the participation of ordinary Sierra Leoneans inpolitical processes, paying special attention to the vulnerable groups such as thepoor, women and youth.2.3 AccountabilityThirdly, accountability is fundamental in strengthening governance.Accountability brings into focus the ability of citizens and civil society to holdthe government to account for its policies, programs and performances, including,ultimately, the ability to change public officials through democratic means.xiFurther, a responsive government listens to people’s needs and concerns andreflects them in the design and implementation of policies and programs.xiiWhether the implementation leads to a real change often depends on“communication among networks within and outside of government, among civilsociety organizations, and between citizens in the public sphere.”xiii The paperwill look for cases in which OGI facilitated the people to hold government toaccount. It will also examine if OGI strengthened responsiveness of thegovernment by looking for instances where people`s concerns and requests wereutilized in government policies and actions.2.4 Research instrumentThis study utilized a combination of primary and secondary sources of data.They were combined through the administration of 404 questionnaires and thereview of 17 documents written on OGI. Information from a wide range ofgroups of people were necessary to provide answers to three objectives of thispaper. Through the analysis of questionnaires, the paper aims to discover theperception of participants to OGI activities on its contribution to strengtheninggovernment accountability and transparency as well as to citizen participation inpolitical process.A large number of questionnaires were answered by town hall meetingparticipants shortly after the meetings. The administration of questionnaires 8
  • 9. (see Annex 2 for a sample questionnaire) was conducted by local civil societyorganization (CSO) members that assisted the logistics and organization of thetown hall meetings. Shortly after the town hall meetings, a group of local CSOmembers administered the questionnaires through face-to-face interviews withparticipants. Total of 404 questionnaires were conducted after three town hallmeetings with Parliamentarians and three town hall meetings with therepresentatives from the Justice Sector. Questionnaires were not conductedduring the four previous town hall meetings with the Presidency.In order to improve sampling quality and diversity of respondents, the surveyadministrators were instructed to balance variables of gender and age. Figure 1below shows the age distribution of 404 respondents to the questionnaire. It isobvious that the male participants far outnumbered female participants at all agegroups. Out of 404 questionnaire respondents, 298 were males and 106 werefemales. It can also be easily observed that the majority of the participantsbelonged to the age group between 20 and 50.Figure1: Age and gender of respondentsThe respondents included a diverse cross section of the community ranging fromteachers and civil society members to traditional leaders and farmers. Figure 2and 3 show the occupations of male and female participants respectively. 9
  • 10. Figure 2: Occupation of participants - maleFigure 3: Occupation of participants - female 10
  • 11. In addition to the questionnaires, secondary sources of data were examinedthrough the review of 17 documents. These documents included field visitreports, project reports, OGI newsletters, and a research paper conducted by anindependent evaluator as well as a recommendation paper. It should be notedthat the author of this paper was directly involved in supporting theimplementation of the OGI as a responsible UNDP officer for the period underreview by this study. This has enabled an easy access to documents that servedas important secondary sources to address the objectives of the study. Thefindings discussed in this paper are views and opinions of the author and not ofUNDP or the project.Data analysis was conducted manually using Microsoft Excel using the data onthe reports transcribed from questionnaires after each town hall meetings.Quotations used in the following discussions were selected due to theirrepresentative nature of the participants as a whole and relevance to theobjectives of the study.3. TRANSPARENCY AND CHANNELS FOR PUBLIC INFORMATION3.1 Town hall meetingsThe main method that the OGI utilized to provide additional channel to makeinformation available for strengthened transparency was the town hall meeting inprovincial communities. This was the first time for many communities toreceive the Presidency in a town hall setting and discuss directly with thePresident. It was also the first time for most people to meet face to face withthe parliamentarians in their communities since the 2007 elections campaigns.OGI facilitated 10 town hall meetings during the period 2008-2009 betweengovernment and the communities in various parts of Sierra Leone. Theinitiative purposefully avoided the capital city as the choice of location and choseto organize meetings in district communities in order to rebalance informationflow towards rural areas. During this period, four town hall meetings wereorganized between the people and the President or Vice President and the cabinetministers; three meetings with the Parliamentarians, and three meetings withofficials from the Justice Sector.. Town hall meetings are organized in the formof an open dialogue. While each meeting focused on a selected socio-economicissue such as such as agriculture, energy, and education, people were also free to 11
  • 12. ask any questions related to any other issues affecting their welfare. Allcommunity members, especially women and youth, civil society groups, andprivate sector operators were encouraged to participate.Prior to town hall meetings, government officials took part in the monitoring oflocal development projects and institutional activities to inspect and determineprogress made in the implementation of works. These activities enabled thegovernment officials to better understand the day-to-day challenges of theordinary Sierra Leoneans and to see the areas that need to be addressed withinthe development framework.Town hall meetings usually started in the early afternoon and lasted for three tofour hours or longer as people were eager to take advantage of such rareopportunities to ask questions. The meetings started with remarks on the topicof discussion from invited officials. Priority government policies and programswere outlined at the opening ceremonies. The people were then given the floorto ask questions, express concerns, and provide recommendations to thegovernment officials.Meeting with the PresidencyOGI presented unprecedented occasions for open dialogue between the ordinarycitizens in Sierra Leone and the President, Vice President and Cabinet Ministers.Below is a summary of locations, focus areas of discussions, and projectsinspected by President and other officials.September 2008 District Visited: Bombali District Location of Meeting: Makeni Town Hall Focus Area of Discussion: agriculture sector Field visit: farm projectsOctober 2008 District Visited: Bo District Location of Meeting: Bo Town Hall Focus Area of Discussion: energy sector Field visit: Bo Power Station 12
  • 13. November 2008 District Visited: Port Loko District Location of Meeting: Port Loko Town Hall Focus Area of Discussion: education sector Field visit: Port Loko Teachers CollegeFebruary 2009 District Visited: Koinadugu District Location of Meeting: Koidu Town Hall Focus Area of Discussion: mining sector Field Visit: Koidu Holdings Mining SiteDuring the town halls, people raised concerns and asked questions directly to thePresidency on issues ranging from high unemployment and food sufficiency topoor local infrastructure and political issues. In the town hall in Makeni, afemale primary school teacher raised the issue of youth unemployment and askedabout mechanisms the government has in place to create employment. DeputyMinister of Trade responded that employment requires youth to possess skills andthe government promotes “growth centers” for vocational skills in the sector thatthe region has comparative advantage. Responding to a question raised on poorschool infrastructure in Port Loko, the Minister of Education noted the need torehabilitate school facilities in the district and available subsidies will beallocated schools with high performance.OGI established a unique and solid channel of communication between thegovernment and the people, and fostered a free flow of information in rural areas,which has not been fully achieved by the challenging decentralization processes.This is significant in a country where rural alienation from the center isconsidered a cause of the decade-long civil war. “If OGI was found before thewar, there would be no war in the country,” said one town hall participant. Byreaching out to district communities and facilitating communication among keystakeholders from central, local and traditional chiefdom authorities as well ascivil society organizations and ordinary citizens, OGI facilitated a process toaddress obstacles to development and peace building. 13
  • 14. Meeting with the ParliamentariansParliamentarians visited three districts for town hall meetings with communitymembers, elaborating on their roles as parliamentarians, role of the opposition,relationship between parliamentarians and local government, as well as gainingan understanding of daily issues that people are concerned with. OGI facilitatedthree town hall meetings with the parliamentarians as summarized below.September 2009 District Visited: Kenema District Location of Meeting: Kenema Town Hall Focus Area of Discussion: Roles of Parliamentarians, health, infrastructure, gender issues Field visit: Kenema Government HospitalOctober 2009 District Visited: Koinadugu District Location of Meeting: Kabala Town Hall Focus Area of Discussion: health and education sectors Field visit: Koinandugu Government Hospital, Government Education Inspectorate OfficeNovember 2009 District Visited: Pujehun District Location of Meeting: Pujehun Town Hall Focus Area of Discussion: road networks, health and education sectors Field visit: ujehun Government Hospital, Government Education Inspectorate OfficeThese meetings provided opportunities for the parliamentarians to assess theneeds of the people and ensure better representation of their constituents. Thesuccess of these meetings increased the confidence of the parliamentarians forconstituency outreach and prompted other districts to demand OGI andparliament to organize similar town halls in their communities.Figure 4 below shows the result of the questionnaires on how the participants totown hall meetings benefitted from direct dialogue with Parliamentarians. 14
  • 15. According to the questionnaires, 25% of the respondents appreciated having adirect and open dialogue with the Parliamentarians, and 24% benefitted fromgaining knowledge on the roles and functions of the Parliament while 22%gained new information on development activities pertinent to the community.Through these meetings, the people were able to learn about the functions of theparliament, the role of members of parliament in development, and how local taxis utilized.Figure 4: How did you benefit from town hall with Parliamentarians?Additionally, these meetings enhanced information exchange on theimplementation of critical development programs, such as road works,governance, and education with special reference to the girls education. Thequestionnaire responses indicate that following town halls, the participants arebetter informed of government policies and programs as well as developmentactivities. 15
  • 16. A community member in Pujehun had this to say: “I got a lot of information onpending development for the district. I am convinced that this bridged the gapbetween the parliamentarians and the electorate. There is a good sign ofdemocracy.” Another participant said: “the meeting [helped] me to knowabout government plans for the district, it brings my parliamentarians to an opendialogue,” while a respondent from Kabala town hall said; “I am happy withparliamentarians because they accept their faults and discussed the wayforward.”Meeting with the Justice SectorThe members of the Judiciary (such as a high court judge, master and registrar,law reform commission, human rights commission, customary law officer), andthe wider justice sector such as the police and prisons visited districts to meet anddiscuss with the public, and to visit facilities such as the police stations andprisons. OGI facilitated three town hall meetings with the justice sector assummarized below.October 2009 District Visited: Kambia District Location of Meeting: Kambia Town Hall Focus Area of Discussion: prison conditions, bush or boundary disputes, court procedures Field visit: Kambia Prisons and PoliceNovember 2009 District Visited: Bonthe District Location of Meeting: Mattru Jong Town Hall Focus Area of Discussion: geographical divisions between the mainland and the island, court procedures Field visit: Mattru Jong Prison and PoliceNovember 2009 District Visited: Kailahun District Location of Meeting: Kailahun Town Hall Focus Area of Discussion: border security, prison conditions, court procedures Field visit: Kailahun Prison and Police 16
  • 17. Figure 5 below shows the result of the questionnaires on how the participants totown hall meetings benefitted from opportunities to ask questions and receiveanswers from Justice Sector officials. According to the questionnaires, 44% ofthe respondents appreciated gaining knowledge on the justice sector and justiceissues, and 17% benefitted from increased awareness on issues pertinent to thecommunity while 15% gained knowledge on their rights and responsibilities.Participants to Judiciary town hall meetings benefited by gaining moreinformation on the justice system or justice related issues such as courtproceedings, authorities and institutions within the justice sector, Child RightsAct, gender acts, and human rights violations. Many in Bonthe town hall alsoappreciated to learn that bail is free.Figure 5: How did you benefit from town hall with Justice Sector?One participant mentioned that “most of the topics discussed were never knownto me. From this meeting I am now aware of them. It has made me to know moreabout the law of the country and our community.” Another community memberexpressed that the benefit of the meeting “is in the open communication betweenthe Judiciary and the public which contributes to the enhancement oftransparency.” 17
  • 18. 3.2 Radio/TV discussion forumIn addition to town hall meetings, another channel for public information anddialogue facilitated by OGI is radio/TV discussion forum called OGI Hour –Have Your Say in Governance. This enables people from across Sierra Leone toask questions or make comments through telephone or text messages duringdiscussions. Panelists consisting of relevant government and civil societyrepresentatives discuss and answer people`s questions and comments. Thisprogram was broadcast by the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation across thecountry. Topics for each session were selected based on the context of the timeand had included issues such as political violence, energy, land reform and priceincrease. OGI facilitated 12 of such programs between June and August 2009.Topics and panelists for each program are summarized in the Annex 3.The OGI Hour still continues today and provides an additional new channel forpublic information and dialogue on relevant development issues. It provideslisteners and viewers with opportunities to hear from officials who are directlyresponsible for policy making in key issues of the time and ask questions on thepolicies and actions taken by the government.4. PARTICIPATION IN POLITICAL PROCESSES4.1 Creating platform for political participationBy providing a forum for participation in the public dialogue, town hall meetingscontributed to strengthening people’s ownership of and a sense of responsibilityfor development of their own district. A participant in Kenema town hallcommented; “One of the best things is that the MPs who were at a distance ofthis constituency now know the important issues affecting the people.” Acommunity member in Kabala town hall appreciated that “for the first time I wasable to meet with Member of Parliament and ask questions on their promises anddevelopment issues.Another member appreciated that “the government is empowering the electoratethrough public discussion. The government initiative is good and commendable.”A community member in Kabala town hall indicated that “this meeting hasreminded me that I am part of the government and I have more responsibilities todo toward the development of the country.” Another participant in Kabalaadded: “It makes me believe that my opinion and view is important in 18
  • 19. governance.” Through 10 OGI town hall meetings between September 2008 and November 2009, it is estimated that 6,000 ordinary Sierra Leoneans participated in the political processes. The figure estimated by the OGI Secretariat is not actually counted numbers but estimated figures based on the number of chairs and the size of town halls. As Table 1 below summarizes, it is estimated that over 2,000 people attended the meetings with the Presidency; over 2,000 attended the meetings with parliamentarians, and over 2,000 attended meetings with Officials from the Justice Sector. In all, over 247 questions were asked by community members in the 10 town hall meetings organized and answered provided by representatives from the Presidency, parliament, and the justice sector. Table 1: Number of participants and questions in OGI town halls Executive Legislative JudiciaryDistrict # of people # of questions District # of people # of questions District # of people # of questions * * * attended asked attended asked attended askedBombali 300 10 Kenema 750 29 Kambia 800 37Bo 1,000 17 Koinandugu 800 27 Bonthe 700 36Port Loko 500 9 Pujehun 800 30 Kailahun 600 38Kono 400 14Total 2,200 50 Total 2,350 86 Total 2,100 111 Source: OGI Project Completion Report 4.2 Role of the media and civil society organizations During the initial stage of the project, most people in the districts were still not aware of the initiative. In order to sensitize the population on the initiative and mobilize participation, OGI invested in public education and sensitization in collaboration with the local media. In Sierra Leone, radio is the most important means for public information. According to the “media use survey” conducted in 2010 by the media NGO, Fondation Hirondelle, radio was listened to by 82% of Sierra Leoneans, 5% increase from the 2008 estimates. This compares to 26% for television, 9% for newspapers and just 3% for the internet. About 86% 19
  • 20. of men and 78% of women are radio listeners.xiv In order to take advantage oftheir wide reaching effect, OGI partnered with community radio stations tosensitize and educate the people about government policies and actions.During the week leading to the town hall meetings, OGI coordinated radiodiscussion programs and jingles on the main local and community radio stationsabout these meetings. People were informed in advance about the purpose ofsuch meetings, the expected participants, and the approach to the discussions.The mobilization of community participation through local radio stations provedeffective. Feedback questionnaires conducted after town hall meetings revealedthat the majority of the participants learned about the meetings through radio.Despite the initial success, one of the challenges that the initiative faced was toensure the political neutrality so that the initiative is not perceived as a tool forpolitical campaign in a country that is highly polarized along party lines. Inorder to ensure neutrality, it was crucial to mobilize participation of people fromall walks of life regardless of party affiliation and including marginalized groupssuch as women, youth and the disabled. Civil society organizations are key inmobilizing people participation as the government on its own cannot undertakeefforts towards human development.xv The OGI strengthened partnership withcivil society organizations with a better understanding of grassroots realities.They held small community meetings to explain about OGI, appeared on radioprograms, set up banners, and distributed leaflets. This partnership has givenrise to the improved community participation and contributed to stem politicalmarginalization. Civil society was part of advance teams, dispatched to therelevant districts to meet with the communities to explain OGI and upcomingtown hall. Local radio stations were used for the announcement of thesemeetings, banners were posted and leaflet distributed.4.3 Promoting participation of women and youthDuring the first town hall meetings that took place in Bombali district, about 300community members participated to have an open dialogue and ask questions tothe Presidency and senior ministers. However, despite sensitization to mobilizewomen and youth, majority of participants were adult men. The project thenembarked on a major sensitization and mobilization efforts in order to attractfemale and youth participation. 20
  • 21. Songs and jingle were developed and broadcast intensively by radio encouragingespecially women and youth to attend these town. By the fourth town hallmeeting, women`s participation had visibly increased. In the post-conflictSierra Leone, there exists a severe gender imbalance, and OGI intended to fostera better environment for women to take part in constructive national dialogue onissues impacting their lives. In order to rebalance gender disparity, the projectensured that equal number of men and women were able to ask questionsalthough there were much less women attending these meetings.Additionally, to improve women`s participation, OGI held two-hour women`sforum on radio in each district before town hall meetings to discuss and sensitizegender issues and promote women`s participation in the meetings. During townhall meetings, a well-known women`s rights advocate was chosen as thefacilitator as an additional measure to encourage women to contribute to thedialogue. However, despite all these measures, this has still been a challenge asthe questionnaires estimated that only around 28% of participants to town hallmeetings have been females (see Figure 6 below). This suggests that furtherinitiatives were needed to bring about inclusive participation.Figure 6: Gender representation in OGI town hall meetingsIn addition, marginalization of youth is one of the major issues in Sierra Leone.In order to mobilize participation of youth in the town hall meetings, jingles weredeveloped by a popular Sierra Leonean artist. The artist also performed a songspecially made for OGI at the beginning of every town hall meeting encouragingdiverse people to participate in direct and open dialogue with the President and 21
  • 22. other government officials. Further, a special measure was taken to invitephysically challenged people who sat in the front seat to facilitate their easierinteraction with the government representatives.5. GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY5.1 Improved perception of accountability and transparencyThe questionnaires administered by civil society members showed the meetingswere successful in improving the perception of the participants for governmenttransparency and accountability. One town hall participants in Pujehun noted;“I benefited by learning a lot and asking questions to the parliamentarians aboutwhat they are doing for their district or constituency, what they promised to [do]but what is not done.” Another community member expressed that the townhall “promotes accountability and transparency. Moreover, it promotes speedydevelopment as needs are highlighted by questions raised.”As the below figures 7-10 summarize, according to the questionnaires, 89% ofthe survey respondents that attended 3 parliamentarian town hall meetings saidthe meeting contributed to the improved government transparency and 86% saidit contributed to the improved accountability. Questionnaire results weresimilar for judiciary town halls as 95% of the survey respondents at 3 judiciarytown hall meeting said it contributed to the improved transparency of theJudiciary and 96% said it contributed to a better understanding of the justicesystem.*Has OGI parliamentary town hall meetings contributed to transparency andaccountability in the government?Figure 7: Accountability Figure 8: Transparency 22
  • 23. The above graphs show averages of responses from 3 parliamentary town hall meetings(Kenema, Koinandugu and Pujehun)*Has OGI judiciary town hall meetings contributed to transparency in the justice systemand whether the OGI meetings improved peoples’ understanding of the legal and justicesystems?Figure 9: Transparency Figure 10: Better understandingThese graphs above show averages of responses from 3 judiciary town hall meetings (Kambia,Bonthe and Kailahun)5.2 Integrating citizen`s concerns into policiesIn a well functioning democracy, citizens are able to hold government to accountfor its policies, programs and actions. Citizens express their concerns, viewsand recommendations for government to address, and assess governmentperformance by examining to what extent their requests are reflected in action.Although efforts have not been made yet to systematically document and recordthese cases, there are instances in which OGI contributed to this process forcitizens to hold government to account. For example, during discussions in thetown hall meeting in Makeni in 2008, community members raised concerns onthe issues of rapid increase in rice and fuel price as well as energy concerns to theMinisters of Energy, Minister of Agriculture, and Minister of Commerce andTrade to address. Following the town hall, the government took policymeasures to mitigate price increase through fiscal incentives to importers, privatesector operators and the Government of India on concessionary rice export terms.It has also been reported that following the town hall, where concerns on foodsufficiency was raised and agriculture was promoted, the government allocated 23
  • 24. additional agricultural equipments to the district for harvesting crops.An independent evaluation of the initiative conducted after four Presidentialtown hall meetings, which made great contributions to OGI to identifyweaknesses and opportunities for improvement, showed that 45% of the townhall meeting participants interviewed said that actions have been taken by thegovernment following the town hall mentioning improvements that they havewitnesses such as repair of roads and improved hospital facilities. Multipleinterviewees noting follow-up actions by the government coupled withdocumentary evidence to back up the interviews provide adequate evidence thatthe government officials took measures to fulfill promises they made to thepublic during town halls.xvi6. REFLECTIONS AND CONCLUSION6.1 New platforms for public discussionsOGI opened up new channels for public information and communicationbetween the people and centers of power in Sierra Leone. During the town hallmeetings, local actors including paramount chiefs, local councilors, students,teachers, women, youth, civil society and other community members engaged indialogue with the President and ministers, parliamentarians, and members of theJudiciary. Apart from contributing to an informed public in rural communities,OGI facilitated public to gain insight into their role in development and politicalprocess as well as the relationships among various branches and levels ofgovernment both central and local. 89% of the town hall meeting participantsinterviewed by the independent evaluation noted that they felt informed about thegovernment as a direct result of town halls.xviiIn addition to town hall meeting as a public sphere, OGI offered additionalplatform for free flow of information through the open, interactive radio/TVdiscussion program OGI Hour – Have Your Say in Governance. Following thepilot period for OGI that was assisted by UNDP between 2008 and 2009, todayOGI continues as a fully nationally owned initiative. The initiative receivedannual budget allocation from government subvention fund for the period2011-2013, and Sierra Leone`s PRSPII, An Agenda for Change, aims to utilizethe initiative as a tool to enhance government accountability and participatorydecision making. To this end, a director post for OGI has been created as a 24
  • 25. permanent government post. In 2010, OGI set out to reach out to SierraLeoneans in the Diaspora, and held a town hall meeting with the President inNew York City. Sustainability of OGI ensures continued promotion of publicdiscussions through the newly created channels of communication.6.2 Citizen participation in governance processesOGI has demonstrated that a meaningful dialogue between the public andgovernment is possible through simple yet innovative means. By providingpublic officials with opportunities to reach out to communities and bringing allstakeholders for community development together under one hall, thequestionnaires suggest that it contributed to trust building between the public andgovernment. This is especially notable in a post-conflict situation in which trustfor the government is the key for citizens to partake in development efforts andpolitical processes.Some of the earlier barriers for the grassroots to participate in the initiative wasremoved through efforts by the civil society organizations and the media tosensitize and mobilize diverse groups of community members. However, eventhough rural locations were selected for venues of town hall meetings to balanceinformation flow in favor of districts, as the meetings took place in districtheadquarter towns, it was still difficult for people living in remote areas to attend.On this point, respondents to questionnaires suggested bringing town hall tochiefdom and village levels or holding similar meetings with local councilors inaddition to meetings at village levels with central authorities. Efforts are underway to include these recommendations, and in 2010, OGI facilitated the conductvarious town hall meetings with local councilors.6.3 Towards accountable and responsive governmentThe OGI initiative provided new opportunities and communication channels forcitizens to hold government to account for its policies, programs, actions andperformance. The questionnaires demonstrate the participants` satisfactions inparticipating in the open, direct discussions and holding central authority toaccount for actions taken on their behalf. UNDP notes that a responsivegovernment acknowledge people`s needs and concerns and utilize them in an“impartial way in the design and implementation of policies and practices.”xviiiThe findings of the questionnaires and the independent evaluation suggest that 25
  • 26. the government has taken some actions towards promises that it made during theOGI activities.However, the evaluation report notes that government accountability is furtherstrengthened by creating forum and channels to communicate the governmentactions back to the communities. This circle of communication should takeplace through investigation by independent sources such as civil societyorganizations and communication through media so that the community membersare not left unsure about the results of government promises.xix The initiativehas made improvements in this area by utilizing local radio stations to facilitatediscussions on OGI and government achievement and actions duringparliamentary and judiciary town hall meetings. OGI also facilitated pressconferences with the civil society organizations and print and broadcast mediaafter town halls on the content of discussions.This paper has introduced activities of the Open Government Initiative (OGI)between 2008 and 2009 focusing on contributions it has made towardsgovernment transparency and accountability as well as citizen participation inpublic life. Through town halls with government officials including thePresident, ministers, parliamentarians, judiciary and local councilors, andthrough the interactive radio/TV discussion forum, OGI has provided newchannels for free flow of information in Sierra Leone. OGI has so far shownthat meaningful dialogue between the government and citizens are possiblethrough simple yet innovative means. Ultimately, sustainability and expansionof these and additional channels of information and communication, at national,district, chiefdom and village levels will lead to further enhancement of citizenparticipation in the public sphere as well as government transparency andaccountability. 26
  • 27. ANNEX 1: Photos from OGI 2008-2009Top left: Innocent, a popular musician, performs OGI theme song during townhall meeting to encourage youth and women to participateTop right: Parliamentary town hall meeting in Kabala, Koinadugu District,brought together a large number of community members including youth,children and womenBottom left: Pujehun residents ask questions to Members of Parliament during atown hall meetingBottom right: Residents of Kenema District listen to their parliamentarians 27
  • 28. Top left: The President`s visit to the Teko rice farms in MakeniTop right: One out of five lamps at this operating table was found to be inworking condition during a parliamentary field visit in Kenema GovernmentHospitalBottom left: OGI team and the government delegation inspect the Mattru JongPrison facility in Bonthe DistrictBottom right: “OGI Hour – Have Your Say in Governance” on Land Reform 28
  • 29. ANNEX 2: Sample questionnaire OGI Town Hall Meeting Feedback Survey Kambia Town, Kambia District 31 October 2009Participant’s occupation: _____________________________Gender: _______________ Age: _____________________Your opinion is very important to us. Please assist us in evaluating this town hallmeeting. The information collected will be used in planning future activities. Pleasebe brief in your responses.1. Where did you hear about this OGI town hall meeting in Kabala? (circle all that apply) • Radio (please specify what radio and the time/day) • Newspaper • Street announcement • Poster • Friend/colleague • Other (please specify)2. How did you benefit from this town hall meeting? (provide a brief response in the space below)3. What topics discussed during the meeting were you interested in the most? (provide a brief response in the space below)4. How did this meeting change your perception towards the justice sector?5. How can the community ensure that the justice system within the community is improved? (provide a brief response in the space below)6. This town hall meeting contributed to transparency in the justice system. (circle one) Agree Neither agree nor disagree Disagree7. This town hall meeting improved my understanding of the legal and justice system. (circle one) 29
  • 30. Agree Neither agree nor disagree Disagree8. Based on your experiences from this event, what can OGI do to improve your trust in the justice system? (provide a brief response in the space below)9. Overall, how would you evaluate this town hall meeting? (circle one option) Excellent Good Fair Poor 30
  • 31. ANNEX 3: List of Past “OGI Hour – Have Your Say in Governance”12 live TV and radio programs were completed on the following topics betweenJune and August 2009:1) Topic: Politics today Panelists: Secretary Generals of APC, SLPP, PMDC.2) Topic: “Bumbuna Hydro – why the hold-up?” Panelists: Minister of Energy and Water Resources, Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee for Energy and Water Resources, President of the Coalition of Civil societies3) Topic: Explaining OGI Concept Panelist: Karamoh Kabba, National Coordinator for OGI and Umarr Sesay, OGI Focal Person4) Topic: Youth Unemployment Panelists: Minister of Education, Youth and Sports, Chairman: Minister of Education, Youth and Sports, President of Coalition of Civil Societies (CSOs), Sierra Leone Youth Ambassador5) Topic: Functions of the Parliament Panelists: Clerk of Parliament, Deputy Chair of Legislative Committee, and CSO representative (Campaign for Good Governance)6) Topic: “When I become President” Panelists: Apex International School essay finalists7) Topic: The 5th Region and the Office of Diaspora Panelists: Executive Director of the Office of Diaspora (ODA)8) Topic: Gender Rights and Laws Panelists: Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs and Judiciary, President of 50/50 31
  • 32. 9) Topic: RERUN of Gender Rights and Laws Panelists: Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs and Judiciary, President of 50/5010) Topic: Land Reform Panelist: Minister of Lands, Deputy Administrator and Registrar General, CSO Representative (National Youth Awareness Forum)11) Topic: Foreign exchange and price increase Panelists: Minister Trade and Industry; Commissioner for Consumer Affairs, and Bank Governor12) Topic: Traffic Safety Panelists: Assistant Inspector General of Police, Executive Director of SLRTA, President of Drivers’ Union 32
  • 33. ENDNOTEi UNDP (2010). “Human Development Report 2010 – Real Wealth of Nations: Pathways to HumanDevelopment.” UNDP. Home page on-line. Available fromhttp://hdr.undp.org/en/reports/global/hdr2010/; Internet; accessed January 29, 2011.ii Mo Ibrahim Foundation (2010). “2010 Edition of the Ibrahim Index of African Governance.” MoIbrahim Foundation. Home page on-line. Available fromhttp://www.moibrahimfoundation.org/en/section/the-ibrahim-index; Internet; accessed January 29,2011.iii Transparency International. “Corruption Perceptions Index.” Transparency International. Homepage on-line. Available from http://www.transparency.org/policy_research/surveys_indices/cpi;Internet; accessed January 29, 2011.iv The Republic of Sierra Leone (2009) “An Agenda for Change: Second Poverty ReductionStrategy (PRSP) 2008-2012.” Sierra Leone Conference 2009. Home page on-line. Available fromhttp://sierraleoneconference2009.org/; Internet; accessed January 13, 2011.v UNDP (2002). “Human Development Report 2002 – Deepening Democracy in a FragmentedWorld.” UNDP. Home page on-line. Available fromhttp://hdr.undp.org/en/media/HDR_2002_EN_Complete.pdf; Internet; accessed January 13, 2011.vi Amartya Sen. Development as Freedom (New York: Anchor Books, 1999), 153.vii UNDP (2003). “Access to Information Practice Note.” UNDP. Home page on-line. Availablefrom http://www.undp.org/oslocentre/overview/pub_acc_2i.html; Internet; accesses January 13. 2011viii Article 19 (2007). “Access to information: An Instrumental Right for Empowerment.” Article 19.Home page on-line. Available fromhttp://www.article19.org/pdfs/publications/ati-empowerment-right.pdf; Internet; accessed January 13,2011.ix UNDP (2003).x Sen. 1999, 151.xi DFID (2006). “Eliminating World Poverty: Making Governance Work for the Poor. DFID.” DFID.Home page on-line. Available from www.official-documents.gov.uk/document/cm68/6876/6876.pdf;Internet; accessed January 29, 2011.xii UNDP (2003)xiii Sina Odugbemi & Thomas Jacobson, “Governance Reform under Real-World Conditions,” inGovernance Reform under Real-world conditions: Citizens, Stakeholders, and Voice, ed. S.Odugbemi and T. Jacobson (Washington DC: The World Bank, 2008), 4.xiv Fondation Hirondelle. “2010 Media Use Survey Sierra Leone.” Fondation Hirondelle. Homepage on-line. Available fromhttp://www.hirondelleusa.org/news/new-sierra-leone-survey-results/; Internet; accessed January 29,2011.xv UNDP. “UNDP and Civil Society Organizations: A Practice Note on Engagement.” UNDP. Homepage on-line. Available fromhttp://www.undp.org/partners/civil_society/publications/policies_and_strategic_documents/UNDP_and_Civil_Society_Organizations_A_Policy_of_Engagement_2001.pdf; Internet; accessed January13, 2011.xvi Michelle Delaney, How Can Communication Process Strengthen Democracy in Post-conflictsettings? (United Kingdom: Unpublished, 2009), 45-46.xvii Delaney. 2009, 45.xviii UNDP (2003)xix Delaney. 2009, 52-53. 33