Change by cit­i­zens

The Pak Banker - - Front Page -

CAN the cit­i­zens of a demo­cratic state con­trib­ute to their de­vel­op­ment, or an im­proved man­age­ment of their af­fairs, apart from pe­ri­od­i­cally elect­ing their rulers or us­ing once in a while their power to ef­fect regime change?

An an­swer in the pos­i­tive was of­fered at a well-or­gan­ised De­vel­op­ment So­lu­tion Forum re­cently held at Bangkok by an Ox­fam-led con­sor­tium of de­vel­op­ment and aca­demic in­sti­tu­tions. The eight sto­ries of suc­cess­ful ci­ti­zen ac­tion from Asian coun­tries pre­sented there should be of in­ter­est to Pak­istani ac­tivists who are ex­plor­ing the non-state path to progress. Two ini­tia­tives for im­prove­ment in the qual­ity of life in towns owe their suc­cess to their may­ors’ abil­ity to mo­bilise the lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties for their own de­vel­op­ment.

In one of these towns, Li­bon, in the Philippines, Mrs Agnes Dy­coco, elected mayor for three con­sec­u­tive terms, launched a num­ber of projects, es­pe­cially in the ar­eas of ed­u­ca­tion and health, to meet the ba­sic needs of the town’s 66,345 res­i­dents, more than half of them liv­ing be­low the poverty line.

Her ef­forts met with re­mark­able suc­cess be­cause, be­sides car­ry­ing the pop­u­la­tion with her, she was able to win the con­fi­dence of the au­thor­i­ties and es­tab­lish a part­ner­ship with re­gional and na­tional agen­cies and NGOs. The story of this town presents a purely de­vel­op­ment model as the mayor sees the elected lead­ers in lo­cal gov­ern­ment as “de­vel­op­ment man­agers” rather than “po­lit­i­cal ma­chines”.

The mayor of the other mu­nic­i­pal­ity, Koh Kha Tam­bon, in Thai­land, Ms Pen­puk Rat­tanakumfu, also has won three con­sec­u­tive terms in of­fice. She is firmly com­mit­ted to the po­lit­i­cal road to progress. While study­ing for a Mas­ter’s de­gree in po­lit­i­cal sci­ence and lo­cal gov­ern­ment, she im­bibed the view that ac­count­able lo­cal gov­er­nance and ac­tive community par­tic­i­pa­tion can be achieved by strength­en­ing civil so­ci­ety.

She de­vel­oped a four-point project com­pris­ing i) the con­cept of a ‘live­able city’, ii) build­ing pub­lic­mind­ed­ness, iii) en­hance­ment of par­tic­i­pa­tion and learn­ing pro­cesses, and iv) be­ing an au­ton­o­mous and in­de­pen­dent community.

Both these cases pre­sup­pose the ex­is­tence of a sys­tem of lo­cal gov­ern­ment, reg­u­lar elec­tions, help­ful over­sight by higher tiers of gov­er­nance and a duly sen­si­tised cit­i­zenry.

If these con­di­tions are met and the peo­ple can learn to elect per­sons of sound knowl­edge and vi­sion, sim­i­lar ex­per­i­ments could be car­ried out in Pak­istan too, for they are in the na­ture of ef­fi­cient use of the al­ready avail­able space for pub­lic up­lift.

The third ex­am­ple of cit­i­zens’ ini­tia­tive came from Cam­bo­dia and its ob­jec­tive is to raise women’s share in par­lia­ment and ser­vices. A na­tional coali­tion of lo­cal NGOs called the Com­mit­tee to Pro­mote Women in Pol­i­tics has won con­sid­er­able suc­cess in the seven years of its ex­is­tence. This nar­ra­tive should not be un­fa­mil­iar to Pak­ista­nis as pro­mo­tion of women’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in pol­i­tics has been one of our NGOs’ most no­table suc­cesses.

In­ci­den­tally, Cam­bo­dia — the killing fields of yes­ter­year — is not as back­ward a coun­try as many Pak­ista­nis might think. Women there ac­count for 51.4 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion, hold 19 per cent of the seats in the Na­tional Assem­bly and 14.6 per cent in the Se­nate, 7.7 per cent of min­is­ters’ of­fices and 8.2 per cent of the posts of sec­re­taries of state.

The work of the Jana­graha Cen­tre for Cit­i­zen­ship and Democ­racy, Ban­ga­lore, for im­prov­ing the qual­ity of ur­ban pop­u­la­tions, through doc­u­men­ta­tion of fi­nan­cial af­fairs, cam­paign against cor­rup­tion, pro­mo­tion of cit­i­zens’ par­tic­i­pa­tion and de­vel­op­ing an in­dex to mea­sure the qual­ity of cit­i­zen­ship, is also worth study­ing.

So is the cru­sade for peace car­ried out by Yaena Sala­mae, who be­longs to the Mus­lim community in south­ern Thai­land where thou­sands of lives have been lost in eth­nic vi­o­lence over the past eight years. The loss of her son turned this sim­ple and quiet house­wife into an ac­tive and ar­tic­u­late de­fender of in­no­cent peo­ple and a for­mi­da­ble ad­vo­cate for peace.

From In­done­sia came a re­port on a multi- di­men­sional so­cial de­vel­op­ment project, heav­ily backed by donors, a model Pak­ista­nis are quite fa­mil­iar with.

Of the eight sto­ries of change brought about by cit­i­zens, two that stand out for orig­i­nal­ity and their po­ten­tial for di­rect im­pact on gov­er­nance de­serve spe­cial notice.

Sa­mad­han is the name of a pi­lot project launched in two dis­tricts in In­dia, one in Mad­hya Pradesh and the other in Orissa. (A sim­i­lar project is said to have been de­vel­oped ear­lier in Kenya.) Un­der a part­ner­ship be­tween the col­lec­tor of the dis­trict, a lead­ing civil so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tion and the lo­cal me­dia, the project cre­ates an In­ter­net­based plat­form for cit­i­zens to di­rectly de­mand their ser­vice en­ti­tle­ments un­der na­tional and state gov­ern­ment schemes and track their ful­fil­ment.

The project works like this: a ci­ti­zen can file his com­plaint against a de­lay in re­ceiv­ing his en­ti­tle­ment in the Sa­mad­han sys­tem through a phone call, SMS or the web. The com­puter reg­is­ters the com­plaint by lo­ca­tion, time, date, type and other par­tic­u­lars. These com­plaints are read by lo­cal of­fi­cials and they are re­quired to in­di­cate ap­pro­pri­ate cour­ses of ac­tion.

The com­plainant can keep track of ac­tion taken by the ad­min­is­tra­tion via SMS or web­site. Once the mat­ter is re­solved the com­plainant is duly in­formed. It is said that Sa­mad­han gives the cit­i­zens the power to take their griev­ance to the gov­ern­ment with­out any cost or has­sle but the ben­e­fit of peo­ple’s em­pow­er­ment means much more than cut­ting costs, fi­nan­cial as well as those of ac­cess to re­dress fo­rums. The other project, this one from Viet­nam, is called Pro­vin­cial Gov­er­nance and Pub­lic Ad­min­is­tra­tion Per­for­mance In­dex (PAPI). A joint ef­fort of UNDP, the Viet­nam Fa­ther­land Front and an NGO, PAPI com­ple­ments a gov­ern­ment pro­gramme for mon­i­tor­ing the coun­try’s re­form mas­ter plans. The project mea­sures from the cit­i­zens’ viewpoint pro­vin­cial gov­er­nance (63 prov­inces) and pub­lic ad­min­is­tra­tion un­der six heads: i) par­tic­i­pa­tion at the lo­cal lev­els; ii) trans­parency; iii) ver­ti­cal ac­count­abil­ity; iv) con­trol of cor­rup­tion; v) pub­lic ad­min­is­tra­tive pro­ce­dures; and vi) pub­lic ser­vice de­liv­ery.

These heads are di­vided into sec­tors. For in­stance, the pub­lic ser­vice de­liv­ery has four sec­tors — pub­lic health, pub­lic pri­mary ed­u­ca­tion, in­fra­struc­ture, and law and or­der — and each sec­tor is fur­ther di­vided into three to seven ser­vice en­ti­tle­ments.

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