EDITORIAL: Improving citizen participation requires their regular input

Sunday October 7 2018

Governance

Rwandans queue to vote on August 3, 2017. In traditional models of governance citizen input is limited to formal structures for instance during elections or limited to members of parliament. PHOTO | FILE 

By RWANDA TODAY
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According to the fifth Rwanda Governance Scorecard 2018 Survey carried out by the Rwanda Governance Board and launched last week, citizen participation scored 65.63 per cent, registering minimal improvement of the eight indicators.

The other indicators are safety and security; control of corruption, transparency and accountability; political rights and civil liberties and the principle of rule of law; economic and corporate governance; citizen’s participation and inclusiveness; investment in human and social development and quality of service delivery, which was rated the least successful in implementation.

The four pillars that scored 80 per cent and above included safety and security (94.7 per cent); control of corruption, transparency and accountability (83.7 per cent); political rights and civil liberties (83.3 per cent) the principle of rule of law (83.6 per cent).

Economic and corporate governance scored 78 per cent followed by participation and inclusiveness, which scored 76.7 per cent; investing in human and social development scored 75.5 per cent while quality of service delivery came last, scoring 74.2 per cent.

Steady progress

However, while there has been steady progress in increasing citizen participation in different aspects including participation in performance contracts, it remains well below what is required to achieve sufficient citizen participation and engagement.

There has been increasing demand by civil society and citizens to have a greater say in public decision-making.

For instance, recent research by Never Again Rwanda in partnership with Youth Association for Human Rights Promotion and Development, which used a qualitative research approach to examine why citizen participation in Imihigo is low, highlighted limited capacity (approaches, tools, methodology) by local leaders and aides to genuinely engage citizens in decision making.

In addition, some citizens are not aware that their participation is a right and duty. Also, some local leaders are not generally knowledgeable about Imihigo processes.

Hence the need to intensify efforts to increase citizen participation to close the gap between government and citizens. When citizen participation is increased, it allows the government to be more responsive to community needs.

Additionally, initiatives on citizen engagement have the ability to build communities, grow leaders and introduce a more collaborative style of government.

Engagement

Citizens looking to be more engaged in their community should be empowered and they should be able to quickly access information and get timely feedback.

But perhaps more importantly, local leaders at the cell level who are closer to citizens need to be empowered to be active in the decision making process.

Without any authority or ownership of the issues, there will be challenges around implementation. Likely, these citizens are closest to issues, and can provide the best insights on how to allocate funds, understand cultural issues, and develop partnerships within the community.

For citizen engagement to really work, there needs to be incentives for both citizens and government employees. Government employees should be incentivised as well towards increased citizen engagement.

We need to move beyond traditional models of governance — where citizen input is limited to formal structures for instance during elections or limited to members of parliament — to one that is more open, inclusive and responsive.