Lets Remind Ourselves Of Public Participation By Samwella Lerno


Writer is a contributor of Siasa Place’s writer’s podium

Citizen participation is a requisite for strengthened devolution, for devolution to work the people must be involved in the decision-making and oversight functions. The objects and principles of devolved government according to Article 174 are to; (c) give powers of self-governance to the people and enhance their participation in the exercise of the powers of the state and in making decisions affecting them, (d) Recognize the rights of the communities to manage their own affairs and to further their development.

Public participation is ideally based on belief that those who are affected by a decision have a right to be involved in the decision-making process. A mantra that has fuelled disability rights movements over the years ‘Nothing about us, without us’ James Charlton, the author of a book by the same title expresses the conviction of people with disabilities that they know what is best for them any decision that is made without them is not for them.

The whole purpose of citizen involvement through public participation is to give citizens power to have a say in all matters. This ensures governments achieve key milestones in democracy; improved performance as citizens gets involved in identifying their needs, priority areas and increased sense of ownership. Citizens become partners with their governments in a manner that promotes good governance and human rights.

To trickle down a sense of ownership on the citizen’s part in development is crucial in minimization of wastage from governments. Without treating citizens as partners there is danger that policies, programmes and interventions implemented at community levels will simply be imposed upon them.

Why public participation?

Public participation leads to better decisions by improving quality of decisions made in a community. Where a process is inclusive, participants (governments and citizens) get an opportunity to clearly identify issues that are at play in any decision or project or challenge.
After identifying issues, clarity is sought so that all views are obtained.

All alternatives are weighed and the best option is picked to aid in decision-making. Decisions made in this manner benefit from community contribution, which is vital as they’re most affected. They know what they need and are more likely to be better than a decision made without their involvement.

Public participation helps in setting priorities as it informs government the level of importance the citizens attach to a particular situation which helps in channelling of resources (monetary and otherwise). Public participation reduces conflict as working together with diverse people can be difficult, different opinions or diverse interests in decisions can lead to conflict especially at the backdrop of campaign promises.

However, public participation ensures potential areas of disagreement are identified and addressed with concerned people before a decision is made. The fears and interests of such groups are addressed and they become part of the decision-making process. When an agreement is reached the potential for conflict is minimized if not eliminated altogether.

Role of leaders in public participation

What has been provided in the constitution and other secondary legislation; In Article 232 on the Values and principles of public service part (1) include (d) involvement of the people in the process of policy-making (e) accountability for administrative acts (f) Transparency and provision to the public of timely and accurate information.

Leaders should ensure they are accessible and represent citizens, ensure existence of forums and opportunities for citizens. Provide civic education on public participation in simplified formats and the key elements of it like budget making and policy development. Develop effective communication channels with citizens, this includes both online and offline channels as well as mobile and non-mobile channels in all languages understandable to the citizens.

Using those channels to get information out in advance and to a proper depth so participation, decision making is informed and effective. Provide timely and useful information to the citizens on critical and emerging issues. Provide resources to facilitate public participation, on budget making, policy issues, project options etc. Opening channels for public participation goes a long way to ensure that county governments are more responsive to citizens as collaborators and clients hence spur development.

I think as a national value, participation of the people comes with myriad of challenges. Challenges that can be addressed jointly, proper frameworks should be set out to make it more effective. It should be free from predetermined outcomes as often is the case where county officials use citizen forums to rubber stamp their already developed plans. They have to be as inclusive as possible, youth and women should particularly be prioritized. Public participation when properly done enhances shared responsibility in county’s development.

By Samwella Lerno
Writer is a contributor of Siasa Place’s writer’s podium

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