NAYMOTE-Partners for Democratic Development, a national civil society organization with a mission to strengthen and promote positive youth and community engagements in support of democratic governance and sustainable development, has initiated a community legislative town hall program designed to provide a forum to discuss policy issues, enable lawmakers to frequently interact with their constituents, and strengthen the relationship between legislators and citizens.
NAYMOTE observes that the current national legislature, interestingly, is not dominated by the ruling party. This creates an unprecedented opportunity for effectuating the principle and doctrine of checks and balances within the democratic system. However, most of the incoming lawmakers are considerably new to the job; hence there is even a greater need to strengthen the linkages between legislators and their constituents. Such regular interaction is vital for improving citizens contribution to and participation in public policy formulation.
In response to this need, NAYMOTE has supported 3 constituencies within Margibi, Bong and Grand Bassa counties to foster better constituency relations and position the respective lawmakers to make informed and proper representation and strategic advocacy. This initiative is a pilot project with support from Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA). It targets District # 5 in Suakoko-Bong, District # 4 in Grand Bassa County, and district # 3 in Margibi County.
NAYMOTE has supported local communities within these districts to establish local steering committees; with representation from various zones within the constituency. These 15-member committees, each with 2 representatives from the district representative office, are responsible for oversight, planning, coordinating and organizing the various town hall meetings under the facilitation of NAYMOTE.
Since the first week of February, series of activities have been conducted including establishing the local steering committees and holding community mobilization and town hall meetings in District # 4 Margibi and District #3 in Bassa. Both meetings brought together over 150 participants and heard presentations by resource persons from the national legislature and NAYMOTE. At these town hall meetings, citizens deepened their understanding on the workings of the legislature, the process of making laws, and the national plan on decentralization and local governance. Through these engagements, the communities identified key priority issues and proposed an action plan.
At the first meeting in District # 4 in Margibi, participants listed amongst their concerns the issues of bad road conditions, lack of regular meeting among lawmakers, local authorities and citizens, lack of trained manpower in the education and health sectors, acts of corruption by local government officials, and marginalization of women, disabled and youth in decision-making processes. At the second meeting in District # 3, Buchanan City, Grand Bassa County, citizens expressed concern over the neglect by elected officials, unemployment, government officials not investing in the county, and increase in child labor.
The steering committees and NAYMOTE are currently working on finalizing the action plan through which legislators and community members will develop and implement programs to meet the collective needs of the constituencies within the next six years. Other districts representatives are requesting NAYMOTE to extend this project to their respective districts, as they believe that such initiative would build linkages between them and their constituents and improve inter-community relations.
Additionally, the various engagements will enable citizens to fully participate in and make decisions related to equitable appropriation of county development funds or the selection of developmental undertakings within the districts.
The town hall meetings were facilitated by NAYMOTE's Executive Director, Mr. Eddie Jarwolo, who encouraged participants to develop a positive posture toward their country. He stressed the importance of citizens setting aside political differences and working together with their elected officials to develop collective programs that will benefit the entire community.
Mr. Jarwolo urged participants to hold their elected officials accountable for their campaign promises. He reminded that citizens are the employers and have the powers to remove their elected representatives through the democratic process if these officials fail to deliver on the mandate entrusted to them.
The NAYMOTE director also encouraged citizens and lawmakers to hold regular meetings and other interactions to address priority needs of the constituencies.