Chairperson of the National Council for Civic Education and Development (NaCCED), Kalilu I. Tutangi, while addressing students at the University of Makeni over the weekend, said in August 2018, President Julius Maada Bio rekindled his commitment to openness, transparency and public participation by rebooted the Open Government Partnership in the country.
He stated that NaCCED, with strong support from the OGP Steering Committee and the other OGP partners, identified and adopted the OGP as a strategic pillar in the 2019 -2023 strategic plan.
He was invited by the university to speak on the topic 'Enhancing Citizen's Participation in Accountable and Inclusive Politics in Sierra Leone'.
He said during the development of the third OGP National Action Plan (NAP), they noted that Sierra Leone Parliament is not occupying its rightful place within the OGP process.
"We assumed that without Parliament's commitment and support in the process it will be challenging for many of the OGP commitments to be fully implemented and there will continue to be challenges in achieving the desired outcomes of the Sustainable Development Goals SDGs). We figured that Parliament has very limited platforms to engage with citizens and CSOs and that Parliament had yet to provide annual reports on their operations to demonstrate leadership in accountability and transparency as regards lawmaking processes, oversight, and representation," he said.
He continued that they were pleased that Parliament has come alive of that responsibility and that they wanted to use that platform to applaud the leadership, members and staff of the Sierra Leone Parliament for a successful Parliament Open Day event.
He further noted the key objectives regarding the promotion and openness of a responsive democratic institution with increased engagement with the citizenry and Civil Society across the country, adding that as government, they were also promoting greater access and inclusion for women and marginalized groups for an informal political participation.
Tutangay highlighted the measurable milestones that would guide and gauge progress along the way, adding that all through history, citizens all over the world have clamoured for opportunities to exercise their democratic rights to participate in the governance decisions that affect them over and above the mere election of parliamentary representatives.
"This participation is at the core of the openness agenda that we promote in the Open Government Partnership (OGP). It does not aim to reduce or replace the functions of Parliamentarians but to enhance them. Several Parliaments around the world have recognized this call for action and have committed to improving opportunities for citizens to participate in legislative decision-making by adopting the OGP scheme for Legislative Openness. They have also created various spaces for citizen contributions within legislative decision-making processes," he said.
He said civic engagement involves a strategic mechanism of consultation, involvement and collaboration with citizens designed to enable all other forms of effective participation that empower citizens to make decisions themselves.
"It involves active involvement of citizens in legislative decision-making processes allowing them to contribute to decisions that may have an impact on their lives. Citizens' engagement and participation may be done through CSOs or by direct citizen engagement. Although direct citizen engagement and participation is often noted to be too cumbersome and capital intensive, it is also believed to be more effective as a tool for openness and participation. It involves informing, consulting, involving, collaboration, empowerment).So, what are the pillars of a good citizens' en? pavement process."
He noted that some of the key principles that drive civic engagement and participation include openness - providing full information on, and be responsive with respect to, the purpose, scope, constraints, intended outcomes, processes, timelines, and actual results of participation, in addition to next steps.
"It also involves transparency - providing all relevant information to support each instance of public engagement, highlighting and informing key choices and trade-offs, identifying potential social, economic, and environmental impacts, and incorporating a diversity of perspectives; provide timely and specific feedback on public inputs and how they have been incorporated or not in bills," he said.
"Reciprocity is also considered vital for civic engagement and participation. It infers that all state and non-state entities taking part in public engagement activities should be open about their mission, the interests they seek to advance, and who they represent, and all should observe any agreed rules for engagement; and should cooperate to achieve the objectives of the engagement. Respect for self-expression is also regarded as an important element - allow and support individuals and communities, including those that are directly affected, to articulate their interests in their own ways, and to choose the means of engagement that they prefer, while recognizing that there may be groups that have standing to speak on behalf of others."
He said inclusiveness is also key - pro-active use of multiple mechanisms to reach out to and provide a safe space for all citizens, including those from traditionally marginalized groups, and voices that are seldom heard, without discrimination on any basis.
"Proportionality or using the right mix of engagement mechanisms that are proportionate to the scale and impact of the issue being considered is also an important principle in citizens' engagement and participation. How can citizens' participation enhance accountability and inclusive politics? For the reason that the citizens feel that they have contributed to the decision making process, it will strengthen the legitimacy of, and co-responsibility for decisions and actions. In this way, citizens would develop a better understanding of the role of Parliament and parliamentarians. It will also be an opportunity for citizens to communicate their legitimate interests. Parliament will become more accountable and transparent," he said.
Totangay continued that in addition to satisfying the public expectations that their views are considered and sought, citizen participation can contribute to strong collective intelligence that provides a better analysis of potential impacts and a broader range of considerations throughout the legislative process for overall higher quality outcomes.
"Similarly, it cultivates the aura of a more inclusive and representative parliamentary decision-making, thereby increasing the trust and confidence of citizens in the work of Parliament. How is OGP addressing citizen participation for accountability and inclusivity? In addition to the commitments made in the OGP NAP III, we also believe that if Parliament is to become more open and transparent to its citizens and effectively collaborate with other actors in dispensing its functions as enshrined in the Constitution of Sierra Leone, it should be more engaging with its citizens."
He observed that several opportunities avail for citizens to participate in the legislative process. Some of the ways this can be achieved is through a well thought out program of civic engagement, including panels like these, town halls meetings, Committee witnesses or hearings, citizen participation committees, constituency offices, public outreach, ad-hoc meetings with civil society organizations, focus groups, citizen juries or assemblies, and so on.