To: The Soul Beat Africa Democracy and Governance Network
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One of the fundamental tenets of good governance is active citizen participation in processes such as policy and development programme formulation and implementation.
Citizen involvement in governance ensures that the governed, especially those regarded as poor and marginalised in society, have access to adequate space to speak out and be heard in decision-making and implementation which would otherwise be highly centralised.
This creates a strong link between duty-bearers, service providers and citizens, thereby promoting effective, transparent and accountable use of public resources.
In Zambia, lack of transparency and accountability in the management of public resources, most of which are reflected in the Auditor General’s report and the national budget, has been cited for underdevelopment across social and economic sectors. Successive annual audits of public resources have continued to reveal glaring mismanagement of colossal sums of money resulting in poor service delivery to citizens.
Part of the reason this problem continues unabated lies in the fact that most of the targeted beneficiaries for all these public resources are least positioned to actively monitor the flow and utilisation of the resources, and ensuring that they are used for the intended purpose. A holistic approach that includes active involvement of citizens in implementing and monitoring of the use of public resources is therefore cardinal to ensure transparency and accountability, as well as improved service delivery.
For sectors like agriculture, prudent management of public resources is even more critical because it is the main source of livelihood for majority of the people, especially the rural population whose main occupation is farming.
The sector provides employment to about 68-70 percent of the country’s labour force. It has also been positioned as “one of the priority sectors in achieving sustainable economic growth and reducing poverty.” (Sixth National Development Plan, 2011-2015), taking a substantial portion of the annual national budgetary allocation.
Citizen-centred and driven budget monitoring and tracking interventions, such as those implemented by Panos Institute Southern Africa (PSAf) in the six districts of Itezhi-tezhi, Kasempa, Mazabuka, Mkushi, Petauke and Sinazongwe, will complement the existing accountability processes by ensuring prudent resource management and service delivery at community level. Besides improving productivity and production, good performance of agriculture will reduce pressure on other natural resources such as wildlife and forest resources which people often fall back on in times of poor agricultural yields.
The public accountability project aims to empower local communities and stakeholders to actively participate in tracking and monitoring the use of public resources in the agriculture sector at community level.
The project has empowered local communities with skills and platforms to respectively interpret the district and provincial level agricultural budgets and engage in informed dialogue with responsible duty-bearers and key players.
Through the radio listening groups, targeted communities in the said districts are availed the local language versions of the agricultural budgets which they use to discuss the monetary and related service delivery issues with duty-bearers, mostly from the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock. They are also provided with policy and documents which have a close bearing on the agricultural budgets so that they comprehensively address them in the discussions through weekly interactive and pre-recorded community group radio programmes on the partner local radio stations.
At a recent meeting in Lusaka, community radio station managers from the six districts confirmed that the initiative has provided citizens a rare opportunity to access the agricultural budget and related policy documents which are always a preserve for the affluent. The initiative has also given community members a unique and more effective way to engage duty-bearers on budgeting and service delivery issues. They can also obtain the required explanations, assurances and actions. On the other hand it has provided duty-bearers a platform to receive issues from citizens and reach out to them with feedback on a wider scale.
Besides fostering active and effective citizen participation in tracking use of resources, such community-level interventions ultimately ensure that public policies and programmes are responsive to citizens’ well-being and development aspirations.