Section 1: Project contribution to CPAP outcomes
Improved government accountability and transparency and enhanced citizen participation in the policy process through open and direct dialogue between the government and ordinary Sierra Leoneans
Recommendations and proposed action
Following a successful closure of the pilot phase of the project, efforts are now under way to institutionalize the initiative as a full national initiative and mainstream OGI as public information and dialogue initiative within the 3 branches of the government
Section 2: Project Implementation – Issues
Despite the initial success, one of the challenges was to ensure the political neutrality of the project so that the initiative is not perceived as a tool for political campaign in a country that is highly polarized along party lines. In order to ensure neutrality, it was crucial to mobilize participation of people from all walks of life regardless of party affiliation and including marginalized groups such as women, youth and the disabled. OGI carefully picked the locations of visits, and enabled the Presidency, cabinet members, and Parliamentarians to visit opposition communities to reassure that the government is for all Sierra Leoneans. In addition, the project strengthened partnership with civil society organizations with better understanding of grassroots realities for sensitization and community mobilization. This partnership has enabled the improved community participation and has contributed to stamp out political undertone.
Section 3: Project Perfomance and Achievement
Strengthened transparency and accountability
Through OGi town hall meetings, over 6,000 ordinary Sierra Leoneans participated in democratic dialogue – including over 2,000 people who attended meetings with the Executive arm of the Government in four rural locations; over 2,000 people who took part in parliamentary meetings in 3 locations, and over 2,000 people who attended meetings with the Justice Sector in 3 locations.
All members of the communities were welcome and encouraged to attend the meetings to dialogue directly with the government and address issues of their daily concerns including poverty, lack of access to public services, engergy, health, education unemployment and gender based violence. The meetings also provided the government with direct feedbacks from ordinary Sierra Leoneans in order to adopt them in policy formulation and implementation. After town hall meetings in districts, a perception surveys are implemented to collect views and perceptions of the participants on the event and governance in Sierra Leone. As the below tables summarize, according to the surveys, 89% of the survey participants that attended 3 parliamentarian town hall meetings said the meeting contributed to improved government transparency and 86% said it contributed to improved accountability. Moreover, 95% of the survey participants at 3 judiciary town hall meeting said it contributed to improved transparency of the Judiciary and 96% said it contributed to better understanding of the justice system.
Helping people to make their voices reflected policy formulation
The OGI meetings created a space for ordinary citizens to scrutinize their Parliamentarians, address their Judiciary as equal citizens, and provide recommendations to the President and his cabinet. For example, a OGI town hall meeting enabled the people and the Ministers of Energy, Agriculture, and Commerce and Trade to address the issues of rapidly increasing rice and fuel prices and energy concerns in 2007. This discussion contributed to government policy measures to mitigate price increase through fiscal incentives to importers, private sector operators and Government of India on concessionary rice export terms. OGI created a rare opportunity, contributed to the sense of ownership in governance, and has been valued by ordinary Sierra Leoneans. “This is the first time I have seen the faces of all honorable Members of Parliament and a golden opportunity to hear them addressed the numerous questions asked and the answers supplied,” said a Kenema Community member.
In line with this, one community member stated, “I benefited a lot from this meeting because it has provided us with an opportunity where we can stand before our leaders and express our direct constraints without a threat.
OGI gives us hope that our rights will not be abused with the presence of this forum.”
Enhancing national unity and contributing to decentralization and peace building
Open Government Initiative established a unique and solid channel of communication between the Government and the people, and fostered an important two-way communication in rural areas, which has not been fully achieved by the challenging decentralization processes. This is significant in a country where alienation from government is considered a cause of the 10 year civil war.
“If OGI was found before the war, there would be no war in the country,” said one participant.
By reaching out to rural area and, for the first time, bringing the key institutions of central, local and traditional (chiefdom) authorities under one roof, OGI complimented the ongoing decentralization efforts in Sierra Leone. This was the first time for many communities to receive the Presidency, and the first time for most people to have the opportunity to meet with the parliamentarians since campaigning for 2007 elections.
OGI opened up a constructive national dialogue between the people and centers of power in Sierra Leone. Apart from providing an opportunity for rural communities to learn about issues pertinent to their daily issues, they also gained insight into their role in development, and the relationship between the central and local authorities.
During the town hall meetings local actors including Paramount Chiefs, Local Councilors, students, teachers, women, youth and other community members engaged in dialogue with the Presidency, Parliamentarians and members of the Judiciary.
Creating open channels of communication and promoting meaningful dialogue
Sierra Leone has been polarized along political party lines since the 2007 Presidential elections and there has been a strong perception from the opposition party that the Government is neglecting the interest of the opposition communities. In addition to helping to communicate key government priorities, policies and actions to communities in districts, OGI enabled the President and his cabinet to visit some of these opposition districts and reassure citizens that he is a President for all Sierra Leoneans.
The opportunities to visit districts to have face to face interactions with the people also increased confidence of Parliamentarians to conduct constituency outreach and provided them with information about constituent needs to strengthen their representation to citizens. Following success of the first three parliamentary town hall meetings, there was a significant increase in demand from Parliamentarians to participate in similar initiatives. In addition, many people commented that the town hall meeting was an “eye opener”, very educative and important for the community as it contributed to information flow between the Parliamentarians and the people.
As for judiciary town hall meetings, similar positive changes in attitude were recorded among participants of town hall meetings held in Kambia, Bonthe and Kailahun.
One Kambia participant expressed, “The meeting changed my perception towards the justice sector positively.”
A member of Bonthe community stated similarly, “This meeting rebuilt my trust in the justice system in the country.”
Furthermore, besides learning about various issues pertinent to the communities, the public strongly appreciated learning about the functions of parliamentarians in the Government, their role in development, or the relationship between the Parliament and the Local Council. These meetings were equally important for the MPs to acknowledge some of the most critical issues affecting lives of people in their constituencies. Participants of Judiciary town hall meetings mostly appreciated OGI forum for teaching them about their rights and responsibilities.
Section 4: Lessons Learned Open and direct information flow through the media
During the initial stage of the project, most people in districts were still not aware of the initiative. In order to sensitize the population on the initiative and mobilize participation, OGI invested in collaboration with the media. In Sierra Leone, radio is the most important means for public information, and therefore OGI invested heavily on the utilization of radio. OGI partnered with community radio stations for sensitization, communication of government policies and actions, and mobilization of female participation. Further, in order to ensure that the project achievements are further disseminated to the general public, the print and electronic media are engaged. Following the Parliamentarian town hall meetings, press conference was held with the civil society and the media to evaluate the OGI activities and to emphasize the political impartiality of the Initiative.
Reaching the wider population through partnership with CSOs
Another measure taken in order to reach the wider populaton was to work with the civil society. OGI has strengthened partnership with CSOs in order to enhance the impact of its activities to the Sierra Leonean society. CSOs have been contributing to OGI in the areas of sensitization and mobilization as well as monitoring of the initiative`s impact through the conduct of survey after town hall meetings. In addition, the involvement of civil society in OGI contributed to political neutrality on the ground as no political slogans or other party undertones were noticed among the government officials or the general public despite the fact that some meetings took place in the opposition stronghold.
Improving the participation of the marginalized population including women
In a post-conflict country like Sierra Leone, there exists severe gender imbalance and OGI helped foster a better environment for women to take part in constructive national dialogue on issues impacting their lives. To improve participation, OGI held two-hour women`s forum on radio in each district before town hall meetings to discuss and sensitize gender issues and promote women`s participation in the meetings.
During town hall meetings, a well-know women`s rights advocate was chosen as the facilitator as an additional measure to encourage women to contribute to the dialogue. However, this has still been a challenge as only about 20% of participants to town hall meetings has been females, and more initiatives are needed to bring about inclusive participation.
In addition, marginalization of youth is one of the major issues in Sierra Leone. In order to mobilize participation of youth in the town hall meetings, jingles were developed by a popular Sierra Leonean artist, Innocent.
Innocent also performed a song specially made for OGI at the beginning of every town halle meeting.
Further, special measure was taken to invite physically challenged people who sat in the front seat to faciliate their easier interaction with the government representatives.
Section 5: Post Project Review
Following a successful closure of the pilot phase of the project, efforts are now under way to institutionalize the initiative as a full national initiative and mainstream OGI as public information and dialogue initiative within the 3 branches of the government.
After the DGTTF funding was depleted, the Government has continued with OGI activities, such as the “OGI Hour – Have Your Say in Governance”, the interactive radio/TV question, answer, discussion program using its own resources, while resource mobilization efforts are also under way to continue to support the initiative. Concurrently, effort to mainstream the project idea into our traditional support to parliament, judiciary and the executive is currently being explored.