By By Akintola Benson-Oke
IT has been noted that one measure of determining a government’s alignment with citizens’ expectations is to ask the following three questions: (a) do the citizenry feel as though government officials abuse their powers or act in the interest of the common good? (b) do citizens feel disconnected from government and its policies? and (c) is government service delivery perceived to be inadequate?
The answer to the questions above will offer a clear glimpse into the level of effective government performance vis-à-vis citizens’ expectations. However, this appears to be relevant in theory only. This is because a careful scrutiny of the questions above will reveal the near impossibility of collating credible and unbiased responses to such questions. It is then more useful, to my mind, to consider the specific practical and empirical illustrations of the expectations of the citizenry from the government.
Indeed, the delivery of value to citizens is the fundamental objective of any democratically-elected government. In today’s world, however, the delivered value must be delivered par excellence. This is chiefly because citizens have become sophisticated and exposed to the standards of governance in other climes such that their expectations have been conditioned to demand and insist on compliance with global best practices at all levels of governance. Meeting these expectations is the the central challenge for governments in the developing world.
Thankfully in Lagos State, we have a government that has boldly embraced this challenge and is, in fact, executing a reasoned-out plan to transform governance and its processes in such a way that the ever-changing and complex expectations of citizens can be admirably met. Led by Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, the current administration in Lagos State is poised to examine those areas, processes, institutions and practices that need to be overhauled or remodeled in order to achieve this end.
Governor Ambode has let us into his vision for governance in Lagos State. From my vantage position as a Honourable Commissioner, I can confirm that it is a vision of a Lagos State where government objectives, processes and services meet global standards and the conditioned expectation of citizens. I hope that this will mark yet another milestone in the administration’s quest for excellence in governance.
As earlier mentioned, the overriding observation today is that citizens expect the government to comply with global best practices in democratic governance. I wish to examine the practical steps that have been taken in other climes and are now regarded as best practices.
The first is the compilation, release and maintenance of a resource that essentially acts as a citizens’ manual. This should be a quick-reference resource that details the necessary steps and requirements for citizens to quickly complete official procedures. It should also provide information on which government office is responsible for each transaction and should provide the respective contact information of key stakeholders.
Among others, such an initiative will:
a.Improve government efficiency: Providing the necessary information for common processes and procedures in an easy-to-use resource can reduce the number of people in lines at government offices, and allow government staff to spend more time helping citizens complete processes and less time providing instructions. As a result, government staff can be more efficient and productive.
b.Increase citizen satisfaction: By providing citizens with the information they need on how to process a request in an easy-to-use resource, they can adequately prepare to complete their transactions and processes in one visit. These officials are to ensure that citizens have a positive experience interacting with the government.
Another best practice is that of public rendering of accounts. This is a practice whereby government publicly reports to and informs citizens of government’s expenditures and investments over a given period of time. This forum is similar in structure to a town hall meeting and is open to all citizens. These fora are another way in which citizens can see how their government is investing public funds. These exercises can be participatory and allow citizens to ask questions and comment on government spending, or non-participatory, where government simply presents information to the public.
Doing this can help create citizens buy-in. By creating opportunities to inform and discuss public finances with citizens, the government can foster an informed and involved citizenry. Providing citizens with information regarding government budgets can contribute to constituents feeling they are part of a community development process, and as such cultivate citizens buy-in.
It will also increase government transparency and accountability. Informing citizens of government spending, especially if done on a regular basis, is an effective way for government to fulfill its responsibility of being transparent and accountable. These types of initiatives can also reduce outside opportunities for negative speculation looking to undermine the work of a particular administration.
Another obtainable best practice is participatory budgeting. This is a practice whereby a government reserves funds from the annual budget and allows citizens to determine the allocation of these resources. Working alongside government representatives, citizens discuss and determine community needs and priorities, and subsequently identify projects (or programmes) to address these. Participation is not limited to organised civil society, but rather is open to all citizens.
This approach engages citizens in the decision-making processes of the government. Providing citizens a direct voice in the budgeting process allows for their meaningful involvement in decisions that directly affect their communities. By allowing citizens to participate in prioritising development projects in their communities, the government can additionally foster citizen buy-in and ownership of local projects which can significantly increase acceptance of development initiatives within a community. Furthermore, this approach will:
a.Improve government transparency. Citizens’ involvement in the budgeting process can help reduce citizens speculation and misinformation regarding the work of government. In addition to heightening transparency of the management of public funds and decentralising certain aspects of decision-making, participatory budgeting allows for meaningful citizens participation.
b.Improve government responsiveness – By developing a methodology to directly engage and consult with a broad group of citizens on government expenditures, government can use real-time information to inform its planning process as well as respond to citizens needs in a direct and transparent way.
Being a Keynote delivered by Dr. Benson-Oke, Lagos State Commissioner for Establishments, Training and Pensions at a 2-day workshop for officers of Lagos Civil Service.
Live media shows are a mechanism through which government officials can directly and effectively communicate with constituents. Through radio or local television, governments can provide up-to- date information on the work of government as well as foster discussion on local issues. Over the course of these programmes, citizens have the ability to call in and ask questions or express thoughts and concerns to government officials and staff.
Without a doubt, this will increase government transparency and accountability activities and programmes. Greater citizens access to information on the work of their governing institutions is one of many ways in which to increase institutional transparency. Likewise, creating opportunities and mechanisms for citizens to directly engage government officials will lead to increased institutional accountability.
This mechanism will also ensure that the government stays engaged with citizens on key issues. Live media is an effective mechanism for enhancing direct communication with constituents. Frequent programmes allow government to keep citizens up-to-date on public initiatives underway in the community as well as discuss any pressing issues within a relevant time-frame. Live media shows are also an effective tool through which to gauge citizens’ response to the work of government.
Another benefit is that it improves government responsiveness. By having an established medium through which citizens can express concerns and raise questions on anything from public safety to poorly lit street corners, government officials can more effectively respond to pressing needs in the community as well as use citizens’ feedback to shape future policies and projects. Furthermore, it increases government accessibility. Live media shows have the ability to reach a large audience on a regular basis. Broadcasting programmes during prime-time will also ensure more citizens are exposed to important information.
These are some of the practical approaches that are now regarded as best practices globally. The value to be derived from them are not quantifiable. But, as always, we must take great pains to carefully domesticate them, taking care to avoid importing practices that are not workable under our local circumstances. Beyond this, however, we must be challenged to aspire to the high standards of governance that the citizens expect from the government.
Being a Keynote delivered by Dr. Benson-Oke, Lagos State Commissioner for Establishments, Training and Pensions at a 2-day workshop for officers of Lagos Civil Service, recently.