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Bad governance: Are citizens culpable?

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CHINKHUNTHA—We need an empowered citizenry

Communities around Sub Traditional Authority (S/TA) Kapoko Mhlanga in Mzimba District say they last saw their member of Parliament (MP), Raymond Chatima Nkhata, during a campaign ahead of the May 21, 2019, elections.

They do not follow the development initiatives Nkhata, who represents Mzimba South We s t Constituency, is undertaking to transform the social and economic strata of his area in fulfilment of his campaign promises.

“He does not consult us before going to represent us at the National Assembly. This means whatever he says in Parliament does not represent the interests of his constituents,” Justice Zimba discloses.

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The Area Development Committee (ADC) chairperson, Nathan Nyirenda, adds that apart from not appraising his people on how he is utilising Constituency Development Fund (CDF), the legislator ignores laid-down guidelines when initiating and implementing the projects under the Fund.

“We have invited him to the ADC meeting on October 28, 2020, so that he can appraise us on what he has done so far, in fulfilment of the campaign promises. We want him to give us a report of CDF-financed projects,” Nyirenda says.

Nkhata denies any wrongdoing, challenging he is not mandated to submit reports to the constituents on how CDF is being utilised.

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“This is politics. I believe those alleging that I don’t visit the area are my political enemies,” he says.

National Initiative for Civic Education (NICE) Trust Regional Civic Education Officer (Centre), Enock Chinkhuntha, observes that it is not uncommon for legislators to abandon their constituents to seek a new lease of life elsewhere far from their areas immediately after an election.

Chinkhuntha discloses that the experience since 1994 has shown that MPs trek to and operate from cities and/or towns where their voters cannot easily reach them.

The practice tends to create a huge communication gap between the electorate and the person they entrusted with responsibility to represent them at the National Assembly.

But are the MPs the only ones to blame for this deficiency in democratic governance?

Yet, in a democracy, the main instrument that citizens can use to hold the legislators accountable is periodic elections, a key mechanism of vertical accountability.

Various studies have shown that free and fair elections are insufficient to ensure that duty-bearers and service providers adhere to the principles of good governance like rule of law, transparency and accountability.

Hence, Chinkhuntha believes that citizens need to be blamed the most for lacking patriotism.

He argues that many of them do not behave at all like citizens should.

“The first thing that defines a citizen is patriotism, the love one has for his/ her country and for fellow citizens. Among others, patriotism consists of three aspects: civility, civic responsibility and solidarity,” Chinkhuntha narrates.

He adds that the second thing the citizens need to do is to get involved in any development activity taking place in their areas.

According to Chinkhuntha, a citizen is a member of a community and, therefore, should do his/her best for its development at every level.

“When it comes to governance, citizens are not supposed to limit themselves to voting for those we think are well equipped to lead us and then going on with our personal lives with no care about what is coming next. They should first assess the problems faced by the community and then vote impartially for the candidates who are able to implement concrete and actionable solutions for the general interest and the development of the country. After that, they need to monitor the work of elected leaders and hold them accountable for what they do,” he explains.

A Nigeria governance and opinion writer, Olu Fasan, seems to agree with this line of thinking.

Fasan says while the overwhelming majority would say his country’s problem is leadership, but he believes that the problem is also acute failure of followership.

“In fact, I would say that the problem of complicit followers is worse than that of incompetent leaders. Truth is, Nigeria lacks the critical mass of enlightened and active citizens to protect against bad leadership. Let’s be clear: leadership matters hugely. The quality of a nation’s governance is directly proportional to the quality of its leaders. Which is why the ancient philosophers cautioned against putting inept leaders in positions of political power,” he narrates.

On the other hand, a French philosopher, Joseph de Maistre, argues that every nation gets the government it deserves.

George Carlin, the American author, puts it even more bluntly when he said ignorant citizens elect ignorant leaders.

“It’s sad that citizens shirk this critical duty of followership, of citizenship. They routinely elect incompetent people into political offices, and then, after an election, spend the next four years complaining bitterly about bad leadership and poor governance,” Fasan bemoans.

Chinkhuntha stresses that citizens should not rely entirely on the elected or appointed leaders.

He says citizens should not systematically wait for the duty-bearers to take action, as it is often the case, but assume a responsibility in the general state of a country, governance included, stressing that every citizen needs to realize and accept that it is his or her duty to hold duty-bearers accountable.

He observes that duty-bearers have, at times, taken advantage of the inactiveness of the citizens to abuse public resources.

“Prior to the 2019 tripartite elections, Nice Trust facilitated the signing of social contracts between aspiring candidates and the voters. This notwithstanding, citizens in all the 193 constituents are still failing to demand progress reports on what their councillors and MPs promised before the election,” he says.

“It would appear that communities have resigned to their fate and seem to have nothing to do with public affairs. But we need an empowered citizenry that is equipped with knowledge and skills on how to engage their duty bearers on various Socio- Economic and political issues,” adds Chinkhuntha.

He says it is against this background that NICE Trust has been empowering community structures such as Citizen Fora to enhance transparency and accountability in community projects.

He states that development windows such as the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) and Local Development Fund (LDF) need citizens’ vigilance to ensure that there is efficiency and effectiveness of the funds.

“On the other hand, the civil society has emerged as a growing actor that can and should play an active role in holding the State accountable and advocating for policy proposals to advance the social justice agenda. Traditional and the new social media could also play a crucial role in amplifying the voice of the citizens and facilitating the dialogue between the civil society and the state,” says Chinkhuntha.

The media can pressure the State for accountability by disseminating information about social and economic inequity, and, more importantly, framing those issues in a way to hold the state accountable and to encourage a sense of empowerment.

Additionally, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) are supposed to mobilize citizens, make their voices heard and negotiate a response from public authorities on their demand for social and economic services.

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