by Irene Hoaës
01 December 2008
WINDHOEK – The Ministry of Regional and Local Government, Housing and Rural Development has launched a public participation campaign on decentralisation.
The campaign will be known as “Participate-Influence! Use your Regional Council”.
The decentralisation policy, which was adopted in 1997, seeks to promote participatory democracy and sustainable development for the benefit of all Namibians.
The process is to give regional councils, local authorities and village councils the power, responsibility and funds to plan and administer basic services that affect the day-to-day lives of people in their areas.
What would make the process of service delivery effective is the fact that local authorities are more familiar with local needs and priorities and people at the grassroots, and have easier access to them than is the case with central government.
The ministry’s custodian, Jerry Ekandjo said one of the critical requirements for decentralisation is the participation of citizens in affairs that affect them.
“Citizenry participation has proven to enhance local voices. Hence policymakers are tuned to true aspirations of communities and effectively address needs and priorities,” Ekandjo, who launched the campaign, said.
The minister said while the process itself may be “smooth sailing”, the major challenge lies ahead, which is to bring the broader public into decision-making to facilitate a process whereby citizens have a direct say on decisions affecting them.
“A citizen’s role does not end after the casting of votes. This is only the beginning,” he noted.
Ekandjo said voters are at liberty to exercise their rights to speak and air their views and demand services, as long as demands are reasonable.
In order to implement the decentralisation policy, the ministry has identified the importance of good communication and information strategy.
The ministry, with financial assistance from the French government, conducted and finalised public participation surveys in seven regions and assisted them with developing of strategies to improve public participation between regional councils and their constituents.
Participation surveys are currently being conducted in the remaining six regions.
In order to enhance smooth transmission of the process, the ministry has decided to embark on a national campaign that would support the efforts of the individual regional councils.
For now, regional councils will be the focal point as most of the functions will be delegated to that structure of government.
A similar campaign is earmarked for local authorities in the near future.
The current campaign, which will run from now until March 2009, will cover three themes, namely the changing roles of regional councils, ways to participate in regional council activities and feedback received from the public.
Ekandjo also revealed that the decentralisation process will start in April next year.
The Finish Chargé d’Affaires, Asko Luukkainen, commended government on the initiative, whose main objective is to enhance participatory democracy.
Luukkainen said civil servants have the tendency to assume that people are naturally interested in government decisions and policies.
“From time to time, we should therefore remind ourselves that there is a countless body of research-based counter-evidence to this,” the diplomat reminded the gathering.
Luukkainen said Finnish financial support to the decentralisation process will stop in March next year and focus will shift towards other areas.
“In future Namibia and Finland will focus on promotion of trade, investment and private sector partnerships, institutional cooperation, non-governmental organisation support, various exchange programmes, cooperation with universities as well as between local authorities,” Luukkainen noted.
During the launch, it was revealed that significant progress has been made in policy implementation during the last few years.
Functions such as rural water supply were already gazetted to regional councils in 2007, while other functions such as maintenance, lands management and primary and secondary education are expected to be handed over next year.
Progress has also been made towards the development of an inter-governmental fiscal transfer system, which will provide for a transparent, predictable and poverty-sensitive way of allocating funds from central government to regional councils.