Civic Engagement for Effective Service Delivery in Ethiopia: Tools, Opportunities and Challenges

27 Jan 2014
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The paper concludes with suggestions for promoting civic engagement for effective public service delivery.

 

For quite some time now, there has been increased focus on transparency, accountability and integrity as key elements in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and promoting human development. The renewed focus on accountability underlies the importance of state-civil society relations, in the context of efforts to support building a capable, effective and inclusive state.  Increasingly, most governments are accepting civil society actors not only as essential programme partners but also as policy interlocutors, and see civic participation as critical to building constituencies and consensus, and to promoting inclusion and representation of the poor and marginalized.

 

Ethiopia has been promoting civic engagement in the context of decentralization of authority to lower levels as an important policy instrument for addressing local needs effectively and situating the power for public service delivery closer to the people. Decentralization was primarily designed to ensure that development plans are responsive to local realities and to enhance efficient delivery of public services (Ministry of Information, 2004). The Government in its successive mid-term development plans has emphasized the role that citizens and their associations, especially membership-based organizations, have in ensuring accountability of service providers. To facilitate responsiveness, the government has designed and implemented public sector reforms, which, among other things, were aimed at building the capacity of service providers since mid-1990s.

 

 

Given their potential proximity to communities and their ability to engage grassroots energies, civil society organizations, in particular community and mass based organizations, are seen as important actors in ensuring accountability for service delivery. With this has come the need for service providers to be more responsive to the people they serve and ensure transparency and accountability for services they provide.

 

Citizen involvement in public service delivery planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation is seen as a powerful tool for ensuring accountability from policy makers and service providers, and ensuring services that reflect the priorities of the citizens are delivered. This is because citizens have very good knowledge of challenges related to service delivery and how it affects their lives (Ibid).

 

Experience shows that enhanced civic engagement offers important potential benefits for governments including increased effectiveness, legitimacy, popularity, efficient allocation of resources and political stability. Effectiveness of civic engagement, among other things requires an enabling environment that (a) promotes awareness of the rights, responsibilities and entitlement of citizens for  better quality public services delivery; (b) empowers citizens to participate in, negotiate with and hold accountable service providers and public policy makers;  (c) promotes participation of  citizens and communities in the planning, budgeting, implementation and monitoring of the quality and quantity of services delivered to them; and (d) ensures  policy makers and public services providers are capacitated in order to respond to community and citizens need and preferences.. A law guiding the registration and operation of charities and societies was put in place  “to aid and facilitate the role of Charities and Societies in the overall development of Ethiopian peoples” and “…to ensure the realization of citizens’ right to association enshrined in the constitution” (FDRE, 2009).

 

 

Given the need for effective service delivery, how can citizens and their associations engage in service delivery? What does the current engagement looks like? To what extent have such engagements contributed to improvement in service delivery? What enablers were put in place to promote civic engagement? Are factors in the environment promoting or hindering civic engagement? What are some of the critical challenges to the participation of ensure accountability of service providers and ensure that the services delivered reflect the priorities of the citizens? 

 

This paper attempts to answer these questions by looking at the available evidence from literature in terms of how citizens interact with service providers and relate it to Ethiopian context. In so doing,  this paper aims to shed light on civic engagement and how citizens (individually and/or collectively) could be involved in service delivery that they are entitled to, the added value of such engagement, factors contributing to the effective civic engagement, challenges for civic engagement, and measures that can potentially address those challenges and promote civic engagement.