National Conference on Civic Engagement in Legislation Making

08 Oct 2008

Welcoming Remarks from

Mahmood A. Ayub

UNDP Resident Representative

 

Honorable Members of Parliament,
General Directors,
Distinguished Representatives of Civil Society,
Distinguished Participants
  
As you all know, building open and transparent governments is a difficult challenge. It is a challenge shared by all countries—big or small, developed or developing. It involves building robust legal,  regulatory, institutional and policy frameworks for access to information, consultation and public participation for better public policy making, fighting  corruption and leading to greater public trust in government.

Experience indicates that  there is a general consensus on the importance of the fundamental concepts of democratic governance. However, these concepts can sometimes be controversial, and in fact can even mean different things to different people.

Allow me, therefore, to define briefly some of these concepts,  including principles of accountability, transparency and openness; the meaning of civic engagement; and the need for strong and robust citizen groups and civil society organizations.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

•    Accountability means identifying and holding public officials accountable for their decisions.

•    Transparency calls for availability to the general public of  reliable, relevant and timely information about the activities of their government.

•    Openness is ensuring that the government listens to its citizens and partners, and takes their suggestions into account when designing and implementing public policies.   

Another important aspect of open government structures is the engagement of citizens and civil society organizations.  Engaging civil society is critical to strengthening people’s empowerment. UNDP’s Human Development Report 1993 defined civic engagement “as a process, not an event, that closely involves people in the economic, social, cultural and political processes that affect their lives.”

Engagement of citizens and civil society organizations means that the governments have to invest more time and energy in explaining their proposals and seeking citizens opinions in designing and implementing policies, and in providing reasons for the decisions they have taken. The key ingredients for success in engaging citizens in policymaking are: access to information, consultation, and public participation. And the information provided has to be objective, complete, relevant, easy to access and easy to understand. And there has to be equal treatment when it comes to obtaining information and participating in policymaking.

The other crucial pillar is the existence in a country of robust and strong civil society organizations. UNDP defines "civil society" as the space between family, market, and state; it consists of non-profit organizations and special interest groups, either formal or informal, working to improve the lives of their constituents. Civil society organizations  include local and international organizations, business and professional associations, chambers of commerce, groups of parliamentarians, media, and policy development and research institutes. An active, diverse civil society can play a critically important role in helping advance democracy. It can discipline the state, ensure that citizens' interests are taken seriously, and foster greater civic and political participation.

In conclusion, Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me to underline one additional point. The success of building open and responsive governance structures will ultimately be judged by the citizens themselves, not by the governments nor by the international community. Civil society as a whole is demanding greater transparency and accountability from government as well as greater public participation of citizens in shaping policies that affect their lives.  I am, therefore, particularly pleased to see so many civil society practitioners here today, together with  distinguished representatives of the government and the Parliament.

Let me end by thanking you for generously participating in this event. Thank you.