Citizen’s Engagement In Local Governance: Emerging Results of The SPEFA Process
A major strategy of the LGCSP is to increase citizen’s participation and interest in local government issues. This is done through a social audit process designed to stimulate civil society engagement with local governments on PFM issues. The Social Public Expenditure and Financial Accountability (SPEFA) brings together representatives of citizen groups in the district to build their capacities to effectively engage with Local Government Authorities for better development results and accountability. The SPEFA process is intended to improve citizens’ perceptions of urban management and increase their engagement with urban assemblies. SPEFA groups consist of representatives of all recognized citizen groups in the MMA.
These groups are identified by the MMA and the SPEFA CSOs in the district. SPEFA groups meet once in every three months for a capacity building session facilitated by the CSO. The SPEFA process is managed by a consortium of local CSOs with SNV-Ghana as the lead CSO.
As part of the SPEFA process, every participating MMA is expected to organise 2 Town Hall meetings for citizens to interact with MMA officials on annual action plans, budgets and audits. These town hall meetings provide platforms for citizens and assembly officials to interact constructively on key development issues in the district.
The SPEFA process, which started in May 2013, is currently effective in all 46 MMAs of the LGCSP and is in the 3rd year of implementation. In the first 2 years, 35 MMAs implemented SPEFA activities with support from 27 CSOs and SNV. Reflections on achievements so far does not only indicate interesting changes in the power relations between citizens and their local government authorities but also brings to light the need for similar processes to engage citizens effectively in all districts of the country.
The process affirms existing information on lack of awareness of citizens of local government issues as well as a lack of opportunities for citizens to participate in key processes of the assembly such as budgeting and planning. In spite of the huge efforts at building the capacity of citizens through the SPEFA meetings, there is still significant demand for SPEFA and Town Hall platforms. A unique feature of the current SPEFA process is that it does not only build the capacity of citizens to engage assemblies but also builds the capacity of assemblies to engage citizens as well as to improve the capacity of CSO to effectively mobilise citizens.
In all, 158 SPEFA forums, 65 Town hall meetings and 7 CSO review meetings were organized between June 2013 and May 2015. About 16, 958 citizens were trained through the SPEFA forums (face-to-face) while 622 – 608 were involved in the trainings via media coverage. Another 11, 643 citizens participated in face-to-face meetings with MMA officials to discuss planning and budgeting issues. These discussions also reached about 313,699 citizens through local radio/FM and other media broadcasts. While this is a great start in efforts at systematic capacity building of citizens to participate effectively in the local governance process, there is still opportunity and potential to replicate this in all districts of the country.
There is significant evidence to indicate that the capacity of about 30 CSOs and their staff have been enhanced as a result of the SPEFA process. Partner CSO organisations are responsible for the day to day mobilisation and training of citizens in the districts. To do this effectively, SNV provide quarterly review
and capacity building sessions to all CSO partners. Through these meetings the staff of the CSOs have enhanced their knowledge of local government systems as well as facilitation skills. As a result of this project 4 CSOs namely Progressive Youth Excellence in Elmina, Intervention Forum in Adentan, Development Advocacy and Research Centre in Bolgatanga and Northern Development Society in Tamale participated in a one-week leadership programme in Kenya. This training was intended to help CSOs boost their leadership skills and equip them with modern management techniques needed for project implementation. These organisations have improved relations with MMAs and their staff as they work closely to facilitate citizen engagement processes. There is increased
collaboration between the CSOs and their MMA counterparts as they work together.
There is also increased collaboration between CSOs in the discharge of their duties and this has led to greater peer to peer learning and sharing among these organisations. At the organisational level, all 30 CSOs are learning and improving their contract management, financial management and reporting systems.
This will positively contribute to the long term sustainability of these organisations. The knowledge and awareness of citizens of local government
processes have been enhanced in 35 MMAs. In these districts, more than 16000 citizens have received training on key PFM areas such as the planning process, budgeting process, audit and procurement systems in the MMAs. These sessions are designed to give citizens a deeper understanding of the work of the MMA as well as their role in these processes. More than 11000 citizens participated in town hall meetings to discuss critical issues affecting their MMA such as how much to levy on households and commercial activities. Many of these participant who wanted to ask questions and raise issues got the opportunity to do so. Most of the MMAs have attested to the fact that the Town hall meetings have helped them pass the Functional Organizational Assessment Tool (FOAT). Citizens have become more enlightened about the MMA’s processes of Planning, Budget processes, Procurement, Monitoring and Evaluation etc. CSOs also have a better understanding of Budget tracking in the MMAs.
The SPEFA process contributes to promoting peace in our communities. It brings different stakeholders together to discuss and negotiate critical issues. It creates a platform for different interests to be tabled and discussed and agreed on. Traditional Leaders, CBOs, CSOs and NGOs have played active roles in the organization of Town hall meetings and having all stakeholders under one roof to ensure that grass root participation in local governance is deepened is a credit to the project.
SPEFA is an empowering process. It demystifies important local government issues through the learning platforms and provides knowledge to enable ordinary citizens make decisions on key development issues affecting them. It provides information to citizens on the MMA in a structured format for easy understanding. Nearly all 35 MMAs regularly post simplified budget and planning documents on notice boards of the MMA.
The town hall meetings provide a platform for citizens to demand accountability from officials. At these meetings, ordinary citizens seek clarification on issues concerning them and the MMA presents and discusses development issues with citizens. Through this process, citizens are getting to be part of the decision making on issues that affect them. In Cape Coast for instance citizens are pushing for the prosecution of some corrupt officials. In Bolgatanga, citizens are ensuring that bad roads are fixed in the community. At Offinso, there is the formation of SPEFA monitoring group ensuring that stalled projects are completed.