By Stephanie Benedict
“Through communication between communities and government, the impact is simple yet profound.”
— Christopher Krafft, Deputy Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy Zambia
The goal of social accountability is to ensure informed citizens hold their governments accountable for delivering quality social services, including healthcare and education. Building social accountability is key to upholding the rights of Zambian citizens, two-thirds of whom still live in poverty, in this relatively young democracy.
In this spirit of cooperation, 200 people gathered in Lusaka, Zambia on September 12th-13th for the first-ever Zambia Social Accountability Symposium. Co-sponsored by the USAID-funded Counterpart Fostering Accountability and Transparency (FACT) program and the UK DFID Zambia Accountability Program (ZAP), the symposium sought to connect both government and citizens in order to enhance citizen participation in public service delivery.
“Just in time”
Launched in June, Zambia’s five-year 7th National Development Plan (7NDP) formally recognizes that citizen engagement is critical to the improvement of public services.
The 7NDP informs the Zambian government’s current annual national budgeting process for 2018. The symposium came “just in time,” according to one #SASZambia participant, for the government to translate words into action and commit resources to effectively provide services for Zambian citizens.
Key government officials participate
The Government of Zambia seized the opportunity presented by the symposium to demonstrate how it will prioritize citizen engagement. National Development Planning Permanent Secretary Chola Chabala participated in the symposium on behalf of Minister of National Development Lucky Mulusa – the top official responsible for implementing the 7NDP.
“Social accountability will strengthen and increase citizen participation in strategic areas in the Seventh National Development Plan,” affirmed Minister Mulusa in a statement delivered by Secretary Chabala. “The Ministry will continue to ensure that there is social accountability in the process of development as a way of promoting citizen participation,” Mulusa added.
Notably, seven members of Zambia’s Parliament participated in the symposium. One Member of Parliament (MP), Mwalimu Sinfukwe, challenged civil society organizations (CSOs) “to engage MPs and take advantage of the planning and budget bill.”
“The exciting thing for me was to see the range of stakeholders in the room,” said Clive Bacon, Chief of Party for FACT. Representatives from government, including seven Members of Parliament, councilors, and district-level civil servants gathered together at #SASZambia to meet with members of community organizations.
“There’s a commitment to join forces in creating an enabling environment for Zambian citizens to regularly participate in the decisions that determine how services such as healthcare and education affect their lives,” confirmed Bacon. “This is what social accountability is all about – bringing together diverse groups of people and finding solutions so that public services can be improved.”
Moving forward together
“It’s been a very informative forum,” said Bayo Akindeinde, Director of the Zambia Accountability Program (ZAP). “The question is, what happens next?”
To answer that question, a group of 10-12 civil society organizations represented at the symposium have organized the Zambia Social Accountability Network (SAN). The SAN aims to serve as the central channel for delivering the views and expectations of Zambian citizens to their representative government. The SAN is currently meeting to develop a Social Accountability Communique to propose, among other recommendations:
- Holding provincial meetings to engage more people, including traditional chiefs, in the social accountability movement;
- Building a formal coalition of Zambian CSOs to work with all levels of the government;
- Operationalizing the 7NDP’s goals for citizen engagement; and,
- Developing performance indicators to track the country’s progress toward social accountability.
All together, the Social Accountability Communique is shaping up to be a seminal outcome of the first Social Accountability Symposium in Zambia – a visionary call for ongoing citizen-government partnerships.