Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Constituency briefing/town hall meetings: The need for citizens participation BY PRISCILLA CHRISTOPHER

Due to its strategic role of lawmaking and ensuring through its oversight functions that laws made are implemented for the well being of the society, the legislature has been widely reputed as the fulcrum of democracy. Being the second arm of government after the executive, the legislature strives to make good governance possible by checking the excessive abuse of power by the executive, and by so doing, complements the judiciary arm of government.

To ensure effective representation however, those elected to serve as legislators are expected to offer selfless service to the electorate who elected them and this can only be achieved through regular interaction with the constituents through constituency visits and briefings to ascertain their needs and expectation with a view of galvanizing ideas for qualitative and purposeful legislative business. 

This forum which provides a platform for the legislature to share their experiences, hear from the constituent and get feedback on the best way to serve those who voted them to power is worth commending, hence, the ongoing constituency briefings holding at town halls provides our representatives the opportunity of presenting score cards of their achievement from the time they were elected till date. It has been observed however sadly that some viable electorate have chosen to exonerate themselves from the briefings as a result of personal grievances against representatives while some are afraid of being lynched or assaulted by armed men posing as crowd control unit boys. 

In democratic societies, governments, including legislature routinely consult, interact and exchange views and information with the public to enable citizens express their preferences and provide their support for decision that affects their live and livelihood. Hence, the essence of the ongoing constituency briefing is to know how well citizens have been inducted into the governance of their constituencies. 

While elections are the most common mechanism linking citizen and their governments, that are occasional and citizen participation is generally limited to casting a vote. Whereas, the constituency briefing give the electorate a platform to have their views and concerns heard in the policy making process. 

It is a fact that dealing with elected representatives on an on-going basis strengthens the relationship between legislators and constituents, and increase the possibility of legislators acting on behalf of the people and allowing effective member constituent relationship contribute to democracy by strengthening the people’s connection to their government and providing ‘real life’ assignment of how government programmes are actually working on the ground.

Much as the legislature is accessible to all citizens, making it easier for constituents to learn what their representatives are doing and why they are doing them, the ongoing constituency briefing has so far revealed that not all representatives are worthy of the mandate bequeath on them.
An effective legislature represents constituents, influences law and policy making, and acts as a constraint on executive power by exercising a degree of oversight whereby, constituents can go about, assured that they have an advocate acting and speaking for them when government programmes adversely affect them.

Thus, electorates should not shy away from participating actively in the briefings or constituting nuisances to the progress thereof as this may impede or slow down the pace of the needed growth which would have generated from their contribution. As stated earlier, not all representatives are worthy of their calling and no one can better tell this than their constituents. 
Unarguably, member constituent relations can provide local content and human context to decisions as well as ways in which constituents can measure legislators’ performances and access government’s actions. It is therefore advised that citizens should work in collaboration with their representatives to ensure the effectiveness of democracy 

No matter the wrongs or oddity committed by these representatives, they remain legal advocates for local interest when making polices. While national leaders often speak in the abstract above the “people”, legislators see constituents as people from a specific place, from which they can learn how government policies are working and whose support they value. 

One can only but wishes that the essence of the briefings which is to access the present administrations performance in the last six years will be worth it. This is because of the overwhelming presence of sycophants in each of the visited constituencies. That notwithstanding, citizens should endeavour to tell the truth which would help to steer the governance of the state to its expected destination. This way, methinks governance would indeed be more participatory and not one- sided as it is today.       

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