Opening Remarks by Mr. Musinga Bandora, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative at the NANGOF (civil society) forum on “Galvanizing Popular Participation in Elections”
Ensuring public engagement and public participation in public policy is a cornerstone of good governance. Promoting good governance is at the heart of what UNDP does as part of its development work around the world and indeed here in Namibia.
This is why I am happy that UNDP is supporting NANGOF in the establishment of this first of a series of dialogues that will be convened every year to provide a platform for citizen engagement and debate on various aspects of public policy.
UNDP believes that good governance must embody popular participation, transparency in public affairs, accountability of public institutions and individuals. Democracy must engender effectiveness of development response and promote citizen equity before the law and in access to national resources as well as to opportunity for development and self advancement.
Democracy must promote and strengthen the rule of law, ensure that political, social and economic priorities are based on broad consensus in society and that the voices of the poor and the vulnerable are heard and taken account of in decision-making -especially on resource allocation and utilization.
Governance encompasses the state, but it transcends the state to include the private sector and civil society organizations. I am therefore glad that this first forum has brought together stakeholders from government, the private sector and civil society including the academia and the general public.
UNDP also believes that democracy is the lever of good governance and the two reinforce each other. Democracy is more than just elections. Equally participation in election is more than just turning up to vote. Meaningful participation must imply breaking down standing barriers to enfranchisement, whether these are legal, political or socio-cultural. Participation needs an active civil society and a robust public opinion built on citizens’ access to information and education which are necessary to influence government policy.
Elections-both as a goal and process are central to democracy and to good governance. It is the exercise of political choice on how a society is governed, by whom, on what basis and for how long. And this is where public dialogues such as this one fit in. It is to inform, advocate and educate the public on elections and keep the debate on key public policy issues alive.
As we all know, we are a year away from the next national general elections. A lot is happening in terms of adjusting the laws and dealing with the mechanics of elections including demarcation of constituencies, preparing the voter’s roll, as well as on devising new methods of balloting. But what are the implications of these reforms to citizen participation and to democracy. How will they impact on the conduct and content of democratic elections in the country? How can citizen interest in the process of elections be strengthened or rekindled? These are some of the questions that citizens and certainly civil society should be asking and discussing. So far however, not much is being done by civil society to promote public interest in the elections or to engage citizens on the policy issues that should frame the debate on the forthcoming and indeed future elections. To say the least, the voices of civil society are quiet and this must reversed. Today we begin that process.
It is quite opportune that this dialogue is taking place just before the International Democracy Day falling on 15th September of every year. This is a day set aside by the United Nations General Assembly in 2007 to highlight the centrality of democracy in sustainable human development. Indeed the theme of this dialogue embodies fully the spirit of the International Democracy Day and I wish you a Happy Democracy Day in advance.
Let me now say a few words on UN partnership with civil society.
As the UN works with governments, it has increasingly seen the need to widen the circle of partnership and to involve civil society in what we do. It is with this background that UNDP has partnered with NANGOF and individual non-governmental organizations to foster strategic alliances.
The engagement is intrinsic to the core areas of UNDP’s work, which centers on the poverty reduction, building resilient democratic societies, and preventing crisis and enable recovery, protecting the environment, halting and reversing the impacts of HIV/AIDS, empowering women, and enhancing gender equality as well as fostering knowledge, innovation and capacity development. UNDP seeks to empower civil society because we believe it can contribute to building nations that are resilient and can sustain the kind of growth that improves the quality of life for all.
We have seen the distinct advantage of civil society participation and involvement in what the UN does in the country. Through this interaction, we have also come to realize that the UN partnership with civil society in Namibia has not been structured or fully harmonized. It does not have an institutional framework or mechanism. As a result, the participation and involvement of civil society especially in strategic thinking and determining direction and content of UN work in the country has not been optimal.
This is why we have been in consultation with NANGOF on a new way of doing business and creating an organizational mechanism to advise on and coordinate the partnership between the UN and civil society so as to ensure that the views and aspirations of civil society are taken into account when elaborating UN development support interventions. Such a mechanism would also advocate and champion the Millennium Development Goals as well as provide advice on capacity development for civil society organizations in the country. We hope to continue the conversation with NANGOF with a view to arriving at a consensus on such a partnership coordination mechanism.
Let me; in conclusion, thank NANGOF and especially Mr. Ivan Lombardt for the opportunity of partnership and for bringing us together at this dialogue. I also thank the main speaker and the respondents for volunteering their time and sharing their knowledge.
I thank all of you for coming and look forward to successful deliberations on such a timely topic of galvanizing citizen participation in elections.