To create a culture of accountability and good governance, institution-building inside and outside government is key. In practice, this means that a governance program should target not just the local government officials who delivery public services, but the non-government organizations intending to keep them honest.
The Rivers State-based Mankind Foundation is a LEAD civil society partner for Okrika Local Government Area Council. They had worked in the area before, but never on a governance project.
“For us as an organization, we are beginning to build capacity in good governance,” Mrs. Iminabo Okafor, Director of Mankind Foundation, tells us in her office. “We are now able to identify gaps that government needs to fill and, also seek support from the community; there is always a need for that relationship. I hope that before LEAD is over we will be able to synergize this relationship to improve governance and sustainability.”
Along with the experience of working directly with government for the first time was seeing at close quarters how political instability influences long-term institution-building at the local level. Within the first two years of LEAD, Ekpa moved a post as Director of Procurement in Okrika Local Government to his current post in Akuku Toru.
“In the past year, we have had caretaker governance in the local government areas,” Okafor explains. “The career civil servants and technocrats are frequently transferred. No sooner has a new Local Government Chairman settled down, will he be transferred to another local government area, and it may not be another LEAD local government because it does not run throughout the state. This makes it hard to build relationships.”
When people pass through the system that quickly without any formal process, it makes institutionalizing difficult and allows citizens to be cut off from their local government.
“We never used to consult before preparing a budget,” Ekpa told us in an interview on his experience of the past year with the LEAD program. “The LG Chairman would call the Director of Works and talk about the budget, and they would put any amount they deem fit.”
Even with the challenges to good governance, civil society partners were empowered by the program to trained to administer trainings to local government officials. Okafor had the satisfaction of seeing the impact of the trainings she helped administer for local government officials firsthand.
“We did an assessment of the various departments in the council. They did not have an organized filing system, so we did a training on archiving where we were able to introduce modern filing techniques and hands-on practical equipment, we are even planning to take them on an exchange visit to a model local government that is doing well in that regard. Government staff members now have a better understanding of how to manage their correspondences in the council.”
LEAD has also improved auditing processes in participating local governments. This has helped improve internal processes while boosting capacity of individual government officials so much so that some have begun working at other levels of government.
I am proud to say that another impact of LEAD is that we started IPSAS before even the Federal Government and even Rivers State Government as a whole started,” Ekpa tells us proudly. “As a result of this IPSAS training, one of our staff is now a leading consultant to the Federal Government – not even just the state!”
But perhaps LEAD’s most impressive achievement is its bringing together communities and their governments to improve public service delivery.
“The Service Improvement Plan we worked on is not government on its own determining what a community needs, this time the whole community was involved. The community will say ‘this is our need’ and the local government will include it in their next annual budget. The community is now abreast with budgetary processes, which has never happened before.”
By improving internal mechanisms in governance structures at the local level and making governance more inclusive, LEAD has helped boost trust between government and the citizens. This is not any more obvious than in willingness of citizens to pay tax. Ekpa sees this improved relationship between government and citizens in his interactions with people in his community.
“People now believe that the government that is close to them. Now, they can pay their taxes without fear.”