- Digging Roots of Mistrust between the Government and Citizens
Somaliland has come across challenges to achieve grassroots of development, functioning institutions and democratic governance. Lessons learned from different authorities over the last two decades highlighted the need for more efforts to improve quality of administration, effectiveness and efficiency of government and address major development constraints. Trust of citizens with the government deteriorated recent years. Current Kulmiye authority, spearheaded by Muse Bihi, faces critical challenges to improve value of government and trust among the government, citizens and international partners.
This paper proposes eleven major solutions to improve trust between government and citizens, good value of government and rapid economic growth, as well as to improve transparency, efficiency and effectiveness, enhance engagement of citizens, strengthen the rule of law, and fighting with corruption. It highlights challenges facing the newly elected government to achieve effective performance of public service delivery and sustained growth of economy and good governance.
Government of Somaliland (GoSL) has been growing from ashes since 1990s. During state collapse and civil wars, only the physical buildings and office blocks did not go below the dust but also social ethics, trust and integrity of government faded away. With the involvement of private institutions, Diaspora and few NGOs, some of the ruined houses were being reconstructed, but the disintegrated system of government and social norms still needed repatriation and rehabilitation. The disintegrated system of government came up unsatisfactory performance of public offices and discontent of professional ethics, whereas most of qualified professionals went away, retired or ignored. Roles of government in delivering public services; such as education, medicine, water and electricity, were taken by private businesses with unregulated profit seeking practises. Public value of government weighed down by clan structures, dominant of the dependence to private services, and generally culture of corruption and tribalism which have been breeding for decades. Discredit of government effected government service delivery and the relationships between government and citizens and provision of a legitimate environment for government and citizens to interact. Clan balance of government created bad governance and poor democratic fashion of government.
During years of hostility of former Somali government, trust of government amongst civilians went down – shaped turn upside down culture of post conflict society in a fragile environment where citizens lacked trust with the governments. Distrust of citizens raised with the perception, ”the government is corrupt and non-responsive to their needs”, and so trust of citizens to pay tax, sacrifice for public interests or take part and even invest their land corrupted.
Destitution of public services built up with differences of development across the regions of Somaliland and scaled up difficult to bridge the divide and disloyalty amongst clans and the government. Context of distrust instituted an opportunity for bad guys to mislead citizens with misinformation, erecting further blockade of mistrust, and it strengthened assurances between sub-clans and within sub-sub-clan structures and governance of traditional leaders alongside with government authorities.
Misuse of media further contributes to the mistrust between the GoSL and citizens. Lack of proper regulations and limited professions of journalists impaired power of government to track and control them. Growing mistrust of citizens add up to the obstacles of citizens to understand and adhere to policies and strategies of government. Government officials misuse local media in a defragmented and inconsistency manner. They deliver conflicting messages to the public which further aggravated mistrust of citizens because of the unreliable and rootless discourses.
Disharmony within government structures grounded mistrust of citizens due to poor or lack of: administrative and accountability regulations, public sector protocols, qualifications of staffs, performance monitoring procedures and limited capacity in service delivery.
Missing laws and contradiction of regulations, uncertainty of legal actions, unfinished acts and policies, overlapping and unclear mandates and job descriptions between and within individuals and institutions: all contributes to the disgrace of government. Understanding and Implementation of rules and regulation is the principal measures to achieve engagement of citizens.
Even though GoSL went to the positive direction of development in recent years, still, there is a need to enhance citizen orientation and start valuable communication of government to the public. If the GoSL did not establish active public orientation, the naysayers would inform citizens, benefiting the gap, and they may raise hysteria of the people to protest against developmental agenda of government as seen in Somaliland. Good examples of protests to development programs are mining and oil explorations attempts, UAE investments, Somaliland Development Fund (SDF) funded projects, local factories, and many more investment programs. There is a need to regulate media and communications of government to the public, as well as, roles of traditional leaders in governmental issues and politics.
Public orientation is an important pillar for nation’s building and it’s an effective strategy to transform citizens and empower them to adhere government’s policies, abide the law and support the developmental interventions. Similarly, Nelson and Wright (Nelson, 1995), emphasize the citizen orientation is a transformative tool for social change. Lack of effective public orientation is a major obstacle towards the implementation of rules, investments and development interventions in Somaliland. Citing former government of Somalia, public orientation program was exercised to inspire civilians to play transformative roles in the rapid economic growth in the early 1970s. If we stand the positive corner in that orientation program, it was just public awareness raising plan which successfully resulted national unity; once citizens were participating public development a rapid economic growth was achieved.
Number of professional experts consulted by government is another important foundation for good governance and leadership to do trust of citizens. GoSL used to establish outnumbered temporary committees with presidential decrees with the aim of seeking solutions for the crucial problems . For example, former president Silanyo appointed more than 20 committees. Outputs and effectiveness of those committees are challenged by lack of coordination, availability of time – as most of them were busy ministers – and limited resources, the level of technocrats involved and methods of research utilized. Additionally, GoSL uses to appoints fired ministers and failed government officials as advisors of the president regardless their competence and qualifications. All those measures of seeking advices lingered into fruitless in solving critical national issues. But, appointment of senior technical advisors for the president and top class technocrats with high intellectual capacity would improve good outcome of solving critical issues.
- Scholarly Proposals to GoSL to Engage Trust of Citizens
To attain trust of citizen, good value of government and rapid economic growth, newly elected government of Kulmiye should necessarily launch below scholarly proposals:
- Transparency and Effectiveness: GoSL should engage citizens, first, with improving elements of transparency and fairness, principles of effectiveness, identify citizen needs and responding to them. The value of government and trust of citizens can be enhanced through the effectiveness and efficiency of governments for delivering public services and strives of permanent development.
- Establish Thinking Tank Institute: To achieve good engagement between GoSL and citizens, I hereby propose to establish national Thinking Tank institute which will have mandate of policy formulation and public orientation. The institute would be established to enhance engagement of citizens with valid justifications and reports led by feasibility studies, research, proper designs, effective planning founded with legal documents. The institute would operate as “Think-Tank and Research Platform,” for the nation’s leading policy making and finding solutions for critical issues. The institute will engage experts to conduct research, produce publications and provide orientations on national policies and strategies in pursuant to abide the law and acceptance of citizens to the government agenda and development investments. The experts of the institute may bring in-depth and broader understanding of critical national issues and propose a sound and timely policies and actions for solutions.
- Establishment and Enforcement of Law: Trust of citizens can be achieved when law is above all. New elect president of Somaliland, Muse Bihi, campaigned with the slogan, ”Law should Above All”. The enabling environment, the policies, legislation, power relations and social norms, is the broader system in which GoSL should improve as it facilitates trust of citizens. Problems of national laws and legalities should be corrected, in so doing capacity of government institutions should be enhanced to establish, disseminate and harmonize regulatory frameworks and sectoral strategic directions to improve understanding of citizens to adhere laws and policies of GoSL.
- Integrity and Quality of Leadership: Clan balance within government did not foster citizen engagement. Participation of professionals and experts in government executive positions can foster performance of government and use sense of integrity to realize quality of being honest and having strong moral principles of public servants.
- Employment expertise and qualifications: Trust of citizens can be enhanced through uses of experts and qualified personnel. GoSL should appoint all executive and technical positions in compliance to their content of quality, qualifications and experiences in producing positive impacts for citizens.
- Regulation of traditional leaders: For the recent years, number of sultans and traditional chiefs increased. Many of the newly inaugurated ones were attracted by influence and power of prior ones in politics. GoSL should regulate roles of traditional leaders to avoid them spoil trust of citizens and get rid of them to be part of cartels of corruption and misuse of power.
- Inclusiveness and Public Participation: Government should engage citizens with effective public service delivery and equal resources sharing; participation of jobs and development programs which may reflect citizen consultation in decision making process; and responsiveness to their needs would improve trust of citizens.
- Zero Tolerance of Corruption: Fight against corruption is another great measure for GoSL to build trust of citizens, actually, its required to enlist and capture senior officials and elites with legal reinforcements and building abusive perception on corruption with examples of responding to scandals.
- Uses of Information Technology: Effective uses of information technology to generate rich sources of information for citizens, for example details of governmental projects, next plans and impacts of investment facilities, may build up trust of citizens. Provision access of Somaliland citizens to monitor government spending and uses public funds would extremely help building confidence in government. e-Government helps in achieving greater efficiency in government performance by informing citizens with information based on truth, proper researches or studies.
- Music and Somali Literature: GoSL should stimulate originality of Somali music by establishing and motivating music bands, poets, play writers like former Somalia music groups to take leading role in community awareness, restoration of Somali language and literature. GoSL should positively use media and exercise public relations with coproduction of other private TVs, joint publishing with newspapers and uses of participatory group media.
- Proper Uses of Social Media: Current number of internet using citizens is more than expected – spending time on the Internet has strong influence of understanding of citizens. For example social media became very popular during past years and thus GoSL should use actively to engage its citizens with proper information. For instant, civilians can be informed through media for the dissemination of laws and policies and it facilitates them to participate in policy formulation, planning legal documents and setting development programs as it may contribute to the trust of citizens. Social media can easily result good citizen participation and transparency, as per the case of social media practices in the United States research fraternity (Obama, 2009) with the pillars of “participation, transparency, and collaboration”; which social media is used to engage citizens on critical state issues.
Mohamed Farah Abdi (BS, MA)
M: +252 63 4422847 /634471307