USAID Encourages Governments To Be Accountable To Citizens

Published on 20 December 2013

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by Kathryn McConnell


Washington, D.C.

USAID-Funded Program Called The Sudanese Initiative For Constitution Making
USAID-Funded Program Called The Sudanese Initiative For Constitution Making

As part of its new approach to promoting democracy, human rights and good governance, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) wants to help government institutions and leaders become more accountable to their citizens and to the law.

“Accountability is achieved when citizens can ensure that public officials perform their duties and uphold their responsibilities within the spirit and letter of the law,” USAID Associate Administrator Mark Feierstein said December 17 at a forum at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.

Feierstein said accountability requires free and fair elections, transparent government operations, the rule of law “and an ethos of public service.” He said USAID’s new strategy seeks to involve media and watchdog groups, and reformers who work within state parliaments and judiciaries.

In June, USAID released its updated democracy, human rights and good governance strategy that reflects current challenges and opportunities. The strategy aims to prevent countries that moved toward democracy during the 1990s and early 2000s from “backsliding,” Feierstein said.

USAID will continue to help countries enable citizens to exercise their right to select and replace their leaders and to have periodic free and fair elections. Feierstein said USAID’s electoral assistance involves support for political parties, election administration, voter registration education, domestic and international election observers and media reporting.

“Elections are citizens’ ultimate check on governments’ senior officials,” he said.

USAID also will continue to support independent media by helping to develop investigative journalism and professional reporting. Radio programs on governance issues, for instance, are reaching millions of citizens every year, he said.

The agency also will continue to support independent judiciaries, legislatures and the rule of law, the USAID official said. In one country, USAID has supported an around-the-clock court dedicated to women who have suffered violence. “In an environment where judiciaries are often overburdened, often ineffective, this special court is providing effective assistance and justice,” Feierstein said.

Feierstein noted that in September USAID and other donors launched a global effort called Making All Voices Count. The initiative is designed to boost citizen engagement and government responsiveness through the use of mobile phone and Web technologies. The initiative has grown from eight founding governments to 62 today, he said.

“Citizens are now more connected to one another and finding more information than ever before,” said Sarah Mendelson, a leader in USAID’s Bureau of Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance. “This has the impact of essentially breaking down sovereignty in some places. Citizens are much more empowered, if threatening to governments, and that is driving in part a backlash,” she said at the forum.

Overall, Feierstein said, USAID seeks to leverage the influence that public-private partnerships can have on making public data accessible and empowering citizens to push for greater government responsiveness.

“We’re confident that with such tools we will be able to do our part to stem the current reverse wave and initiate a future fourth wave of democracy,” Feierstein said.

“With our new strategy, USAID [will] continue to act as a leader in the international community’s efforts to promote human rights and democratic governance for all peoples,” he said.



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Posted 2013-12-20 09:36:00