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During his Consultation mission to Tunis, Mr. Samuel Onwona, AfDB Resident Representative in Sierra Leone Office, expressed his happiness with expected positive outcomes of the forthcoming AfDB/Civil Societies consultations in Tunis.
Question: The Bank will on March 1, 2010 in Tunis hold a high-level consultation with over 30 African Civil Society Organizations, why are the Civil Societies important in Bank Group operations in the field ?
Answer: As you aware, the Bank’s development assistance via the public sector is usually targeted at the poor and vulnerable groups of society. Unfortunately, in most RMCs, this group usually lacks the necessary political clout. Public action is, therefore, needed to ensure they are not marginalized. The Civil Societies come in to fill this vacuum, not only to ensure equitable distribution of national income but more importantly, to offer the vulnerable poor opportunities for their engagement as economic agents who can contribute their fair share to the development agenda of RMCs and not remain a social burden looking for handouts to survive.
Question: Can you briefly outline some of your experiences with the Civil Societies in Sierra Leone?
Answer: Civil Societies are very well organized in Sierra Leone. Indeed there is no area of economic and/or social endeavor that they are not actively engaged in; health, education, agriculture, infrastructure, name it, they are there. The overall President of the network of Civil Societies has regular contact with the Bank, to learn more about our projects in the provinces, the targeted beneficiaries and anticipated results. He attends most launching ceremonies of development projects (of the Bank and other partners) to link up with project officials in order to conduct independent monitoring and evaluation missions and provide regular and timely feedback to line Ministries as necessary.
The preparation of the Joint Assistance Strategy JAS, (with the World Bank) involved very active participation with grassroot organizations and civil societies across the country. We started the JAS exercise with a high profile press conference involving key officials of line ministries, community leaders and representatives of civil societies. Thereafter, in course of the year, we visited village communities in four provinces to listen to the felt needs of the vulnerable poor in the targeted sectors of the JAS.
In addition, the Bank and the World Bank organized a joint seminar with Parliament to educate parliamentarians on the nature of our work and the link between portfolio performance, the CPIA ratings and the level of concessional resources that goes to RMCs under the ADF window. The parliamentarians and the President of the Civil Societies applauded both Banks for the highly educative presentation and agreed that we organize more regular sessions to apprise them of how well development projects are faring in the provinces they represent.
Apart from their role in development projects, civil societies in Sierra Leone are also quite vocal in public debates on socio-economic as well as political issues of the day. Thus, they play a major role via independent radio networks, in influencing public opinion on current affairs in the country. No doubt, without the freedom of speech that Sierra Leone enjoys, civil societies could not have played such a dominant role in the country.
Question: How can the Bank replicate such experience of Sierra Leone in other RMCs particularly in the Fragile States?
Answer: I believe the experience of Sierra Leone is very similar to what pertains in other field offices where the Bank has a presence. The challenge is how to deal with this issue in those RMCs where the Bank does not have a field presence. In such cases, the Bank has to rely on Task Managers and ERCU to help mobilize public action to support the vulnerable poor and give them space for active involvement in the design, monitoring and evaluation of development programs/projects targeted at them.
We can do this effectively by ensuring that the review process gives the requisite attention to project design that engenders greater participation of the vulnerable poor in the choice of appropriate technologies and alternative solutions to the problems they face on the ground.
However, in fragile states where press freedom cannot be taken for granted, the Bank needs to be careful to ensure that the civil societies they work with are not partisan but truly representative of the poor and vulnerable groups of society.
Question: What specific recommendations can you make as the Bank tries to mainstream Civil Societies Guidelines in its project cycle operations?