September 23, 2014

Sierra Leone: The Six Challenge Questions

map-sierra-leone-051408Challenge One

Background: Corruption deprives citizens their equal claim to the benefits from the resources of the country. While corruption impacts all citizens there seems to be lack of interest in corruption cases after the initial charge and arraignment of suspects. With a slow justice system, news reports of corruption cases lose steam and journalists and the general public quickly move on to other news.

 

Challenge: Can we build a tool that sustains public interest in corruption cases from arraignment to conclusion of cases? How can citizens track the status of each case? When is the next adjournment/resumption date? Can a searchable database of all on-going corruption trials be built that tracks what assets the anti-corruption agency recovered from corruption cases, what property/asset the accused forfeited etc.?

 

Potential Option: Building a one-stop portal that provides access to corruption cases by the Police and Anti-Corruption Commission which includes at least the status of case, date of adjournments, sentences, issues, assets recovered by anti-corruption and law enforcement agencies.

 

Challenge Two

Background: In October 2013, Sierra Leone passed the Access to Information Act. It takes some resources to send an FOI request to a government Ministry, Department and Agency. It also takes considerable resources on the part of the government to prepare and send out a response. In some cases, several requests are made on same issue, requiring them to respond to each one of them.

 Challenge: Can we build a one-stop platform to showcase the new Access to Information Act which can help citizens, journalists, CSOs and government officials understand what the new law means?  Can we create an easy to use template for creating requests and build the bones of a catalogue of all FOI requests and responses (date, status, response)? Can we archive responses? Can it allow them to state if the response was satisfactory or not? Will the platform require users to register their profile before putting up anything? Can the platform allow for categorisation of the requests and responses? Will there be an administrator for the platform to answer questions and comments from the public?

Potential option: Can we build a platform that increases understanding of the act, curates FOI requests, responses and also states challenges of requesting for information from government ministries, departments and agencies?

 

Challenge Three

Background: A vibrant, active, accountable and effective civil society sector is essential for a functioning democracy.  Sometimes civil society can be viewed as fragmented, hostile and unable to work together to solve perennial problems in Sierra Leone. In the absence of credible organizations or as an effort to subvert civil society some government institutions may create civil society organizations that might subvert the integrity of the sector.

Challenge: A challenge to build a database/directory of civil society in Sierra Leone with indices on focus areas, management as well as a discussion board to build synergy.

 Potential Option: A website that uses data on the civil society sector to curates information by civil society groups in Sierra Leone with potential to understand their challenges and also build synergy for donor support and institutional engagement.

 

Challenge Four

Background: The Sierra Leone Police has numerous issues that civil society believes inhibits its full performance. This includes poor remuneration, divisive recruitment process and others. Citizens of Sierra Leone have a mixed impression of the Police. The Police also admits it has challenges in areas of funding and perception by the public.

Challenge: A challenge to build a platform where citizens discuss the challenge of the Sierra Leone police and also curate their experience with them.  Could we create a platform for complaint, commendation and suggestion of improvement that is directly linked to the Police command structure and promotes reform and action?

 

Potential Option: A platform with a closed feedback loop that engages the citizens and the Sierra Leone Police. This is an independent platform for citizens to commend or report abuses and also sensitize citizens on the rights in the justice sector.

 

Challenge Five

Background: Although Sierra Leone scored a 34 out of 100 on the Budget Transparency Index one key failing is low citizen understanding of the budget and low citizen engagement in holding political leaders accountable.  Sierra Leone citizens need to have a core understanding of the national budget with a better simplified approach using infographics and interactive applications. CSOs need more timely, useful and accurate information about the budget and spending to inform their advocacy work.  Mobile apps and messaging platforms are also a possibility in making sure citizens have an understanding of how government spends, saves or borrows money.

 

Challenge: The challenge is to think which kind of platform will make the budget more understandable for most citizens in Sierra Leone. How could we create a ‘Citizens Budget’ accessible to all?  How will they be able to understand the budget and share their thoughts? What sectors in the budget will be most important to the citizens? How can be relate that to them?

Potential Option: A platform that simplifies budget data for citizens encouraging accessibility, transparency and engagement in the budget process.

 

Challenge Six

 

Background: Government’s are judged by the quality of the services they provide to citizens.  Citizens are beginning to demand higher quality healthcare, education, public safety services and in return government is seeking to improve these services through a range of interventions.  Some services are funded through tax revenue while some agencies charge fees.  The payment of fees is one area, which is ripe for corrupt practices.  Citizens rarely know their rights to services and the mandated charge and because of this individual government employees can exploit weaknesses in the system.  As part of the Open Government Partnership National Action Plan the Government of Sierra Leone has pledged to develop service charters for all government agencies, which include the mandate, mission, service, requirements, timeline and user charges for all government services.

Challenge:  Can we build a tool that makes it easier for citizens to understand the range of services the government offers and the charges associated with these services?  Can we create a feedback mechanism to discuss the quality service charters?  How can citizens easily make sense of the charges, requirements for service, timeline?  Can we make information accessible via different channels?

Potential Option: Build a searchable database of all government service charters with the related information to the charter which is accessible to citizens and easily updated by different government agencies.