A SCHOOL OF thought says politics and governance are for politicians and technocrats only. Politicians and technocrats are there to do the difficult work of developing and managing the state.
Another school of thought says politicians and technocrats are not the only ones who should govern the state. Instead, citizens have an active role as partners of government.
Social accountability is based on the idea that citizens are essential partners in governance, specifically in ensuring responsiveness, transparency, and accountability in the use of government resources and the fulfillment of government functions.
In the social accountability concept, citizens should determine how public resources are used. There are, however, questions to consider: Up to which level can government documents be opened for public scrutiny? Up to which point can citizens participate in managing public finance?
Among the young, there is a similar debate. One side argues that the main role of young people is to study and leave the affairs of government to adults. Focusing on studies is part of the preparation for adulthood, at which time the young will be ready to take over governance.
The other argument is that studying does not mean the four corners of the classroom only. Participation in the governance process while young is part of how to mold young minds.
But are young people ready to participate meaningfully in governance? Are they interested? Do they have the capacity to engage with government? Is the environment open and conducive for their participation? In other words, can youth handle social accountability?
Citizen Participation and Social Accountability
Citizen participation and civic engagement are often used interchangeably. We, however, can still tell one from the other, in terms of objectives and concerns. Participation is seen both as a means and an end, and is broadly defined as a process wherein stakeholders influence and share control over development initiatives, and the decisions and resources that affect them (World Bank 1996).
Participation is a process, not an event that closely involves people in the economic, social, cultural and political processes that affect their lives (UNDP 1993). Freire (1970), on the other hand, views participation as a process that politically educates citizens in the art of governance, and the pursuit of rights and civic roles.
The case for citizen participation in development transformation has substantially been argued (Malik and Wagle 2002; Stiglitz 1998). Participation contributes to the effectiveness and sustainability of development outcomes by encouraging information-driven efficiency, ownership, transparency and accountability, and constructive partnerships (Uphoff et al. 1979; World Bank, 1996; Malik and Wagle, 2002).
Beyond the instrumental roles in ensuring better decisions and sounder implementation, participation is also seen as a social good that deepens democracy. By giving citizens an opportunity to shape governance and exercise power, participation complements the system of electoral competition that may fail to meet the needs of citizens (Agrawal, 1999).
On the other hand, Malik and Wagle (2002) define the scope of civic engagement by characterizing it as a continuum spanning information-sharing to empowerment. Following Edgerton et al. (2000), this continuum can begin with:
(a) a one-way flow of information to the public in the form of, say, media broadcasts or dissemination of decisions; and on to;
(b) bi- or multilateral consultation between and among coordinators of the process and the public in the form of participatory assessments, interviews and field visits;
(c) collaboration, encompassing joint work and shared decision-making, between the coordinators and the stakeholders; and
(d) empowerment, where the decision-making powers and resources are transferred to civic organizations.
Hirschman (1972) also highlighted the concept of “exit” contrasting the issue of voice, or the capacity to influence policy and debate within an institution, with the capacity of the group to get what it wants by choosing a specific institution or switching to another. It also extends to the people’s choice to express dissatisfaction with an institution or process by ignoring or moving away from it rather that necessarily working from within.
Korten (1998) frames civic engagement as an issue in governance, stating that, “if sovereignty resides ultimately in the citizenry, their engagement is about the right to define public good, to determine the policies by which they seek that good, and to reform or replace those institutions that no longer serve”. Malik and Wagle (2002) point out that participation is based on the premise that people have the urge as well as the right to be part of events and process that shape their lives.
The virtues of participation, however, are not fully appreciated. Concerns often are raised about the drawbacks of participatory processes: costs, time and management (high transaction costs); risks of elite capture; the possibility of instability; and legitimate representation. In addition, Brinkerhoff and Goldsmith (2000) suggest that participatory processes may also result in policy stalemates and unrealistic expectations on the part of those involve.
Social accountability follows from the proposition that citizens or citizen groups are necessary partners in the governance process, specifically in ensuring responsiveness, transparency and accountability in the use of government resources and the fulfillment of its functions.
Social accountability (SAc) refers to the constructive engagement of citizens’ group in monitoring public resources toward better service delivery, protection and promotion of people’s rights and welfare. Two forces drive SAc: citizen groups (the direct beneficiaries of public services) and government (which provides the space for citizen in monitoring public resources). The process of SAc generally involves:
- Gathering information about government programs;
- Analyzing this information; and
- Using this information judiciously to directly engage with public officials and service providers and demand that they serve the public interest fairly, effectively and efficiently.
Examples of SAc initiatives include participatory public policy-making, participatory planning and budgeting, budget monitoring, procurement monitoring and preparing citizen report cards or community report cards on access to and quality of public services.
Social accountability is also referred to as the demand-side for good governance (Malena, 2008). It complements the supply-side or internal accountability mechanisms that are already in place, like ombudsman and internal audit. It also refers to mechanisms and processes to hold government officials or politicians accountable for their actions and use of public resources in-between elections.
Social Accountability Initiatives
The process of social accountability is built on trust—no constructive engagement between the two stakeholders can take place without it. Aside from trust, social accountability requires four basic elements or pillars which are: (1) organized and capable citizen groups; (2) government openness; (3) access to information; and (4) context and cultural appropriateness. These basic elements are best illustrated in the experiences of the Concerned Citizens of Abra for Good Governance (CCAGG) and Government Watch (G-Watch).
In Abra—a province in the northern region of the Philippines—CCAGG engages the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) in ensuring reasonably priced and quality public infrastructure. CCAGG trains their fellow citizens to monitor the construction of roads and bridges to check if the agreed standards are met.
When they complain about government services and suspect that there is fault, they are backed up with information and evidence. As they work in partnership with the government, they first present their reports to them whom they expect would make the necessary action. If they see no action from the part of government within a reasonable period of time, they provide the information to media or present them to the general public.
The organization has mastered the critical mass of equipped and capable citizens to engage their government. Engineers, as well as other professionals, volunteer to share their expertise to the community. Universities and colleges also encourage their students to train and volunteer for CCAGG. From the student volunteers, CCAGG draws its new line of trainers and facilitators.
Pura Sumangil, the chairperson of CCAGG, explains the focus of their work: “Roads and bridges are emotional issues for citizens in Abra, a mainly agricultural province bounded by mountains and rivers.” She adds that, “children have to walk for several kilometers and cross rivers to school. Farmers have to transport their produce from the mountains to the town centers.”
“Our lives are highly dependent on the reach and quality of our roads” (interview, 2009). Thus, the citizens of Abra take it as their task to ensure the quality of roads and bridges that the government builds. The work of CCAGG has been replicated little by little in other provinces in the country.
Government Watch (G-Watch) also applies social accountability in the procurement and delivery of books of the Department of Education (DepEd). G-Watch initially conducted a study on the procurement of books by the DepEd. In the said study, they found out that while the budget for books was sufficient, schools either still lacked books or had no books delivered to them. Overpricing and the dismal quality of books were also recorded.
With the biggest bureaucracy, DepEd, then, was perceived as one of the most corrupt government agencies. That the agency in-charge of the country’s education was perceived as one of the most corrupt caused national alarm. This reputation did not sit well with reform-oriented officials in DepEd, which prompted them, along with G-Watch, to initiate the Textbook Count Project.
With very huge tasks at hand, G-Watch has partnered with different organizations such as student organizations, the Scouts and the PTAs, and trained them to monitor the procurement of books. G-Watch, in addition, has developed a number of procurement monitoring modules which students and parents could use.
To expand its reach and sustain its work, G-Watch trained several student leaders on capacity-building and actual monitoring work. DepEd officials explained the procurement process and provided access to information like bidding processes, as well as procurement and delivery schedules. Volunteers, together with DepEd representatives, were deployed to bidding processes and publishing houses of winning bidders. A procurement monitoring form was developed which both the government inspector and citizen monitor are supposed to sign.
Years of constructive engagement between citizen groups and DepEd finally paid off: with the same budget, 1:1 book to student ratio was achieved; books were being purchased at half the price and in half the usual period; and the DepEd became one of the most trusted government agencies.
In both stories of CCAGG and G-Watch, young people served as the monitors of construction of roads and bridges and procurement of books. These stories are instinctive of the relationship between youth and social accountability. Young people and social accountability initiatives have mutual needs for each other. Social accountability, on one hand, provides the frame and opportunity for young people to participate in governance. On the other hand, young people provide the necessary human resources, new ideas and energies, for undertaking social accountability initiatives.
Social Accountability as a Frame for Youth Participation
There are many definitions for youth or young people; and the age range varies as well. The United Nations, for purposes of statistics, defines youth or young people as persons belonging to the age range of 15-24 years old.
Many countries also draw a line on youth at the age at which a person is given equal treatment under the law—often referred to as the "age of majority’. This age is often 18 in many countries, and once a person passes this age, they are considered to be an adult.
However, the operational definition and nuances of the term ‘youth’ often vary from country to country, depending on the specific socio-cultural, institutional, economic and political factors (United Nations definition for “youth”, see http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unyin//qanda.htm ).
Below are other definitions for youth.
"Youth" is the critical period in a person’s growth and development from the onset of adolescence towards the peak of mature, self-reliant and responsible adulthood comprising the considerable sector of the population from the age of fifteen (15) to thirty (30) years.
Source: Republic Act 8044: Youth in Nation Building Act, Republic of the Philippines
Youth is not a time of life; it is a state of mind; it is not a matter of rosy cheeks, red lips and supple knees; it is a matter of the will, a quality of the imagination, a vigor of the emotions; it is the freshness of the deep springs of life.
Youth means a temperamental predominance of courage over timidity of the appetite, for adventure over the love of ease. This often exists in a man of sixty more than a boy of twenty. Nobody grows old merely by a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals.
Source: “Youth” (1934) by Samuel Ullman (1840 -1924).
Youth or young people undergo five life transitions: (i) continuing education beyond primary-school age, (ii) going to work for the first time, (iii) growing up healthy, (iv) getting into relationships and forming families, and (v) exercising citizenship, i.e. paying income taxes, having legal rights like voting, getting a driver’s license.
Source: Adopted from World Development Report 2007, World Bank, 2006.
These definitions highlight important aspects, definition and characters that, taken together, provide a better understanding of young people. Youth is a critical period for growth and development. Youth is a matter of ideas, ideals, and disposition. Youth is a transitory stage.
Since young people are at their critical period of growth and development, necessary interventions should be in place in order for them to realize their full potentials.
As early as 1965, the Member States of the United Nations have recognized that, “the imagination, ideals and energies of young men and women are vital for the continuing development of the societies in which they live” (UN Declaration). Then, in 1985, the UN General Assembly declared 1985 as the International Youth Year, with the theme, “Participation, Development, Peace”.
In 1995, during the 10th Anniversary of International Youth Year, the UN launched the World Programme of Action for Youth to the Year 2000 and Beyond—a policy framework for national action and international support to improve the situation of the youth. This further reaffirmed the said body’s commitment to young people.
Youth participation, as a subset of citizen participation, has both advantages and drawbacks. But for young people, being in a critical formation period, participation is practical integration to citizenship and understanding democracy and democratic processes. Young people can be considered as “new borns” or learning citizens.
It is at this age that young people actually perform certain social roles, like getting a driver’s license, getting employed and paying income taxes, and for the very first time exercising their right to vote. As such, participation presents the opportunity for appreciating democracy, governance, responsibility, ownership and belongingness. Youth participation, in the words of Freire, can be seen as a process of political education or integration. Specifically, GTZ (2008) highlights the following points on youth participation:
- Political participation in adulthood is largely determined by participation in youth. Young people who learn early to deal with democratic values later, as active citizens, contribute in building more stable and peaceful countries.
- Young people also provide fresh ideas and enthusiasm, providing critique for conventional ways of thinking and creating new perspectives on decision making.
- Youth participation on issues concerning them improves the effectiveness and sustainability of development program.
- Young people develop ownership of programs and take responsibility.
When young people directly pay their taxes or cast their ballots for a government official, they are most open, exposed and conscious of their role and right to exact accountability from their governments, to inquire where their taxes go, and to demand better basic services. Social accountability provides that frame of engagement for young people.
Youth as Force for Social Accountability
Because of their sheer numbers, young people are major stakeholders in developing countries. Eighty-five percent of the world’s young population is concentrated in developing countries—sixty percent of which is found in Asia alone (World Development Report, 2006).
According to the World Development Report, this large number of young people provides both great potentials as well as risks. The potentials lie in harnessing this big numbers of young people as human capital for fast-tracking the development of their countries. The Demographic Windows of Opportunity is open for most of developing countries according to the same report.
The risks, on the other hand, are due to the challenges facing young people in most developing countries such as: low access and quality of education, unemployment, among many others. If these are not addressed within the time frame calculated in the demographic windows of opportunity, much human capital is wasted. More than economic stagnation and extreme poverty await the future of these young people and their country.
A statement released by the World Bank during the launching of the World Development Report 2007, warns that the “failure to seize this opportunity to train them more effectively for the workplace, and to be active citizens, could lead to widespread disillusionment and social tensions” (see http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/NEWS/0,,contentMDK:21049364~pagePK:64257043~piPK:437376~theSitePK:4607,00.html). There is definite cause for alarm since such situation has already happened and is happening in many parts of the world.
In another Report of WB EAP, it stated that, “the failure of the labor market to absorb them exposes them to numerous risks, including organized crime and violence and civil unrest, evidence by youth involvement in the tensions and militaristic violence that rocked the Solomon Islands from 1998 to 2006; and Timor-Leste in 2006” (see http://go.worldbank.org/4VR9F3X9P0).
As education and employment are primary concerns among young people, they want to ensure that enough government resources are allocated for these services and that it reaches them.
There are a number of examples of of youth participation in social accountability initiatives, such as CCAGG and G-Watch. In addition, different groups of young people in Cambodia, Indonesia, Mongolia and the Philippines have taken on the task of monitoring government resources for youth and ensuring youth policies and programs are in place.
In the Philippines, youth voters are using the promises of politicians to make them accountable to young people once in power. Using information such as election promises and platforms for youth, youth groups have adopted citizen report cards to grade the platforms and performance of politicians.
Indonesian youth and student organizations, on the other hand, are known for their activism as seen in many street demonstrations demanding an increase in the state’s subsidy for education. To further improve their lobbying efforts, youth groups in Indonesia are now looking into the youth and education budget as well as the budgeting process.
Coming from autocratic rule, Cambodia and Mongolia are just beginning to realize the blessings of democracy. This opening is being explored by young people, as well as other citizen groups. In Cambodia for example, several national youth organizations formed a coalition to collectively engage the government in the crafting of a national youth policy. Because of this engagement, government officials have expressed pride over the fact that young people are very active in drafting the policy, while young people have noted that government officials were also approachable.
At the local level, another youth group piloted the monitoring of several basic services. However, youth monitors had difficulty in accessing information and got reprimanded by local government officials, saying that the information they are requesting are for government’s use only.
In Mongolia, several youth organizations have also come together to raise awareness on human rights and civic participation. Since these are largely unfamiliar and unattractive topics for young people, these organizations used youthful approaches, until they finally got the attention, not only of young people, but also of government officials.
They also provide training for young people so that they mobilize other youth who can constructively engage with the government on the issue of resources for public universities.
In varying degrees, young people in these countries are expected to take the role of monitors and “conscience” of government vis-à-vis its policies and programs. Young people also see themselves as partners of government in development.
Factors Affecting Youth Participation
The participation of young people in social accountability initiatives also face several challenges. Among their peers, they are confronted with questions about the significance and impact of their projects. They also have difficulty accessing public information, and were often dismissed or brushed aside by adults.
Youth participation is affected by several factors. These can range from access to information, technical capacities for participation, absence of mechanisms for youth involvement, cultural or historical restrictions on young people, and disempowerment or apathy. These factors can be grouped as either internal or external, from the point of view of young people.
Access to information and opportunities, absence or lack of mechanisms for youth participation and cultural or historical restrictions on young people can be considered as external factors. On the other hand, lack of motivation, disempowerment or apathy and technical capabilities to engage can be considered as internal factors.
Internal Factors: Youth Apathy and Lack of Capacity
Youth apathy refers to the widespread disillusionment and/or disempowerment among young people is commonly called youth apathy. While apathy can be observed even among adults, particularly in developing countries, apathy among young people has caught much debate because of the virtues attributed to the young. Young people are regarded as idealistic, passionate, and to a certain extent rebellious.
Apathy is the direct opposite of these values. Young people are regarded as the “fair hope of the motherland’, or “ bamboo shoots to replace old bamboo.” Thus, having apathetic young people means a bleak future for a country. Furthermore, young people’s disposition toward citizenship tends to be durable, and participating early in life is a good indicator of ability and willingness to engage in the future (World Development Report, 2007).
The existence of youth apathy is also contested. Some would say that labeling young people as apathetic is disempowering and is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If one labels young people as apathetic, then that person treats young people as such. Questions like, “Is the youth in general apathetic? What is the percentage of youth who are and who are not?,” are also quite common. These questions are difficult to answer since there are no scientific study that would yield such conclusions.
Young people, when asked, are also divided in the issue. What can be ascertained from some reports is that young people lack interest in politics because of the “failure” of governments to provide service or to become relevant to them. This is particularly true in poor countries where education and employment are the primary concerns of young people.
Young people have low trust among politicians since they perceive that most politicians are corrupt. Among young people it is a common sentiment that, “politicians only talk with them during elections” (ANSA-EAP Youth Consultation, 2010). But despite their distrust, young people still recognize the value of politicians and governments in shaping their lives. Thus, apathy can be considered as a form of “exit” as proposed by Hirschman (1972).
In Indonesia, one youth leader pointed out that “youth apathy” per se is not “apathy” or “state of indifference” or “lack of interest.” According to the said youth leader, “apathy” is a position taken by young people, a critique to the system. It means that young people understand the problem and concluded “things cannot be changed” (ANSA-EAP Youth Consultation, 2010). According to him, young people in Indonesia are not uninterested with their country’s concerns but are looking for the means to contribute to the solutions. This can also be the case in most developing countries.
On the other hand, youth apathy is also seen as the cause of this dismal condition of young people. Young people are not asserting their voice and their collective power to demand for better basic services or for electing better leaders. In this instance, youth apathy is the cause and not the result.
Is youth apathy a result of negligence by governments? Or are young people neglected because they do not engage with their governments? However one frames the question, increasing youth participation in governance remains the main goal. Showing that government can be responsive to their needs, and can be exacted accountability on the use of resources and power can adequately address apathy.
Young people know the importance of and have an interest in taking part in politics and governance. The question most young people are facing is how to take part in politics and how to make a difference. Taking part and seeing that things are not changing or are getting worst, both in the short- and long-terms, further frustrate young people and fuel apathy.
In all countries, young people have expressed their lack of skills and capabilities to directly and constructively engage their governments. Capability can be determined by: access to information, command over real resources, and the ability to process and act on the information (World Development Report, 2007). Though capability is considered as an internal factor, it is mostly shaped by external factors, such as having access to information and opportunities or resources, training and skills development.
Cultural restrictions and bad perceptions on youth and youth participation remains a main hindrance in developing the capacity of young people. If young people are not taken seriously, then the result is lack or absence of opportunities to build their capacity. Furthermore, youth being a transitory stage, continuous organizing and training of new generation of young people is necessary.
External Factors: Access to Information and Opportunities, Mechanisms, Cultural Restrictions
Access to information and opportunities is a prerequisite for participation. In developing countries, the rural and urban divide in terms of access is very significant. Information can be accessed through formal and informal channels, e.g., schools, media including the internet respectively. Young people who want to study in college have to migrate to urban centers, the capital cities like Phnom Penh, Jakarta, Ulaanbaatar, or Metro Manila.
While there are provincial educational hubs, they have limited slots and courses. Young people have more access to information and opportunities in urban centers. While mass media and the internet have democratized access to information in rural areas, opportunities are still more concentrated in urban areas.
Aside from studying, young people are also expected to help out in the finances of the family by taking part-time jobs. Youth from less affluent families have to contend with studying and part-time jobs. Participation entails direct and indirect costs, such as transportation and less time for work.
In Indonesia and the Philippines, youth participation is something engrained in their history. A quick review of history would reveal how young people participated in the Youth Oath (1928) and Reformasi movement (1998) in Indonesia, and in the Katipunan (1896), the People Power 1 & 2 (1986 and 2001) in the Philippines. As such youth participation is enshrined in the Constitutions of these two countries.
In the four countries, the Philippines is advanced in terms of laws and mechanisms for youth participation. It has enacted the Youth and Nation Building Act of 1994 or Republic Act (RA) 8044 which created the National Youth Commission (NYC) and has established a national comprehensive and coordinated program for youth development.
Village Youth Councils or Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) have also been established at the grassroots or village level by virtue of the Local Government Code of 1991 or Republic Act No. 7160. SK evolved from Kabataang Barangay (Village Youth) created by Presidential Degree (PD) 684 under the Marcos Administration. SK Officials are elected by the youth constituency at the village level and are federated up to the national level. Federation presidents serve as ex-officio members in their municipal, city or provincial councils and chair the Youth and Sports Committee.
Marginalized youth groups are also represented in anti-poverty policy-making processes through the National Anti-Poverty Commission Youth and Students Sector (NAPC YSS). The Youth and Students Sector is one of the 14 Basic Sectors which sit with their counterpart national agencies in tacking anti-poverty policies and programs of the government.
The Commission was created by virtue of the Social Reform and Poverty Alleviation Act of 1998 or Republic Act No. 8425. Aside from engagement in these mechanisms, young people are also organized in different socio-civic and political groups.
Indonesia has taken a similar step in adapting a comprehensive youth policy. In 2009, Act No. 40 was signed into law creating the National Youth Ministry. The Act intends to strengthen the position and opportunity for every citizen aged 16 (sixteen) to 30 (thirty) years to develop the his/her potential, capacity, self-actualization and ideals. In addition, it guarantees that youth activities will be legally protected. It also provides legal certainty for government and local governments to integrate youth service programs.
The Act includes the regulation of community youth participation, as well as granting of awards, funding and access to capital for entrepreneurial in a planned, integrated, focused and sustainable.
In Mongolia and Cambodia, similar legislations have been proposed but are still awaiting government action. A national youth policy is important to ensure the integration of youth issues and concerns with the overall national policy.
Cultural restrictions and the existing political environment are significant factors, especially in multi-cultural and political contexts. Cultural restrictions usually combine with legal or institutional mechanisms for youth participation. Cultural restrictions can be the cause of the absence or lack of institutional mechanisms. It can also result to the corruption or malfunctioning of these mechanisms. The case of the Sangguniang Kabataan in the Philippines is a good example.
After more than three decades of existence, the SK now faces calls for abolition since they are now seen as breeding grounds for corruption. The SK was originally conceptualized as training ground for youth on governance. However, these village youth councils have become an extension of dynastic and patronage politics pervasive in the country.
Youth officials are made to believe that getting a 10 percent commission from their projects are part of the S.O.P. or standard operating procedure. Usually, adult village officials would refuse to sign the release of the budget for their projects without the S.O.P. Adult officials also limit projects of young people to sports festivals, beauty pageants, and putting on street signage or markers.
Young people point out that the more educated adults are, the more open and appreciative they are for youth participation (ANSA-EAP Youth Consultation, 2010). In rural areas, there are fixed roles for young people, primarily obeying their parents and community adults and assisting them in their daily tasks. Young people are supposed to obey and not to question their elders. Young people are not taken seriously because they are “young”. The book Go! Young Progressives in Southeast Asia (2005), for instance, points out that:
…there are significant institutional and societal obstacles that prevent young people from contributing meaningfully in the political arena. Politics is seen as a domain for seasoned policy-makers and campaigners. Young people are, at best, dismissed as being too “inexperienced” to make meaningful contributions to politics; at the worst, senior officials brand them as “naïve.”There are overlaps between and among internal and external factors. However, there is more value in demarcating internal and external factors to further situate the problems facing youth participation and to provide a broader perspective in the interplay/relationship of these different factors. This demarcation further shows which challenges or limitations are faced by which stakeholder and how specific stakeholders should act to address specific problems.
For example, young people themselves have to find ways to address their apathy, while government and adults have to provide mechanisms for meaningful youth participation and capacity building. Together, young people and government can help address the information and opportunity gaps among rural and urban youth.
The case studies of different youth initiatives in social accountability show that while there are hindrances and challenges for youth participation, there are also ways for young people to manifest their interest and build on their capability.
Youth and social accountability are complementary. Social accountability provides a coherent frame for youth participation which is based on information, constructive engagement, and demanding accountability. These are necessary in the development and formation of young people’s ideas of citizenship and governance.
Participation through social accountability manages the demands and expectations among young people from their governments, thus preventing disillusionment or apathy. Social accountability requires new ideas and energies from young people to sustain and deepen its impact. Imparting the concept of social accountability among young people would guarantee the critical mass of citizens to constructively engaging their government.
Youth participation in a social accountability frame fundamentally requires that young people have the motivation or interest as well as the capacity and space to be part of processes that affect them.
Understanding and managing youth apathy, checking access to information and opportunities, building capabilities, and ensuring sound cultural and legal environment are big steps to take to forward youth participation. Young people, adults and governments have different roles and actions to take and to make.
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Following are stories of youth involvement in governance:
Cambodia: Youth Committee for Unity and Development (YCUD). The Youth Committee for Unity and Development (YCUD) is composed of different national youth organizations in Cambodia. YCUD works with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports in the development of a National Youth Policy (NYP) in Cambodia, while at the same time spreading awareness and consulting young Cambodians on the content of the NYP.
Several provincial youth forums and radio talks shows have been conducted to raise awareness of young people and raise inputs and questions on the draft NYP. A multi-stakeholder forum has also been called which was participated by different youth organizations and representatives from the concerned government agencies and officials from different Commune Councils.
Representatives from government agencies expressed their appreciation in the participation of different youth organizations in drafting the proposed NYP, while youth leaders realized that their government officials were willing to listen and take into consideration their proposals. Furthermore, a letter of cooperation sent by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports facilitated partnership with the local offices and conduct of provincial youth consultations.
Cambodia: Khmer Institute for National Development (KIND): Youth Monitoring of Local Public Service (YMLPS). Young people in Phnom Penh and Takeo Province in Cambodia put to practical application social accountability tools as they initiated monitoring of local public service at the commune/sangkat level.
After consulting with different stakeholders, commune officials and NGO practitioners, KIND developed a simple monitoring tool – a check list of several local public services like issuance of birth, marriage, identification card, and security service cards. The respondents included the service provider and the service recipients, which were asked on the quality of service provided and received.
Young monitors recognized the value of monitoring public services towards improving basic service deliver but felt that monitoring services is new to them, while some public officials felt averse towards being monitored and considered information requested as internal for their use.
Indonesia: Youth Budget Accountability. Budget for youth development, particularly education is lodged in 3 different ministries in Indonesia: Ministry of Education, Ministry of Youth and Sports, Ministry of Religion. How much the government is actually spending on education is difficult to ascertain giving this set up. Budgeting process is unclear and not transparent. These two situations are major hindrances in monitoring budget for youth development-education.
Meanwhile, Law No 25/2008 on Freedom of Public Information states that APBN (State Budget) is public fund, therefore it is accessible for public, and it is public’s right to understand total budget and implementation.
The Indonesia Youth Network for Social Accountability convened by Pattiro Institute will put to test the Freedom of Public Information law in drawing a baseline of youth and education related budget and a process flow of youth budget in the three youth-related agencies. While Indonesian youth are known for street demonstrations and constantly criticizing government, they will now take a leap and constructively engaged with concerned government agencies to learn more about youth and education budget.
Mongolia: Hands Up for Your Rights Campaign. Using fun, dynamic and participatory approaches, the Hands Up for Your Rights campaign in Mongolia attracted many young people in issues like human rights, gender justice and democracy. The campaign is jointly organized by Let’s Develop Club, National Network of Mongolia Women’s NGOs – MonFemNet, and Amnesty International- Mongolia.
Raising young people’s awareness on these issues, while encouraging youth participation and activism, is the primary goal of the campaign. With the use of media, music and arts, and popular groups and personalities among young people, the campaign did not only catch the interest of young people but the attention of the government. The campaign also launched youth TV and radio programs tackling topics like freedom, human rights, government budget process, youth participation, and sexual education.
Young people tapped in the campaign activities were formed in peer groups facilitated by a fellow youth. Youth leaders were also given advance training of civic participation, human rights, and advocacy.
While faced with low awareness and understanding on human rights, and youth participation, the campaign is slowly building young people’s attitude on civic participation and monitoring of public universities.
Philippines: Youth Report Card. Capitalizing on politician’s persistent pursuit of and election promises to youth voters, the Center for Youth Advocacy and Networking (CYAN) and the Bingawan Working Youth Federation (BWYG) adopted the citizen report card (CRC) to hold politicians accountable on their campaign promises.
The idea of a CRC is to mimic the private sector practice of collecting consumer feedback and applying it to the context of public goods and services. The surveys derive their name from the manner in which data is presented.
Just as a teacher scores a student’s performance on different subjects in a school report card, CRC data aggregates scores given by users for the quality and satisfaction with different services like health, education, police, etc...or scores on different performance criteria of a given service, such as availability, access, quality and reliability. The findings thus present a collective quantitative measure of overall satisfaction and quality of services over an array of indicators.
Together with the Student Council Alliance of the Philippines (SCAP) and the First Time Voter’s Network (FTV) and other youth groups, CYAN developed a Youth Report Card that assessed the 2010 Presidential Candidates on their platform and track-record on youth issues. CYAN started by developing a national youth agenda in 2007 that identified top issues among young people. Turning the youth agenda, specific questions on education, employment and youth participation that politicians then answered.
With these and collected youth platforms from politicians, a sample of young people gave ratings on the politicians. The result of the youth report card where later presented to politicians and media to help guide young voters in choosing a candidate.
Local politicians in the Municipality of Bingawan, Iloilo Province, are more conscious of their election promises since the BWYF initiated Pamangkutanon sa Banwa (PSB) or Citizen Query. BWYF records politicians election promises and present them to the electorate. Yearly, after elections, BWYF convenes citizen assemblies and presents the election promises of the winning candidate and his/her accomplishment so far.
The Citizen Query dubbed as “accountability, not lip service” resulted to electoral education, accountability and transparency in government. As elected officials regularly report on their accomplishment, adequate planning, budgeting, implementation and monitoring of government projects are ensured. Citizen Query has also been institutionalized through a local ordinance.
The writer is Coordinator of ANSA-EAP’s Youth Program. He is also Secretary General of the youth wing of Akbayan, a progressive national political party in the Philippines.