One of the mantras of good governance according to the think tank, Centre for Policy Research, is taking government to the people and not the other way around. And it is with this in mind, that Prime Minister Persad Bissessar’s National Conversation initiative rose out of the desire to strengthen the government’s connection with the people and to hear their views.
Having an acute sense of how the population feels and driven by the imperative to be participatory in style, the prime minister has taken the initiative one full year before an election period. The Prime Minister believes, that a vision of the nation should bubble up from the people and not trickle down from leaders. This emphasizes centrality of citizen voice. It is a reaffirmation of the importance of civil society’s role in determining government priorities. Here the prime minister ought to be congratulated for being proactive and not slothful. In this regard, she cannot be faulted for neglecting to listen to the citizens. It starts firstly with dialogue between key stakeholders.
Alfred Stiglitz summarized this when he summarized that “voice, openness and transparency promote truly successful long-term development”. In the UK ,many stakeholders profess the view that communities and citizens should be centrally involved in programme planning whenever possible, because they are most likely to understand traditional knowledge and past practices. In other words, they know things.
Communities and citizens should be involved also, because they must ‘own’ the programmes if anticipated changes are to take root and operate on a sustainable basis. Communities and citizens themselves must operate not only as programme beneficiaries but also as programme partners.
On the ground this is difficult, but it is to the prime minister’s credit, that she has despite challenges, she is engaging in an exercise of political change; something that leaders in the past and even in the present are intimidated of.