Until recently, citizen participation in government decision-making was a rarity in Iraq. But thanks to a USAID project known as the Local Governance Program – Phase III (LGP III) – provincial leaders have started to recognize the benefits of dialogue with their constituents.
"We were neglecting citizens because we were busy working in our offices. But now we have regular meetings with them," said Babil Provincial Council Chairman Kadhum Majeed Toman.
LGP III supports Iraq’s new Provincial Powers Act, which helps local governments be more responsive to citizens’ needs. It supports dialogue with constituents, which has defused situations, rather than spark conflict, as provincial leaders once feared.
With skills gleaned from LGP III, Toman recently addressed demonstrators protesting the chronic lack of electricity in their municipality. He listened to grievances and invited protest leaders to join him and the governor in the council hall.
“Instead of sitting behind our desks, we now work in the community to solve citizens’ problems,” Toman said. “Today, our meetings are open for citizens to attend.”
Inviting protest leaders to discuss their complaints, Toman and the provincial council agreed to extend the local generator’s operation to 12 hours a day and to take non-essential government agencies and officials’ residences off the national electrical grid’s emergency line. That ensured power for essential facilities – hospitals, jails and the water department – and provided more electricity for citizens.
“This is the first time that I have felt that citizens have equal rights with government officials,” said tribal leader Sheikh Hassan. “Immediately after the demonstration and the government’s decision to revise the electricity cut-off program, the power supply improved for everybody.”
Hassan said he looks forward to more interaction with officials and additional improvements to benefit the Babil’s residents.
Last updated: June 15, 2012