Talk at UN
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Talk at UN

One of our participants in this round table insisted on participation of people at grassroots in governance. I want to build on that. I want to insist that we take steps to institutionalize people’s participation in governance.

We need to build structures for that. People are the ultimate stakeholders in governance. And they are very much interested to help improve governance if only they can. Without people being given scope to involve effectively in governance, no other measure will ensure good governance adequately and on sustained basis. This is especially so in developing countries where, for example, even well-meaning political leadership often ends up in corruption to keep getting the support of various power cliques even to ensure the political stability needed for creating conducive situations for growth transformation. But people feel powerless.

People, as mere individuals, feel helpless,lost, and unable to do anything to ameliorate the situations they face. Hence they back out and appear apathetic. They need structures of participation to make them feel that they matter. That their voice counts, that their participation counts. People don’t have at present such structures as would give them an adequate, effective and ongoing say. All that they have is the scope for a kind of a token voice to put a tick mark to choose between candidates over whose primary choice they don’t have say anyway.

People need structures or forums to come together and talk effectively. These forums have to be accessible to people. There have thus to be neighbourhood-based units of participation in governance.These units have necessarily to be small. The bigger a forum gets to be, the more the small voices get drowned, they go unattended. Then it all becomes a game of the big to the exploitation and manipulation of the small and the powerless. Hence these units should be face-to-face communities of, say, not more than forty families. They have also to be numerically uniform, territorially organized, inclusive communities that they could be the real voice of the people of the neighbourhood, the “neighbourhood parliaments” of people.Parliaments, to go by the Latin root, parlare, are just talking forums any way. These neighbourhood forums are to be well linked, well-federated at all levels, even up to the world level, that people have their mechanism, institution, to interact with governance powers,other stakeholders in governance, at all levels.

One of the ways we could effectively promote this would be to insist that the self-help groups of savings, credit and the like, that are being organized all over, be made into territory-based neighbourhood groups and then be promoted as neighbourhood units of participatory governance. We want to quote a success-experiment in this regard. The State of Kerela in India has more than 1,75,000 neighbourhood units organized and federated already up to the third level of federation.The same State had also a movement of planning by people, initiated by the State, where planning began at these well-defined, numerically-organized neighbourhood forums. Such forums were also used for experiments in monitoring by people, auditing by people etc.

One of our participants here spoke also about introducing good governance themes in school syllabus. We have a related interesting experiment in terms of neighbourhood parliaments of children. Children come together in the above-mentioned type of well-defined neighbourhoods, elect their own “ministers” and all, and take charge of their neighbourhoods. The above mentioned Kerela State, India, alone, to cite, has already thirty five thousand neighborhood parliaments of children federated at various levels up to that of the State.They had their meeting of the state parliament of children in the state assembly hall of Kerela. These children have also very many stories of successful interaction with the various other stakeholders in governance at various levels. Such experiments need to be replicated all over the world. The entire world must be organized into neighbourhood units of good governance federated at various levels.

We will do well to remember the neighbourhood is the first possible and viable level of participation in governance by people. If the very first step happens to be inaccessible, people have little chance of interacting with governance at any other level.

*Intervention by Edwin M. John, Neighbourhood Community Network, India, at Special High–level Meeting with The Breton Woods Institutions, the World Trade Organization and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development at United Nations Headquarters, New York on,16 April 2007. edwinmjohn@yahoo.co.in, ncnworld2000@yahoo.com