Holding the government accountable in times of crisis

Loise Akello Oct. 12, 2020

While engaging in practices to curb the spread of the virus, is the government being held accountable for the changes they are making during this period? SEMA is a social enterprise that aims to improve transparency and accountability of governments, by allowing citizens to evaluate public services.


Like an uninvited guest, the coronavirus pandemic hit the world. A lot of people’s daily activities have been put on hold, some have lost their jobs, and tried other business ventures just to find a way of supporting themselves during this pandemic. The government that is meant to look at the welfare of its citizens, came up with precautionary measures of protecting its citizens from the virus through putting in place the so-called ‘SOP’s (Standard Operating Procedures). Some government agencies have moved some of their activities online to ensure that citizens can still continue to access the services no matter the circumstances. But the question is: while engaging in all these practices to curb the spread of the virus, is the government being held accountable for the changes they are making during this period?

In this blog post, we will be sharing with you ways in which we have been holding the government accountable during this time of the pandemic.

Surveying on citizen's needs during lockdown

When a lockdown was implemented by the government in March 2020, there was a shift in how services are being delivered to citizens. In response to this we carried out a survey to find out which services citizens need mostly during the lockdown and how they want to access them. The survey was spread online within our networks in the areas of Kampala and Wakiso. We mostly used WhatsApp groups to get respondents, because we realised that most people in the city were engaging with each other on this platform compared to other social media platforms.

Give your voice to help public services in fighting coronavirus -www.talktosema.org / 0800 203062 (toll free)

Over 200 citizens were able to give their views on the services they needed during the lockdown and what they think should improve during this period. Citizens highlighted the need for health services, utilities and security during the lockdown.

Utilities (water and electricity) should be provided for free in order to help those who can't access them now because not everyone is working and earning to facilitate these services. Ambulances and Hospitals should give toll free lines to help in health issues and mostly mother's because given any situation ready to deliver women can't stop it, so this can help in that.”

These recommendations were shared with the COVID19 Task Force and relevant policy makers in the form of this report, to take into account citizen’s perspectives when developing the crisis policies.

Improvement of services through citizen's feedback

According to the results from the online survey, most citizens needed health services during the lockdown. To ensure that their voices are taken into consideration, we decided to start collecting citizen feedback at Kampala’s health centers. Through the use of feedback devices with smiley faces, as well as in-person surveys while following the SOPs, citizens were able to highlight the changes that they would like to see at the health center during COVID19. We have seen these health centers embrace our feedback tools and reports and use it in addressing some of the concerns that were raised by the citizens. As shared by one health care worker in Kampala:

These feedback reports are going to help me keep track of my performance and know which areas i should improve upon when working on the clients that visit this health center.”

Feedback matters! -www.talktosema.org / 0800 203062 (toll free)

Public policy decisions should always be made when considering the citizens interest. While gathering citizen feedback through WhatsApp groups and at health centres, we didn’t feel we were including the voices of leaders within government and civil society. In order to convene more ideas and perspectives, in July 2020 we brought together 22 civic leaders in an online dialogue. The aim was to discuss how to bridge the gap between citizens and the government to ensure improved service delivery in times of crisis. The civic leaders brought a lot of insight into this discussion and emphasised the need for citizen inclusion and information sharing during the crisis. The importance of following up on promises made and holding government leaders accountable was highlighted. Through these discussions, we have learnt that citizens are often willing to speak but sometimes lack the avenue to air out their concerns in a safe and secure environment. This poses a new challenge for human rights defenders and those who do air their concerns: how can we protect them better and provide a safe space for anyone to speak up?

Listening to citizens' views is like respecting their right to speak

Every citizen is a representative of a community: taking their views into consideration can help create change in the environment they live in. We need to continuously seek ways to bridge the gap between citizens and governments, to build mutual trust and accountable services, especially when a pandemic befalls us.