By Njoki Chege
Democracy has often been described as a Government of the people, by the people, and for the people. But in most cases, this is usually in principle and rarely in practice. Many do not usually care to hold leaders to account after their election to office. Ideally, democracy is a two-way street, heavily travelled by both parties, complete with a follow-up mechanism that allows citizens to keep tabs on their leaders by questioning them on pertinent issues.
Sadly, many citizens complete their task at the ballot box. They then sink back into little cocoons, watching and cursing as leaders squander public resources and fail to deliver what they promised.
A visit to parliamentwatch.org in Hamburg, Germany, gives a glimpse of how citizens have taken leadership into their hands by holding their leaders accountable via an effective follow up mechanism.
But first a little introduction of parliamentwatch.org. Founded in 2004 by Gregor Hackmack and Boris Hekele, the online platform is pegged on a simple, yet powerful idea: To create a simple interactive forum where the public poses questions to Members of Parliament on various issues.
Although a few politicians, such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former German Finance minister Peer Steinbrück, are listed on the site, they do not respond to the public’s questions.
But maybe the most important role played by the platform, which is also a key reason MPs took it seriously was the fact that it moderated the questions posed by citizens, ensuring no insults, personal questions, opinions and innuendos were published.
This was a great relief to many MPs who otherwise receive torrents of insults, personal questions and unsolicited opinions (most of them nasty) on their social media accounts.
Several politicians have been put on the spot courtesy of the platform, including Koch-Mehrin who was infamously stripped of her doctorate title after a plagiarism scandal last year. She was also found to have skipped committee meetings for nearly two years.
Roughly 95 per cent of the Members of Parliament participate on the site, and answer 80 per cent of the 100,000 questions publicly asked by voters. The questions are stored in archives as a public record, which voters can later use to hold politicians accountable.
This kind of follow-up strategy ensures politicians keep their end of the deal, deliver what they promised and watch what they say. At the end of the year, politicians are graded depending on how often they answered questions. The media also appreciates this platform and uses it as a source for story ideas.
What started at the local level, at the local Parliament, has today seen Parliament Watch expand to all 16 German states and will include 92 community-level governments.