Dear President Zelenskyy:
I am writing with a suggestion that, if adopted, has the potential to advance Ukraine as a leading innovator in democratic governance. The proposal would also counteract the objections of American politicians who question ongoing funding for your nation — often citing Ukrainian government corruption as one of the justifications for curbing that support.
Perhaps you are aware of growing European interest in “citizens’ assemblies” whose members are chosen by sortition, a democratic lottery process, rather than by election. But the proposal I bring to your attention comes from Malawi, which I’m sure you know is one of the world’s least-developed countries. “Teaching Power,” a beautiful new 21-minute film, inspires and explains:
“In 2020, Malawi created a project to give people more influence over local spending decisions. It took place in Salima district. Organizers created five “citizens’ assemblies.” They chose participants by lottery to make groups more representative of their communities.”
A governance and development specialist speaks: “CDF stands for Constituency Development Fund. It’s local funds that are spent in an area represented by the Member of Parliament. The government wanted the CDF to benefit everybody. But by the end of the day it’s not the way people feel.”
A local woman says: “Sometimes we could witness schools being built but not being completed. We should not be fooled. For example, we are building a school block and there is a need for 100 bags of cement. But they bring 50 bags instead, leaving the project unfinished and saying there’s no more money.”
The Malawi people experience the same corruption that characterizes the abuse of authority, in varying degrees, by government officials everywhere.
The citizens’ assemblies completed their work and a delegation delivered the citizens’ assembly report to civil servants and MPs in May 2022. The local MP describes their efforts as “a very important integral part of our system that easily provide even leadership and guide us where we need to do things fairly.”
A local radio journalist says: “There are lots of funds globally that are there facing the same challenges. So a solution can come from Malawi, a solution can come from Salima.”
We all hope that Ukrainians will soon be rebuilding their nation, but the challenge of appropriately allocating and properly employing huge amounts of money will test the integrity of your government.
Perhaps ordinary Ukrainians themselves might best be trusted to direct, monitor and audit the reconstruction process at the local level through the mechanism of citizens’ assemblies.
P.S. My grandfather was a typesetter in Kyiv in 1905 when he was detained by the Russian government after Bloody Sunday. He decided to move to the U.S. beyond the reach of Russian tyranny. Sadly Russian tyranny is still with us.