A new DCA complaint mechanism in Jonglei goes on the air

DCA used the best communication tool in South Sudan when launching the new complaint mechanism: Public Radio

©Peter Bo Larsen
Live - DCA on air in South Sudan. Click to view larger image

The small lamps on each of the four microphones turns red at the same time as the big red “ON AIR” lamp outside the small radio studio lights up. The atmosphere in the studio is tense; this is live radio and three of the four people sitting around the small table with headphones and microphone are not used to this situation.
They are used to being in the field, advising farmers, engaging with communities or monitoring fishing projects; not being interviewed in this new and well-equipped radio studio about a new feature of their work, the introduction of a complaint handling mechanism.
We are in Bor, the state capital of Jonglei, one of the 10 states of South Sudan, marred by flooding and insecurity due to communal fighting, cattle rustling and tribal clashes. That is not why we are here today though. Ruth Kessio and Richard Rotich from Human Development Council and John Wani from Church & Development are being interviewed about a new accountability initiative. The person welcoming the listeners and introducing the panel is Peter Okello, a young, enthusiastic journalist from “Jonglei Public Radio”, a new radio station in South Sudan, established to improve the level of information and public debate in Jonglei.

Why a complaint mechanism?

The journalist wants to know why the two DCA partner organisations have decided to put in place a complaint handling mechanism. The journalist addresses the question to Ruth Kessio, who starts hesitantly but picks of speed as she grows in confidence:
“We think that it is important that people can complain so we can get feedback on what we do. We want to serve the communities the best way possible and this way we can make extra sure, that if they do not think, we are doing it right, we will know. We want to be accountable, both to the communities we serve, but also to our staff. We all know that we can learn from our mistakes, so we also see this as a way to improve our work”.
Ruth Kessio underlines that the complaint mechanism should not replace all normal dialogue and discussions and that most complaints are handled on the spot, without going in to the complaint system. The new system will be for situations where someone does not think that the answers given so far are sufficient.

Accountability is a core value for DCA.
DCA is HAP certified which means that we are obligated to live up to a set of quality standards in a variety of areas, e.g. continues learning and improvement, information sharing, participation and introduction of a complaint mechanism.
DCA is also working with partners to improve their accountability and in South Sudan in 2013; three partners have been supported to establish their own complaint mechanism.
The three partners are presently rolling out their new systems.

At this point John Wani jumps in, explaining the system:
“You can either complain directly to staff, you can text or write and email or drop a letter in our suggestion box. When we have received the complaint, a committee will investigate the complaint and respond to you. If you are not satisfied with the answer, you can appeal to a small body that consist of members of our board”.
The journalist follows up and asks what will happen if you are not satisfied with the answer, you get from the appeal body.
Jonglei Public Radio

Jonglei Public Radio is the first public radio of South Sudan. The mission is to contribute to peace and stability in Jonglei, the biggest state in South Sudan. Presently, the radio is broadcasting 3 hours a day but plans to increase the number of hours. Danish Danicom and Danmon, German Media in Co-operation and Transistion as well as Deutsche Welle Akademie are all behind the radio station.

“Well I guess that you just have to live with it, the appeal body makes the final decision,” John Wani answers after a small ponder
The journalist also wants to know if you can complain about everything, which Richard Rotich explains is not the case:
“You can only complain about things that are relevant to our organisations, activities that we have been involved in, not about everything in the world, that you think is wrong. Then I think that we would be very busy …”

“Now it is up to us to follow up”

The discussion goes on, the journalist asks for and gets answers and examples from John, Ruth and Richard. Nearly an hour has passed, only the news and a few pieces of music have interrupted the lively discussion. The atmosphere is considerably lighter now, all nervousness is gone and the three guest stars act, as if they have done nothing else in their lives but participate in live broadcasting. They actually look a little disappointed, when the red lamps finally goes off and one hour has passed.
Afterwards the three of them are seemingly proud and satisfied, that they got too talk about this new initiative that they are just about to start up.
“We think that we will be better at serving our communities with this compliant mechanism” says Ruth Kessio, “but we know that we need to do a lot of information work to make people aware about this possibility to be heard, so I do not think that we could have gotten a better start than this radio show. Now it is up to us to follow up”.
By Peter Bo Larsen, DCA Regional Representative for South Sudan & Kenya