Letter to President Zelenskyy

Mr. Volodymyr Zelenskyy
President of Ukraine
11 Bankova St. 01220 Kyiv, Ukraine

Re: A proposal to fight corruption with local citizen assemblies

Dear President Zelenskyy:

First, thank you for your remarkable leadership. I wish you all the best in defending, restoring and advancing the well-being of Ukraine and its brave people.

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 criticisms of American politicians who question ongoing funding for your nation — often citing 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. Ireland, for example, has successfully used citizen assemblies to resolve some of its most politically divisive issues: abortion, same-sex marriage, climate change. Two of Belgium’s regional parliaments (German-speaking Ostbelgien and the Brussels-Capital region) have established permanent sortition-selected citizens’ assemblies to counterbalance the power of professional politicians in the elected assemblies.

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 power by government officials everywhere.

Covid restrictions disrupted the citizens’ assemblies project but they completed their work and a delegation delivered the citizens’ assembly report to civil servants and MPs in May 2022. The local MP says that their efforts “are 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.”

Here is the link for Teaching Power (with Closed Captions – CC option in settings):

We all hope that Ukrainians will be rebuilding their nation soon, 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.

If you would like the names of experienced European citizens’ assembly facilitators and-or a contact person with the project in Malawi, please feel free to contact me.

Ted Wachtel

P.S. On a personal note: My grandfather, Joseph Feldstein, a Russian-speaking Jew from Berdychiv, was working as a typesetter in Kyiv in 1905 when he was detained by the Russian government after Bloody Sunday — because he was a Menshevik. By 1911 he and two brothers had emigrated to the United States seeking lives beyond the reach of Russian tyranny. Sadly more than a century later Russian tyranny is still with us.

2 Responses

  1. Thanks for this

    Can anyone provide me with a link to the citizens’ assembly for the Brussels-Capital region. All the information I have is for the one in Ostbelgien.


  2. Hi Nicholas – I think you can find that via Yves Dejaeghere FIDE- Federation for Innovation in Democracy – https://www.fide.eu/about


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