It is imperative that all the development practitioners and civil society social accountability advocates understand and make use of the Citizen’s Charter. The Citizen’s Charter (CC) is a public document that provides the essential information that citizens need to know about the services provided by a public agency. It states:
- What citizens are entitled to receive and
- What service providers have the responsibility to deliver
The origins of the Citizen’s Charter come from British Prime Minister John Major’s administration (1990 – 1997) and rooted in a desire to “see public services through the eyes of those who use them.” Doing so will help to “raise quality, increase choice, secure better value and extend accountability (UK Cabinet Office, 1992).” The reason for this shift in focus from providers to users is rooted in ideas of citizenship and customer service:
There are broadly six key principles of a Citizen’s Charter:
- Commitment to improve the quality of public services;
- Give choice to service users, wherever possible;
- Establish service standards in accordance with legal entitlements;
- Publish full, accurate information in plain language, in a timely manner;
- Ensure service providers listen to the views of service users and are made accountable if things go wrong;
- Deliver value for taxpayers’ money.
The Citizen’s Charter is a written, voluntary declaration by citizens about the standards, accessibility, transparency and accountability of service delivered. It is not a legal document and therefore is not justiciable, or in other words legally enforceable. The CC by itself does not create new legal rights and duties; however, it certainly helps in enforcing existing rights. It is best understood as a contract between service users and service providers. It states the quantity and quality of services users are entitled to receive in exchange for their taxes and what service providers have the responsibility to deliver as public servants in exchange for their salaries.
Why implement a Citizens’ Charter?
There are many reasons why an agency should consider implementing a Citizens’ Charter, these include:
- Increase empowerment: citizens are empowered to demand right-entitlements from the service providers;
- Enhance accountability: citizens have a clearer understanding of what it is reasonable for them to expect from public services (standards, times, fees, etc.) and what to do when this is not met (grievance redress);
- Improve organizational effectiveness: service providers are able to improve performance against realistic and measurable standards, in accordance with citizens’ interests.
- Increase trust between service users and service providers: service providers have increased morale due to greater clarity of what is expected of them and citizens have increased trust and greater satisfaction.