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Overcoming a History of Violence by Building Community Trust

Published 05/16/2013 by Global Communities

Overcoming a History of Violence by Building Community Trust and Accountability

More than 300 residents attended the public session in Ovejas where municipal leaders presented a detailed managment report for 2012.
More than 60 years of conflict and upheaval has taken its toll on the communities that comprise San Jacinto and Ovejas. Located on the Caribbean coast of northern Colombia, in an area called Montes de Maria, these communities are located in the epicenter of the conflict between the Colombian government and paramilitary forces. Known for its mountains and rugged beauty, Montes de Maria is also known for its long history of violence, massacres and massive displacement. More than 50 percent of population in region has been displaced by conflict.
Overcoming decades of violence, is not proving easy. Residents remain wary of distrustful of most formal institutions including the local government.
To overcome this mistrust, strengthen community participation and demonstrate transparency and accountability, the municipalities of San Jacinto and Ovejas held community-wide public sessions during which they presented their 2012 management reports. This process was facilitated by the Colombia Responde program in Montes de Maria, funded by USAID. 
Although the Colombia Constitution of 1991 defines accountability as a public entities’ obligation and a citizen’s right, a lack of commitment, resources and knowledge, among other factors, meant that municipal governments were largely unaccountable. The first public session was held in Ovejas and the second in San Jacinto. This was a major accomplishment for both municipalities because it was the first time local governments presented a management report based on a participatory development plan.
With more than one hundred attendees, San Jacinto’s Mayor, Hernando Buelbas, led the session held on April 23th. He reported on the US$1.2 million in funds invested in 2012 for projects such as the construction of a public library and road improvements. Mayor Buelbas also highlighted the importance of new strategies, which are helping to improve financial management, increase public resources and boost administrative efficiency.  The mayor also explained that the plan being supported by the national, departmental and local governments to help internally displaced populations to return to their land, improve roads and provide access to public services such as water and electricity.
About 300 residents of Ovejas participated in the April 26th session led by Mayor Edwin Mussy. After the officials presented a detailed management report, the mayor answered more than 50 questions asked by citizens.
Jose Miguel Gonzalez, a resident of Ovejas, expressed that in 75 years, “I have never seen something like this. In the past, we did not have any idea about what the government was doing and there was a lot of corruption. Now we know the amount of resources the government manages and how it invests them.”
Although challenges still exist and resources are limited, Mayor Mussy remained encouraged and viewed the public session as a positive step forward. “This process has allowed the local government to strengthen trust and increase social commitment.”