FOR democracy to work and for government to be efficient, it will not be enough that citizens vote in the May 10 elections. They should also get involved in governance and have a say in how their communities are managed.

A visiting speaker from the US Embassy urged Filipinos to play an active role in eliminating corruption not only by veering away from corrupt practices, but also by scrapping the culture of corruption in government.

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Electing honest and responsible leaders is a good start, said Dr. Lyle Wray, but it is not enough if citizens want efficiency in government to continue.

He told reporters engaging the different sectors in governance is a key to making sure democracy flourishes and the government gets its work done.

Wray highlighted the need to engage the citizens in addressing local problems, from public transport concerns to health issues affecting the citizens.

Democracy, he said, is not just about having fair elections, but being able to have ordinary citizens participate directly in setting the direction of their local government and identifying solutions to problems.

“In a lot of places, democracy is taught at the local level. It starts at the local government. They cleaned local government first and engaged citizens in improving their communities. It gets harder if you start at the national level,” Wray said.

Citizens, he said, can get involved by simply attending town or city council meetings, pointing out problems or demanding for accountability and transparency from their local officials, even through blogs and websites.

Wray, an expert in public and and non-profit administration, visited Cebu City for a roundtable discussion with students and journalists.

As executive director of Hartford, Connecticut’s Capitol Region Council of Governments since 2004, he leads the regional planning of services in transportation, community development, public safety and homeland security.

“At the local level, you can have citizens engaged in concerns such as whether our kids are getting too fat, are our streets dirty, do we need cleaner buses? This is what we can do to improve our local governments,” Wray said.

Learning from the American experience in the late 1800s and those of other countries that dealt with dictatorships and a long struggle with corruption, he said the people should eliminate not only corruption but the culture of corruption that plagues many developing countries.

While it may take decades to fully rid government of the culture of corruption, he said it is possible with the concerted effort of a free and responsible press, the academe, non-government organizations and other sectors.

“It’s not easy and it can be discouraging... That’s why I said only one percent of democracy is election, the rest is hard work.

I think it’s a long struggle in a lot of places.

It’s quite common to deal with corruption. The culture of corruption is what you want to get rid of, where people expect that dishonesty is the only way to do business,” Wray added. (LCR)