2 December, 2016
By Pat Horn, StreetNet International Coordinator
StreetNet was launched on 14th November 2002, and has held 5 international congresses every three years in accordance with the StreetNet Constitution – in 2004 in Korea, 2007 in Brazil, 2010 in Benin, 2013 in Chile, and in 2016 in India. This is an important part of maintaining our organizational democracy. But does this mean that our work of strengthening our internal organizational democracy is done?
If we are listening to what StreetNet’s affiliates are saying, the answer is NO. Since the Fifth StreetNet International Congress in Delhi, India, in October 2016, we have had many expressions of dissatisfaction about undemocratic practices that were observed in the Congress, despite the Congress being held in compliance with StreetNet’s constitution, policies and established practices. Dissatisfaction has been expressed about the “slate” system (an electioneering tactic whereby certain participants pass around lists of who should be elected, during democratic elections), punitive electioneering behaviour on the part of some delegates, electioneering through spread of misinformation on the part of other delegates, and failure to uphold the principle and established StreetNet practice of equitable regional distribution of office-bearer positions in the International Council. It should be stressed that there is no official complaint demanding a nullification of the elections which took place at the Congress. However, any democratic organization ignores such expressions of dissatisfaction at their peril. So we have resolved that we must listen to our members, create a safe and transparent space where they can express themselves without fear of victimization, and we are asking for suggestions for ways of strengthening weaknesses in our internal democracy.
StreetNet’s West and Central African Regional Focal Point convened a post-Congress teleconference, where a frank analysis of the congress was done, starting with a frank self-criticism of the lack of unity between delegates in their own region. They went on to critique of the quality of French interpretation, and also the last-minute logistical organisation with regard to tickets and visa arrangements, and poor communications. For these inconveniences StreetNet coordination has taken full responsibility and apologized to the Regional Focal Point.
The critique went on to mention observations about lack of democratic conduct by some participants – without going into detail.
In retrospect, we realised that we have not been sufficiently active in publicising the StreetNet Code of Conduct and advising our members how to defend their democratic rights using this Code of Conduct. So we are now rectifying this by circulating the Code of Conduct to all StreetNet affiliates and asking for feedback (which will be kept anonymous unless specified otherwise by the organisation concerned) with regard to the following questions:
- Do you feel that the Code of Conduct was well observed during the Fifth StreetNet International Congress?
- If not, can you give examples of which clauses you believe were breached by staff or delegates?
- What are your suggestions to StreetNet to ensure that the Sixth StreetNet International Congress in 2019 will be more democratic than the last one in 2016?
- Are there missing elements which you feel need to be added to the Code of Conduct?
- What is your view about the “slate” practice during democratic elections?
- Any other concerns/comments.
In future, we will include the Code of Conduct in the documents packages of every StreetNet event – and all participants will be made aware of their rights in accordance with the Code of Conduct, and those who step out of line can be guided by their fellow delegates using the Code of Conduct, at the time of the problem. We hope that this will increase the level of trust and confidence of our members about the protection of their democratic rights, as well as the level of understanding of all delegates about the ethical limits which apply to the exercise of democratic rights. In the meantime, we hope that there will be a transparent debate about this issue, so that we can do better during the Sixth StreetNet International Congress.
Click here to find a full version of the Code of Conduct: http://www.streetnet.org.za/docs/policydocs/2016/en/coc-eng.pdf