8.4 Your members: Dealing with disputes and complaints
Some disputes and complaints will arise from within the members of a community or nation, while others will arise from within organisations.
Many of the leaders and organisations involved in the Indigenous Governance Awards see complaints from their members as a positive means of improving their governance and services. Others pride themselves on receiving very few.
8.4.1 Recurrent sources of conflict and complaint from members
Common grievances coming from the members of nations and communities have to do with:
- determining exactly who is and is not a member—this is the problem of identifying the ‘self’ in self-governance and self-determination
- the negative impact of family factions and dominant families overruling others
- the representativeness, legitimacy, effectiveness, honesty and authority of leaders
- the legitimacy and fairness of decisions
- contested rights and interests in land ownership
- the distribution of resources, funding and benefits
- access to and quality of services
- lack of participation and a voice in governance arrangements
- poor communication and consultation.
When disputes and complaints occur about these matters, it is essential that governing bodies, leaders and organisations have clear, well-known mechanisms and procedures for fair dispute resolution that are locally supported and effective.
8.4.2 Common better-practice approaches
The legitimacy of governance is directly linked to having a strong mandate from the members of your community or nation.
That means being able to engage with and support them in resolving internal tensions, differences of opinion and outright conflicts.
Many of the organisations applying to the Indigenous Governance Awards have developed specific approaches for dealing with their members’ grievances. As seen below, they often share the same common steps.
Today, organisations are aware of the importance of responding with care to complaints and grievances from their members and wider stakeholders.
Overwhelmingly, people name communication, fairness and cross-cultural sensitivity as critical factors in doing this.
“For all complaints (internal or external) all staff involved in the resolution process should ensure the principles of natural justice are followed, including:
- the opportunity of all individuals involved to put their points of view forward
- handling of the procedures in an unbiased manner
- protection of the rights of all parties concerned
- clear communication in sufficient detail as to the basis on which decisions have been made
- matters [being] dealt with by staff as sensitively as possible.”
(ANKAA Application to the Indigenous Governance Awards, 2012)
8.4.3 Conditions that help or hinder
It is important to recognise the limitations of formal processes and policies for dealing with disputes and grievances when the underlying issues are long-term, politicised and bitter.
There may also simply be a lack of time, resources and capacity to take on the heavy workload associated with resolving entrenched disputes about governance.
If the community or group itself is split with factionalised interest groups, apathy, nepotism or poor self-determination, then:
- there may be a high level of complaint, conflict and misunderstandings which will be difficult to successfully resolve in the short term
- leaders who do what some members want will be viewed as a friend and ‘good leader’, while those who don’t will be abused and the object of complaint
- leaders may become defensive and resentful of being treated as a complaints department, and so dismiss valid criticism
- misinformation and rumours can spread fast and may poison efforts to explain the facts or settle conflicts
- some members may feel reluctant to criticise or complain for fear of offending others or suffering repercussions.
Economic success itself may increase disputes, as disadvantaged people compete for scarce resources, feel entitled to certain things, and make greater demands on their organisations.
In these circumstances, trust in the decisions of leaders and governing bodies can quickly diminish, and the good of the whole nation or community (and future generations) may take a back seat.
On the other hand, your members will be more capable of resolving their own disputes and will demand excellence and a high standard of conduct from their leaders if they:
- have a resilient collective identify
- have a confident sense of self-determination which they try to put into practice
- are clearly informed about their options, risks and rights
- can access local capacity-building and incentives
- have practically effective and legitimate rules and processes.