Academic journal article Journal of Politics and Law

Grounding with the People: Participatory Policy Making in the Context of Constitution Review in Ghana

Academic journal article Journal of Politics and Law

Grounding with the People: Participatory Policy Making in the Context of Constitution Review in Ghana

Article excerpt


Ghana has been experimenting with the participatory policy making approach that allows citizenry engagement in the formulation and implementation of public policies in recent times. In many ways the approach enhances the opportunity structures for consolidating the country's democratic credentials by allowing citizens to share in the ownership of governance decisions. In this paper, we draw illustrations from the participatory strategies used by an adhoc body known as the Constitution Review Commission (CRC) established to study and make recommendations for the amendment of Ghana's 1992 Constitution. The paper shows that although the idea of citizenry participation has intrinsic nation-building value for which reason it can be instrumental in kneading multi-ethnic countries together, paradoxically, against the innovative and comprehensive strategies adopted by the CRC, the approach was hindered by a series of inherent challenges that serve to perpetuate existing socio-political inequalities by privileging educated, urban, and relatively organized Ghanaians over their underprivileged and traditionally marginalized counterparts, especially those in the rural areas.

Keywords: participation, public policy, Ghana, governance, constitution, citizenry

1. Introduction

In the period immediately following independence, policy making in Ghana followed the tradition of the bureaucratic approaches that confined participation in the policy space to bureaucrats and a few individuals (Juma and Clark, 1995; Ohemeng, 2005; Kpessa, 2011). However, since the 1990s, the role of the citizenry in public policy making has been undergoing radical transformations pointing to a shift from reliance purely on bureaucratic expertise, professional skills, and elected officials to active engagement of the citizenry in policy deliberations, design, and implementation. As a result, in the last decade, governments have been courting the involvement of the public in policy making on the basis of what is now known as participatory policy making. This is considered an alternative that allows for open dialogue and deliberation of policy issues between policy makers on one hand and civil society organizations as well as individual citizens on the other (Ohemeng, 2005; Williams, 2008; Abdulai and Quantson, 2009; Kpessa, 2011). Thus, increasingly, elected officials and policy makers across political parties in Ghana resort to high level executive or presidential commissions constituted outside the official channels of the policy bureaucracy, to initiate policy deliberations prior to legislative debates and executive assent and implementation. For instance, in pursuit of social security reforms in 2004, the New Patriotic Party (NPP) administration led by John Agyekum Kufuor first established an ad hoc presidential commission to consult with the Ghanaian public on the challenges and options for reforming the country's pension program (Kpessa, 2011). In 2008, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) administration led by president John Evans Atta Mills also established a similar ad hoc commission-the Constitution Review Commission (CRC)-to review the 1992 Fourth Republican Constitution of Ghana, and make recommendations for possible amendments (Constitution Review Commission, 2011).

Although public participation is becoming a major aspect of Ghanaian policy making, there is little scholarly research and engagement with participatory processes in a manner that pays close attention to analysis of the specific strategies employed, and the extent to which they enhance or impede the intended good governance outcomes. Being a relatively recent phenomenon in the post independence era, it is important that we understand the conceptual basis of participatory policy making; the exact ways by which the practice of participatory policy making is being uploaded into the Ghanaian policy space; the extent to which participatory policymaking addresses in reality, the challenges of socio-political exclusion and elitism associated with traditional bureaucratic approaches to policy making; and identify and discuss the dimensions of the approach that have the potential to under serve the democratic process. …

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