After a few long weeks of silence, I got an unexpected message from the innovation center asking me if there was any chance that they could drop the participation element from the overall e-governance framework we shared with them during the mission last March. Even though the constitution of the Western Cape calls for public participation, it seems top provincial managers and executives are reluctant to open this door. Below is my reply.
Most governments are sort of afraid of participation because they think it is about power sharing only. This is probably a misunderstanding on
their side and awareness should be raised on the issue.
There are indeed various levels of participation ranging from simple consultation to co-governing. The latter is quite sophisticated and
requires strong democratic institutions that have the capacity to manage the issue – institutions which by the way take a long time to build as
history tell us when we look at the so-called western democracies.
We should also limit the discussion o the delivery of public services and use the supply and demand argument to make the point. If I happen to
know what the demand is then I cannot go wrong in providing the right supply of goods and services. This is how the private sector works. Why
not the public sector? So it is not really about co-governing but rather about involving people in assessing what the demand is for public
services and then respond to such demand effectively. People will then reward policy makers at the electoral polls. And the allocation of
public resources becomes much more effective and transparent.
I am attaching a paper that makes some of these points and that I hope will be published by an academic journal later this year.
All in all, the answer to the question is no, we do not need to drop public participation. Rather, we need to present it in a different fashion.