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Empowering democracy: Dawn of participatory governance

Ghana's constitutional democracy has been stable for over three decades.

However, in the face of evolving societal challenges, it is crucial to explore innovative governance models that can better serve the unique needs of the Ghanaian people.

One promising avenue for this transformation is the adoption of a Participatory Democracy model.

The current democracy being practised appears participatory on paper, but not in implementation.

Participatory governance

Participatory democracy represents a significant departure from the traditional representative system, actively engaging citizens in shaping policies and governance.

It places a premium on direct involvement, transparency and inclusivity, offering a fresh approach to shaping Ghana's future.

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Countries around the world, such as Switzerland, New Zealand, Brazil, Iceland, Uruguay, Taiwan and Portugal, have successfully implemented various aspects of participatory democracy.

They have implemented processes like participatory budgeting and citizens' assemblies to empower communities to have a direct say in local governance.

System

This transformative system can effectively operate in Ghana, thus
• Establishing local and regional Citizen Assemblies composed of randomly selected citizens to deliberate on and make decisions regarding various issues, ensuring community voices actively shape local policies.

• Leveraging technology to create an accessible digital platform where citizens can engage in discussions, propose initiatives and participate in policy votes, promoting inclusivity, regardless of socioeconomic status.

• Prioritising civic education to equip citizens with the knowledge and critical thinking skills needed for effective democratic participation, particularly in the face of misinformation.

• Implementing stringent transparent measures, including open access to government data and financial records, allowing citizens to oversee government actions and hold officials accountable.

• Devolving power and resources to local governments to empower them in addressing community-specific needs effectively, especially involving citizens in local budgeting and decision-making processes.

• Contemplating constitutional reforms to align with participatory democracy principles, which may involve reducing executive branch powers and elevating the role of Citizen Assemblies and that of Parliament. 

Proposed evolution

In a participatory democracy model in Ghana, the election process for presidents and parliamentarians would undergo significant transformation to ensure broad citizen engagement.

Here's how this evolution could unfold:
• Improving citizens' right to vote with electronic voting systems and biometric verification to enhance transparency and inclusivity.

• Establishing mechanisms like town hall meetings, citizen assemblies and online platforms for discussions on key issues, policy proposals and government priorities.

• Political parties or individuals seeking office could engage with citizens, demonstrating their commitment to participatory priorities through candidate debates, public forums and detailed policy presentations.

• Enforcing strict campaign finance regulations to level the playing field for all candidates, reducing the influence of money in politics.

• Implementing term limits for both presidents and parliamentarians to prevent power concentration and encourage fresh perspectives in government and the legislature.

Taking away the power of the executive to appoint the electoral commissioners.

Rather, setting up an independent body to appoint an impartial electoral commission to oversee the electoral process, ensuring fairness, transparency and integrity.

• Launching robust voter education programmes to inform citizens of their rights, the electoral process and effective democratic participation to bring meaning to the Directive Principles of State Policies as enshrined in the Constitution.

• Exploring proportional representation in parliament to ensure diverse voices and interests are accurately represented.

• Allowing citizens to propose referendums and initiatives on crucial issues that would enable direct voting on important matters.

• Implementing strong mechanisms for government transparency and accountability, including open access to government data, financial disclosures by public officials and citizen-led accountability measures.

• Enlisting independent election monitoring organisations to ensure the integrity of the electoral process.

Benefits of participatory democracy

When implemented, Ghana stands to gain through enhanced citizen engagement, reduced corruption, inclusivity of marginalised groups in mainstream politics, responsive governance process, the promotion of social cohesion and citizen participation to foster a sense of unity and a more responsive government in the country.

Extensive deliberation, debate and constitutional reform would be essential to ensure that the model genuinely reflects the values and aspirations of Ghanaians.
 
The writer is a filmmaker, advertising and marketing practitioner.

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