Ghana : Tackling policy surprises

Nii MoiPolicy provides the frame-work for government development activities. Successive democratic governments, including military rules, in Ghana experimented with varied forms of policies with little success. This state of affairs is exemplified by rampant policy discontinuity of programmes and projects in Ghana.

Successive governments do not usually continue programmes and projects inherited. Thank God attitudes are beginning to change. Policy discontinuity has been the hallmark of governance process in Ghana and this dates back to the ouster of the first President of the first Republic. It is however sad to observe this ugly phenomenon in recent times. Empirical evidence abounds that policy continuity brings about sustainable development in a country.

Another area that policy is short changed and cannot deliver the stated objectives is complete lack of Systems Thinking Approaches to policy formulation stages. The consideration of systems dynamics and analysis in policy making is capable of nipping in the bud policy failures in our country.

Any course of action, chosen collectively or officially is described as a policy. Notwithstanding, while the Oxford Dictionary describes policy as a course or the principle of action adopted or proposed by an organisation or individual, Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary looks at policy as a plan of action agreed or chosen by a political party, a business etc.

Considering the definitions, it is clear that policy is about collectivism of decisions. However, does collective decision taking guarantee good decision making?

Achieving Policy Goals

* Systems Thinking Approaches

Systems thinking entails thinking about the way that the parts of a system interact to influence each other. It also involves feedback and its effects on a chosen policy consideration. It is important to note that human-environment system evolves out of feedback and interactions among their parts, while feedback systems react to policy interactions in surprising ways, be they simple or complex structures.

According to George Richardson, ‘the feedback loop is the fundamental building block of systems dynamics… and is the basic unit of analysis and communication of systems behaviour.’ Systems thinkers construct models, mental or formal, that explain why things behave the way they do, thereby underscoring causal theories. Feedback thus produces reinforcing and balancing changes and, therefore, can cause unexpected behaviour.

In policy making, systems thinking is critically important to unearth or determine drivers of an intended policy objective resistant factors (which are revealed in the process of systems thinking must be seriously considered since these are troubling areas of policy implementation), affected variables and subsequently balancing loops.

The whole process serves as a guide for policymakers.Indeed, ‘No one person can see the whole system. Robust policy making requires the blending of a wide range of worldviews.

Again, policy strategies should focus more on the substance rather than the methods. This is one critical area where policy and its strategies fail to deliver stated outcomes.

Bureaucracy originally evolved as hierarchy and, regimentation and specialisation, creating social structures in triangular shape. Bureaucracy was born and its structures worked perfectly so well that they were universally accepted. Bureaucracy allowed us to create large and powerful systems. However, due to the growth of organisations in volume and magnitude, bureaucracies have begun to fail since the past forty years.

To escape the failure of bureaucracies, organisations begin to develop hybrids, which involve working parties, project teams among others to achieve tasks too large or complex for un-organised individuals. The creation of these hybrids, purported to expedite work in an efficient and effective manner, has led to the establishment of complex, ineffective and inflexible structures and levels of authority in organisations, compelling several veto points to be clarified for action to be taken.

Though Max Weber argued that bureaucracy constitutes the most efficient and rational way in which human activity can be organised, and that systematic processes and organised hierarchies were necessary to maintain order, maximise efficiency and eliminate favoritism, he saw unfettered bureaucracy as a threat to individual freedom, in which an increase in the bureaucra-tisation of human life can trap individuals in an “iron cage” of rule-based, rational control.

Thus, unnecessary unbridled bureaucracy works against efficiency, effectiveness and speed, and therefore must be avoided in public sector administration to increase productivity and productive capacity while managing the complexities involved in large modern organisations.

There is the need for building capacities of policymakers to improve upon their knowledge and skills to enable them grasp contemporary dynamics in policy making and implementation processes.

Policy making has evolved due to changing atmosphere of public administration and therefore tailored refresher courses be organised for transformation and leadership in policy issues. This will invariably lead to visible structural changes, transforming the bureaucracy into a development agent.

However, there are two important aspects of governance that may have to be acted upon if the bureaucracy is to deliver policy priorities of the country.First, the policy agenda has to move simultaneously with the capacity building of the bureaucracy, at all levels, but in particular at the middle and lower levels as these have the direct interface with the people in the country, especially in the regions far removed from the economic and political capitals of the country.

As bureaucracy is the effective face of the country’s administration, a clear delegation of authority and knowledge of its mandate would make the bureaucracy both efficient and effective.

A crucial area for enhancing capacities of policymakers is Systems Thinking Approaches in policy decisions and implementation to understand the dynamics of systems, feedback loops, balancing and reinforcing effects in policy making.

The ultimate goal is to lessen policy surprises, in policy making and implementation, and to bring about the realisation of policy objectives. Political participation or inclusiveness favours dialogue on issues fundamental to the aspiration of the people, as well nurtures cross-fertilisation of ideas.

It raises the bar for democratic accountability and transparency, leverages balance of power of government, thereby preventing abuse of political power and the rights of the governed. In Africa political inclusiveness is only seen at the time of election, where electorates vote to choose their legislators and the president. Beyond this however, the governed has no say in the way their country is governed.

According to DFID, alienating people from governance processes is a denial of rights and opportunities, restricts poverty reduction and enforces extreme poverty among the marginalised groups, thereby reducing productive capacity of the whole society.

Policy can only be meaningful and accepted by the people when they are involved in the process of making it. This thus makes policy implementation easier and acceptable to those it is purported to help.An important long-term perspective study on Africa concluded that ‘the problem of African development is one of governance’ (World Bank, 1989).

Political corruption is described as malfeasance by political elites or public office holders, who are supposed to administer public policy and finances to the betterment of the majority of the people.

In Africa, political corruption showcases itself in institutional, political, and bureaucratic thievery, reducing internal revenues generated and diverting funds obtained from the exploitation of natural endowments.

According to Charap and Harm corruption is ‘the natural result of efficient predatory behavior in a lawless world’.

Sociologists characterise the phenomenon of corruption as a symptom of a dysfunctional relationship between the state and the citizenry, which involves three important phenomena: bribery, extortion and nepotism Corruption consists of the ‘subordination of public interests to private aims involving a violation of the norms of duty and welfare, accompanied by secrecy, betrayal, deception, and a callous disregard for any consequence suffered by the public’.

It is important to carefully examine the ramifications, of stealing state funds meant for building schools, health posts and drilling boreholes for safe drinking water for a deprived community in Ghana, on the conditions of lives of the people who are to access these amenities.

This is a clear sign of policy failure. Evidence available suggests that Africa’s wealth including private assets abroad far exceeds the liabilities of the continent to the rest of the world. According to Transparency International, “corruption is a major cause of poverty as well as a barrier to overcoming it”.

Our motivational imperative should be taking steps towards eschewing corruption in all forms and to allow public policy to work and produce expected results that will inure to the benefits of the people.

Public policy can achieve stated objectives in Ghana just as in any other developed and developing countries. but we must work towards its realization. It is not going to be a day’s work or few months, rather there is the need to develop sustainable good attitudes, imbibe virtues of nationalism and patriotism and continually update our minds and capacities in appropriate themes to be abreast of changing dynamics in development and times.

By Alphonse Kumaza

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