It seems that our (Zimbabwe) government has gotten used to the idea of unilaterally imposing laws, regulations and policy without bothering to consult the general public who are supposed to be affected by or be the beneficiaries of the same. However, this hazardous modus operandi of unsolicited imposition as opposed to consultative policy promulgation, usually invokes sometimes nasty reactions from the public.
One such issue to happen in recent times that quickly comes to mind, is that of Statutory Instrument (SI) 64 of 2016 with regulations banning the importation of a wide range of domestic goods. The state-controlled Herald newspaper (18 June) reported that government had imposed new regulations that were meant to tighten screws on the importation of some basic goods already available locally; this as a measure to stem the ever surging import bill as citizens throng to neighbouring countries to import cheaper alternatives for domestic consumption. Barely a week after this imposition, the same state-controlled daily, The Herald (20 June, 2016) reports that the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA), charged with implementing the SI suspended its implementation following protests by citizens at the Beit Bridge border post during the weekend.
Various other glaring examples of such hastily imposed regulations, laws and policies that have met resistance by the citizens are abound. The perennial problem of public transport illegal pick-up and drop-off points, popularly known as ‘mushika-shika’ is another case in point that has courted numerous such propositions from the powers that be, that however seem to be failing mainly because of the lack of broad consultation with stakeholders involved. Not so long ago it was the issues of quail birds. Then came along the ‘national pledge’. Just yesterday, we are told (in the Herald of 21 June) that civil servants representatives snubbed a meeting with Cabinet and Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe representatives, ostensibly in protest at the lack of consultation by some public officials before the public release of new pay dates for civil servants. The proposition to introduce bond notes to ease the biting liquidity crunch has already torched a considerable backlash even before their release into circulation. Such are some of the pitfalls of lack of consultation.
True to its character, theseare not the first regulations to be imposed by government (including its local chapters), and certainly will not be the last. And it seems over the years government has thrived on this iron-fisted approach to addressing the myriad problems to afflict the citizens from time to time. The reason why they have become accustomed to using this approach is the fact that the recipients of the majority of such laws, regulations and policies, who are the citizens, have barely resisted such blatant and undemocratic imposition. At times, the imposition is accompanied by coercive means to ensure that citizens tow the line. True, many a times, citizens have reluctantly accepted this imposition, knowing very well how corruption in the system has led to them wilfully or otherwise, outdoing these unilaterally imposed regulations.
The bottom line here is that before any law, regulation or policy is introduced, there always has to be some form of consultation first; targeting not only the main group of citizens that such a proposition seeks to deal with or affect, but holistically include all stakeholders who are likely to be affected in one way or the other by a new regulation. This is but one key aspect of policy or decision-making; and any authority that claims to be genuinely representative of those they preside over cannot ignore the importance of consultation when promulgating new laws, regulations or policies.
Over the years, it has become common place for ministers and other high ranking officials to make pronouncements without consulting those that are likely to be affected, directly or otherwise by these pronouncements. It may be that when one is appointed minister or some other such high-sounding leadership posts, their main task is the promulgation and implementation of policy and sometimes law to actualize such policy as they may deem relevant to solving people’s challenges. Some mistakenly take their pre-name titles as entitlements to think on behalf of everyone else, sort of literally ‘putting yourself in the shoes’ of those you seek to assist.
But the truth of the matter is that no policy can succinctly address the real challenges of a people when the very same people have not been consulted in its promulgation. Scholars of public policy will point to the very notion of consultation as an over-arching requirement in the life cycle of any policy – one that permeates all stages of the cycle – for it to be effective in successfully addressing the problem as identified initially.
Clearly, something seems terribly wrong with how our government is doing its business where policy formulation and implementation is concerned. One glaring omission is the obvious side-lining of a key stakeholder – the citizens – except only when it comes to implementation. Yet, it is the very same citizens that have to bear the implementation of such policies. And because they are not meaningfully involved in their promulgation, such regulations, where imposed, usually fail to address the real problems as they affect the citizens. And more often than not, this leads to citizens passively or openly opposing some such propositions by government. Lack of consultation of stakeholders is a key feature of bad leadership.
Someone really ought to help our government leaders on the intricacies of policy promulgations. At its various stages, consultation is key. Even when setting the agenda or identifying the problem, leaving out those you identify as the affected is self-defeating. If you do not consult this key stakeholder, then for who is such a proposition supposed to be of assistance? If the affected cannot point out or suggest what they think are alternatives to a problem, can someone seated in an air-conditioned office really put themselves in the shoes of someone plying the Harare-Johannesburg route week-in-week-out to make a living, and still come up with a uniform perspective to addressing the core issue fuelling the high import bill? And even when these propositions do fail as has become the order of the day, are our leaders in government even prepared to evaluate these failures through among other things, consulting the citizens?
It is one thing to dig in on a wrong way of doing things, and a totally different thing to learn from one’s mistakes and chart a better path. This lack of citizen consultation has cost the government dearly in the past, and will continue to do so in future. And after all is said and done, consultation remains key for holistic and sustainable development.
The writer Terence Chimhavi writes here in his personal capacity and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org