Consultation by helicopter: people's participation in policy making in Malawi

Consultation by helicopter: people's participation in policy making in Malawi

Why the participation element of the PRSP process has failed in Malawi

This paper examines the claims of donors that the PRSP policy and planning processes have been opened up to extensive participation by ordinary people and civil society groups. The report focuses particularly on the formulation of Malawi’s PRSP in 2001 -02.

The report finds that there has been a shortage of consultation time, the dominance of government in the consultation process and its reluctance to share information, the selective nature of participation, and the inadequacy of structural and institutional linkages. In addition, the study has shown that the PRSP process has been treated as a one-off event.

The paper recommends that:

  • All actors involved in a participation process should be given plenty of warning, so that they are able to prepare their inputs and all actors should discuss and agree expectations of the process before it is launched. The government should commit to providing adequate feedback to participants on whether their proposals have been included in policy.
  • The consultation process is meaningless if it is not institutionalised within government structures – otherwise it becomes just another event. Another way to institutionalise it is by making sure that civil society coalitions that have taken the initiative to ensure participation become permanent entities.
  • Donors can help to reduce government dominance and enhance the sharing of information by recruiting local technical experts as consultants or as members of important technical teams. This could include recruiting experts from CSOs and seconding them to government departments or specific government -led projects or policy initiatives. Such people may bring complementary ideas and approaches to government structures. It could also be possible to attach government experts to CSOs to help enhance their ability to deal with technical issues of government policy.
  • One way of enhancing structural and institutional linkages is to facilitate the formation and functioning of civil society coalitions at local and district levels, and linking these up to government institutions through district assemblies. This will enhance the consultative processes at the lower levels, and ensure that there is greater people’s participation.