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Enhancing citizen participation in decision making
Mar 20,2017 - Last updated at Mar 20,2017
In various discussion papers, His Majesty King Abdullah often talked about the role of citizens in the decision-making process.
Notably, in 2013, in the paper “Towards democratic empowerment and active citizenship”, His Majesty wrote: “One of the key requirements for democratisation efforts is enhancing the role of civil society in monitoring and elevating the political performance of all institutions, by enrooting a democratic culture across society.”
Over the past four years, efforts to enhance the democratic model, particularly through civil society and citizen participation, have been minimal.
The cause is lack of citizens’ engagement in policy making that would enable them to monitor and elevate the political performance of institutions.
The disengagement of citizens from the governing process is due to the lack of key components in a democratic culture: effective government-to-citizen communication, dialogue and access to information.
In cases where citizen participation is minimal, distrust in government institutions is often prevalent.
Public institutions in Jordan make no effort to effectively communicate with citizens and provide the necessary information about the state of affairs. This is why citizens get angry when policies and laws that have a direct effect on their day-to-day life are passed, such as price hikes, tax increases and policy changes.
The lack of effective government-to-citizen communication leaves room for false narratives to spread, and often results in public distrust in the government.
Citizens left out of dialogue or without information feel excluded and underrepresented by officials, which deepens the distrust in the system.
In one respect, public distrust is generated not by government action, but by its failure to keep the public aware throughout the process of governance.
This creates frustration among citizens who are not informed about the logic behind decisions made by public officials.
To gain the public’s trust, revitalise citizen participation and work towards enhancing the role of civil society, institutions should create effective channels of communication that enable the public to obtain the necessary information.
Reviving the fundamentals of a democratic society takes time, but it starts with government-to-citizen communication.
It is not enough to depend on state-run newspapers and media outlets; governing bodies need to listen to the people and engage in modern social media platforms beyond protocol and scripted statements.
Social media have become a prominent tool for citizens to express their opinion on the social, political and economic situation.
With substantial effort, institutions could engage with the public and better inform it on the various steps of the decision-making process. Officials should listen to the public to get a better understanding of the pulse of the street, and involve citizens in decisions that will affect them directly.
Citizens play an important role in a functional democracy. Questioning and holding governing bodies accountable for their actions is a duty, a pillar of a developing society.
Without an open line of communication, citizens fail to do their part.
Institutions should make a greater effort to recognise the citizens’ needs, work to better their lives and enable them to be part of the governing process.
The path to democracy cannot be achieved by a single actor; all elements of the society need to work together and act within a system of checks and balances.
Institutions should not stand as barriers to democracy, they should act as the driving force in achieving it.
In return, the public should respect governing bodies and trust that they do what is in the country’s best interest.
The writer, a graduate from George Washington University, works for Al Kawn radio and TV. She contributed this article to The Jordan Times.
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