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Opinions of Wednesday, 14 January 2004

Columnist: Asibey, Akwasi

Welcome to a New Era of Participatory Democracy

The People’s Assembly concept is simply brilliant.

Just last week as part of celebrating 11 years of the fourth republic, the president, the vice president and indeed the entire cabinet of the Kufour administration submitted themselves to the good people of Ghana for a two-hour public scrutiny.

The people of Ghana had an unfettered opportunity to probe into the workings of government. They asked questions about national polices and programmes as well as local issues that were dear to their hearts and have been irking them. The people had access to their president and members of his government – a far cry from the politics of yester year, which was punctuated with fear and intimidation. It was refreshing to witness ordinary citizens interacting face-to-face with their representatives.

The People’s Assembly must be understood within the context of a continent and in particular a sub region that, for many years, has had a democratic deficit. It was held in a sub region, which has been characterised by civil strives and, where presidents and prime ministers still consider themselves as demigods. As far as we know it is the first such encounter between the executive and the people in our part of the world.

The Kufour administration must be congratulated. It deserves commendation for a number of reasons:

First, it has demystified the art of governance. It has given practical meaning to the old adage that democracy is government by the people and for the people. The People’s Assembly allowed people from all walks of life, the poor, the rich, the influential and the not-so influential to talk to their representatives from the bottom of their souls. They did not have to look over their shoulders! This is direct democracy at play, which is a welcome development.

Second, it enabled members of the Kufour administration to speak directly to the people who elected them. They went over the heads of the information brokers and political filters and carried their message unadulterated to their constituents. Members of the government had a unique opportunity to explain government policies and programmes. And in the process, they may have calmed agitated minds.

And third and most importantly, the People’s Assembly has further contributed to strengthen democratic practice and good governance in our dear country. Its symbolic relevance is derived from the fact that it has been woven into our political tapestry. Henceforth, no government can govern effectively without seeking the participation and involvement of the people through periodic dialogue and engagement. Participatory democracy has come to stay!

The People’s Assembly provides a platform for the citizens of Ghana to engage in a constructive dialogue with their elected representatives. It undermines politics based on outright lies, histrionics and misinformation.

In a country that has suffered from periodic military interventions in our body politic, the People’s Assembly may be the tonic we need to cure our society from the politics of instability and destabilisation.


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