... participation is now a right and it is crucial for accelerating change. Broad, effective partnerships for rights become particularly essential if long-term, sustained changes are to be achieved in values and in consciousness... This calls for an approach to partnerships that is based on continuous strategic analysis, not just on short-term opportunities.
‘A Human Rights Approach to UNICEF Programming for Children and Women: What It Is, And Some Changes It Will Bring’, UNICEF, New York, April 1988
The Declaration on the Right to Development states that the ‘human person’ must have a say in decisions that affect the realisation of rights and that genuine and meaningful participation will guarantee that the beneﬁts of development are shared more equitably.
Participation should therefore be an integral part of the development process. It is a major objective for any development. This is increasingly recognised by multilateral and bilateral agencies and features in the policy statements of the OECD, the World Bank and the UN development agencies. Sadly it is all too honoured by these in the breach and it becomes an endless struggle to enable the stakeholders to be involved in the decision-making.
The challenge therefore is to ensure that participation is more than a token process with little chance of affecting outcomes and that those who participate are as far as possible and as far as practical, representative of the stakeholders in development.
The identiﬁcation of participating groups and individuals thus becomes critical if participation is to be meaningful. Participation in the human rights sense emphasises an expectation that participation can make a difference in the decision-making process. In this, it is an essential step on the road to democratisation.
Participation in this sense is also valuable for development programs in that it sensitises all the stakeholders to the value of political involvement in decision-making in a non-confrontational way. Not only does this lead to greater sustainability, but it accords with most policies on good governance and democratisation.
While the widest possible level of participation is called for at every stage, it is obviously impossible to involve every stakeholder in every decision. Not only would this be unworkable, paralysing the whole process, but it is not demanded by the stakeholders themselves. The guiding principle for participation is that people should be involved and consulted in decisions that affect them at the most immediate level.
This principle of subsidiarity can ensure that realistic limits are placed on the process. This does not relieve governments of the responsibility of consulting as widely as possible, but it does mean that every effort should be made to identify responsible representatives of interested parties to take part in the participatory process at the appropriate level. In this context, the active provision of information is critical.
At the same time, the challenge of ensuring a modicum of participation in the high level discussions between government departments and other interested parties is not inconsiderable. How can you reﬂect the popular will in agreements which are negotiated between involved parties and which are often essentially technical in nature? Is it possible to manage some kind of input which is truly representative of civil society at this level? These questions are especially problematic in countries whose political system is not truly democratic and where it is difﬁcult, if not impossible, to gauge popular opinion on government policies and programs through ofﬁcial channels.
One answer is to increase transparency in the entire process. There is surely very little which is so sensitive that it must remain secret and where public criticism would affect the process adversely. The challenge for the parties in difﬁcult political circumstances is still for them to initiate the participation of the various sectors of civil society without, of course, jeopardising their security.
Here the involvement of civil society organisations becomes essential. The beneﬁts of the involvement of non-government and community-based organisations (CBOs) in the development process are obvious. NGOs and CBOs can bring to the process particular skills and a capacity for effective action in areas such as community participation and grass roots development.
Consultation with the Paga Hill community was woefully inadequate in the history of the Paga Hill development. The community’s only recourse was the legal system and the engagement of powerful supporters such as Dame Carol Kidu.