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TOWN HALL MEETINGS THE WAY TO GO IN DEPEENING DEMOCRACY

By Doris Sodjah

 

Democratic governance system is a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections. Democracy is basically, government by the people and for the people and includes a representative decision -making.

 

Globally, public participation and contributions in a democratic governance system is regarded as ways of empowerment of the populace and a vital part of the democratic governance system. It is also seen as "people's first" governance system. It also offers the government to keep its administration up to date on important information.

 

Democratic decision-making is based on the assumption that all who are affected by a given decision have the right to participate in the making of that decision. Participation can be direct in a classical democratic sense or can be through representatives.

 

In the past, Ghanaians have described government and public officials as a group that is far from reach, as they find it difficult to get their issues through to them and sometimes without getting accurate and timely responses.

 

Repeatedly, a lot of government policy initiatives, programmes, and interventions as contained in budget statements are complex and difficult to understand by the citizenry. There is, therefore, the need to create a platform to get this information across in the simplest form for proper and deeper understanding by the citizens.

 

As part of government's effort to curb this, the Akufo-Addo led government through the Ministry of Information re-introduced a platform in 2017 dubbed: Town Hall Meeting, which was to help bring governance to the people.

 

This is because the government sees town hall meetings as an opportunity of bringing everybody on board to plan and sustain development, by having the citizens participate at the same time, they would have first- hand information about important updates on day to day developments in their communities.

 

Town Hall Meetings provides a platform for stakeholders and the ordinary citizenry an opportunity to influence public decision-making and also be informed about governmental policies, programmes, and interventions at the grassroots.

 

It also facilitates the involvement of those potentially affected by or interested in a decision making to have a direct voice.

 

It also makes government officials visible and accessible to their people as these leaders participate and interact with the citizens during the Town Hall Meetings.

 

Government officials again get raw unfiltered feedback from the citizens. They hear real, honest, and unfiltered feedback from their people. Being first – hand information from the citizens it helps in concrete policy formation. This prevents distorted information from reaching government because it is first -hand information from the citizens and enables concrete policy formation.

 

This means, those who are or would be affected by a decision, policy or developmental project by the government have the right to be involved in the decision-making process, and their contributions would influence future decisions.

 

The then Minister for Information, Dr. Mustapha Abdul Hamid, missed no words at the maiden edition of the town hall meeting in 2017 by linking the town hall meetings to the old adage, "two heads are better than one" as the reason for government's initiative of open dialogue with its people. This means every citizen’s view and inputs are vital in any democratic governance system.

 

Subsequently, these meetings involving government officials and citizens were organized in all the 152 Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies throughout the country.

 

In 2018, these meetings were again successfully organised in 152 Metropolitan Municipal and District Assemblies.

 

During the meetings, the head of government business at the Regional, Metropolitan, Municipal or District Assemblies and other government officials together with traditional rulers, engaged in open dialogue sessions with members of the community.

 

Opportunities were then given to people who had concerns to voice them out. Normally, issues were raised from wrongful siting of projects, non-availability of infrastructural facilities like schools, hospitals, roads, and electricity.

 

The government officials present at the event then addressed concerns raised by the citizens. Issues beyond their jurisdiction were forwarded to the appropriate authorities and even Central government for solutions.

 

Through these engagements over the past two years, democracy has deepened and there is accountability by government to its citizenry at the district and grassroots levels. Governance has also been brought to the doorstep of Ghanaians.

 

In addition, there is a free flow of information, a deeper explanation of government policies programmes and interventions to the citizens. There is also sharing of ideas on public issues and feedback which are the pillars that strengthen a democratic governance system.

 

These meetings, in no doubt, built consensus between government and its people by avoiding protracted conflicts, unnecessary agitations and costly delays of projects and policies. It has also brought about cooperation and trust between government and Ghanaians.

 

Through the town hall meetings, the government has been able to know the real issues at the various districts while providing them with adequate information on the annual budget statement and what percentage had been allocated to their district.

 

There has been a lot of collaboration between government and the people in the creation of 6 new regions Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies which will help in the development of their communities.

 

As a result of these achievements from the town hall meetings, the government should put in more efforts to make such encounters sustainable and effective in the future to deepen our democracy and accelerate development.

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