Dr. Khine Khine Win
According to the International Association for Public Participation, Public Participation means involving those who are affected by a decision in the decision-making process. It promotes sustainable decisions by providing participants with the information they need to be involved in a meaningful way, and it communicates to participants how their input affects the decision.
Generally speaking, there is no single public. Rather, public consists of a range of stakeholders holding an array of views and concerns on an issue. From human rights perspective, everyone has the right to participate in public affairs and in shaping the decisions. However, participation should be meaningful, active, free and informed. In order to provide the necessary conditions to be able to participate in the public affairs in a meaningful way, other rights, for instance civil and political rights are essential. This include of freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom of associations. When civil and political rights are vital to public participation, it is crucial that extra efforts be made to ensure that the participation environment includes vulnerable and marginalized groups. In this regard, UDHR article 2 states that everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
Article7 (a), (b) and (c) of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, CEDAW state that women should have equal access to the participation in the conduct of public affairs. And also article 12 (1) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, CRC affirms the right of the child to be heard in matters affecting the life of the child. Moreover, article 4(3), article 29 (b) and (i) of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, CRPD affirms the right to be involved on equal terms in activities relating to the conduct of public affairs. Aforementioned conventions are the legally binding international human rights instruments and applicable to Myanmar as Myanmar is a State Party.
In 1991, United Nations General Assembly adopted a United Nations Principles for Older Persons resolution number 46/91. This is not legally binding human rights instrument but there is article 7 and express another example of the right to be heard in matters affecting the person. Article 7 states that “Older persons should remain integrated in society, participate actively in the formulation and implementations of policies that directly affect their well-being and share their knowledge and skills with younger generations.”
Legally binding International Human Rights Conventions related to woman, child, disabled person and non legal binding UN principles for Older Persons reaffirm the right to participate regardless of women, child, disabled person and older persons. It shows clearly that all human beings are entitled to participate in public affairs without distinction.
As democracy is the rule by the people, the people consent to the government running the country. In this regard, the understanding of public participation traditionally focuses on election. The right to be elected and the right to vote are modes of direct participation in practice. Participation is one of the corner stone for democracy and has equal benefits for politicians, government servants and civil society. In doing so, we can get many benefits from public participation. Regarding the country’s development, public hearing will help government make more appropriate decisions based on the real need of people. The more informed people are, the better they will understand what the government is trying to do, what their limitations and allocation are etc.
Let me give tangible an example of the achievement of public participation. As you may know, a new global development agenda setting priorities for the next fifteen years has been launched. World leaders adopted Agenda 2030 and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in September 2015 at the United Nations. Sustainable development requires whole of government approaches to economic, social, and environmental policies. But, engagement is also required from all sectors of society. To facilitate a global consultation on the SDGs, the United Nations has created various websites where individuals can express their opinion. The World We Want is an example. On the website, it is explained that the aim is to “gather the priorities of people from every corner of the world and help build a collective vision that will be used directly by the United Nations and World Leaders to plan a new development agenda launching in 2015. It showed the clear evidence of public participation to set the goals for our world. Setting the 17 goals and 169 targets are the achievement of public participation and global participation precisely. As 2030 Agenda is an agenda for the people around the world, all people have to participate in every affair to achieve all goals.
The main aim of public participation is to encourage the public to have meaningful input to the decision making process. While there are many benefits from public participation in planning and decision-making processes, there are also disadvantages considerably. Public participation can be time consuming and sometimes expensive. It can be either a top-down or bottom-up process, depending upon the particular circumstances of the public participation issue.
In order to educate public, to promote better understanding the problem, to gain better sense of public priorities, to build trust in the authorities, to get more ideas and various reasons, public participation is important. It should be kept at the forefront through the State encouragement.