The Integral Role of Policy-making in a Democracy

In a democracy, the government has an integral and central role to play, for it owes its allegiance to the citizens of the country, who have unanimously vested authority upon it by virtue of the voting mechanism. The government is expected to fulfill a plethora of obligations, among which Public Policy Formulation is a key activity. It is one of the essential features of the government, for in the present day context, it is the duty of the democratically elected body to cater to the welfare of the citizens residing within its territory.

A Policy can be defined as a set of rules which can be utilized to achieve certain desired objectives. In the words of Richard Rose, “A policy is not a decision but a course or pattern of actions”. It is the policy which provides a framework within which all actions for the achievement of an objective are to be performed. Famous political scientist and behaviourist, David Easton believes that ‘Public Policy’ is the authoritative allocation of values for the whole society. He harps on the role played by the government which has the sole power of commanding action on the whole society and everything that the government chooses to do or not to do, results in the allocation of values. Easton’s view is indicative of the inseparable connection between policy making and the governmental administration. In a democracy, for the success of the system, it is imperative for the administration to chalk out a systematic policy of action, which will cater to not only a minuscule portion of the population, but the entire majority.

Public Policy formulation may have a micro or a macro perspective. A micro perspective focuses on a small locale whereas the macro perspective covers a wider ambit i.e. the whole polity or the whole economy. Policy making involves the manipulation of several economic, social and political variables like taxation, income, employment, price level, public expenditure and so forth. Governments, when they formulate policies, focusing on the macro angle, harp on issues like price stability, generation of employment, economic growth, income equality. The micro-level policies primarily focus on area specific issues like secularism, liberty, equality before law, freedom, social justice and so on. These policies, although catering to various aspects and needs of the society, are not only indispensable for its functioning but also provide scope to the existing government to secure its authority.
While formulating public policies, it is mandatory for the policy makers to segregate the objectives into two categories- long term and short term. The short term goals should be tried and achieved at the onset. However, it is important for the governments to ensure that short term objectives, do not act as a hindrance in the path of long term goals. For instance, achieving price stability is a short term goal, whereas economic stability is a long term objective. No policy which aims at achieving price stability should act as an obstacle in the achievement of long term capital formation and economic growth.

In the articulation of a public policy, the bureaucracy or the policy making machinery has to take into account several factors. Firstly, every policy has to be formulated in accordance with the laws of the land and the provisions of the constitution. Secondly, policies should resemble or at least have some inputs based on the customs, traditions, norms and conventions of the citizens of the state. Thirdly, in the present world scenario, where globalization has erased international boundaries and brought about greater regional connectivity, policy makers should ensure that the policies are made in consonance with the International Law. Finally, policies should be made after due consultation and analysis of the needs of the society, and the numerous citizens, unions and associations inhabiting it.

Public officials have to play a crucial role in this policy making process. The function performed by them is generally threefold. This includes firstly, the acquisition and articulation of facts and data and supplying them to the concerned authority for preparing the framework of policies; and secondly, making the policy-framing machinery aware of the areas which require the attention and policies of the government. Moreover, due to lack of time, the legislature merely passes an Act in the form of the skeleton and transfers the power to the public officials to add the flesh to the skeleton, in the form of necessary information and areas that the policies should look into.

Governments perform a variety of functions to ensure that the needs of the citizens are fulfilled. Their functions are multi-fold such as, maintaining proper law and order, setting up committees to evaluate public policies, ensure equitable distribution of wealth in the society and also collect taxes for stabilizing the country’s treasury. Policies cover a large arena emphasizing on both vital and trivial requirements of the society. In a democracy, the opinion of the people forms the backbone of the government in power. In order to win over the people, it is mandatory for the existing authority to put forward policies that please the citizens not only in the immediate situation but in the future as well. Therefore, democracy and public policy go hand in hand, where the latter helps in the survival of the former.

– Contributed by Rajeshwari

Picture: Lawmakers in the Indian Parliament (Credits – indiatoday.in)

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