WHAT IS PUBLIC POLICY?
Historically, the word policy came from old French policie and Greek politeia which means civil administration and citizenship respectively (www.parachute canada.org). From its original meanings, policy entails public administration. In other words, it is public policy. Thus; public policy generally is defined as a system of laws, regulatory measures, courses of action, and funding priorities concerning a given topic promulgated by a governmental entity or its representatives (Kilpatrick n.d.). However; there is no agreement on the meaning of the term “public policy.” Different scholars define this concept differently. Partly; the reason is that “the variety has to do with semantics, diversity in stressing a specific aspect of the phenomenon as observed in real world (Hill & Hupe, 2002 p.4)”. Therefore, this paper seeks to explain some of the variety of definitions as identified by Hogwood and Gunns which possess elements that are used in Public Policy: Policy arises from a process over time, policy involves inaction as well as action, policy involves behavior as well as intentions, policy have outcomes which may or may not have been foreseen, and policy is subjectively defined.
To begin with; policy-making process is generally a tiresome procedure except for least circumstances, when policies are projected, legislated, and implemented easily. Therefore; policy processes are a multifaceted web of interactions between a broad range of stakeholders motivated, and constrained by the contexts in which they operate (IDS, 2006; Oya, 2006). In order to understand better policy processes, then requires: Grabbing the narratives that tell the policy stories; and enabling or limiting power dynamics; politics and interests (Chinsinga, 2007). For example; the decision to study the social protection policy processes in Malawi was encouraged by stakeholders who sought for prospects of formulating a viable social protection policy as compared to the fertilizer subsidy policy programme. This process was led by the Department of Poverty and Disaster Management Affairs (DoPDA) in the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) to build up a social protection policy framework which was launched in 2005 and was drafted in 2006. A revised draft version of the policy was produced and distributed to stakeholders for feedback. Then the drafting team incorporated stakeholders’ observations and a final draft report of the policy was anticipated by June 2007. Thus; the public policy has indeed a time element as it is usually follows a long process.
Another definition worth to note is; policy involves inaction as well as action. Public policy is the heart, soul, and identity of governments everywhere (Cochran ; Malone, 2004). In other words; public policy is the back bone of government businesses universally. Elected officials are at liberty to formulate policies which will be implemented or not. For instance; the potential policies which get advertised by candidates and the party throughout the election campaigns, their realization when each side is in power is sometimes questionable. In Malawian context; during 2014 political campaigns, the incumbent president Prof Peter Muthalika promised a number of developmental activities if voted into power. Some of these promises were; his government will construct several public universities in the country within five years of his tenure. Contrary to his promises, none of the said universities has been constructed. Further; he promised to open community colleges where people will be acquiring vocational skills. This promise has materialized as witnessed by the graduations of those enrolled into these colleges recently. Therefore; policies involve inaction and action by elites who run the government.
Furthermore; policy involves behaviour as well as intentions, is another definition. This focuses on statements of specific actors whose political organizations wish to see them be undertaken by the government (Class notes, 2018). This is to say that words uttered or spoken by powerful political elites whether on political podium or not are turned into public policies which are later on implemented by the government. For instance; in Malawian context, in his first term of office, President Bakili Muluzi elevated Neno, Balaka, Likoma, and Phalombe into independent districts at political rallies. In related development; Muluzi’s successor Bingu wa Muthalika elevated the status of Zomba from municipality to city and that of Luchenza and Kasungu from township to municipality. He also reinstated Mangochi and Karonga as townships (Nyirongo, 2015). Accordingly; policy involves statements as well as intentions of powerful political elites which transform into policies that are implemented by the government.
Fourth; policies have outcomes which may or may have not been foreseen. Policy should embrace both what is intended and what happens as a result of the intention (Class notes, 2018). In other words, policies need to include what the government wanted to do and also what happens following implementation of those policies. For example; Kayerekera Uranium Mining was developed during the reign of late president, Bingu wa Muthalika. However; the government may not have foreseen negative effects of the project to the people and environment in Karonga. Rain water is contaminated by uranium exposed deposits, which empties into rivers and eventually in Lake Malawi, hence destroying the ecosystem. Consequently, policies have outcomes which may or may have not been foreseen.
Last; policies are subjectively defined. Hogwood and Gunn (1984: pp 23- 24) summarizes that ‘any public policy is subjectively defined by an observer as being such and is usually perceived as comprising a series of patterns of related decisions to which many circumstances and personal, group, and organizational influences have contributed’. This is to say that any policy is one-sidedly developed and focuses much on the phenomenon which is under observation on the ground and has similar elements contributed by stakeholders. This favoritism is clearly seen
in the definition of public policy by various scholars: Anderson defines public policy as a purposive course of action followed by an actor or set of actors in dealing with a problem. To Anderson, rationale is very important to any policy in order to address a challenge. Van de Graaf and Hoppe (1989) define public policy as means and ends, which have a relationship to each other. Political elites give the objectives, and it is the duty of administrators to build up correct policies. Further, practical cases; the Malawi Government approved the National Decentralization Policy in 1998 whose some objectives were: To promote accountability and good governance at the local level in order to help Government reduce poverty, and to mobilize the masses for socio-economic development at the local level (Malawi Decentralization Policy, 1998). Malawi National Water Policy was approved in 2005 and its goal; was sustainable management and utilization of water resources, in order to provide water of acceptable quality and of sufficient quantities, and the enhancement of the country’s natural ecosystems. The micro and small enterprise (MSEs) policy was developed during the reign of Bakili Muluzi (1994-2004) and its objective was to create a conducive climate within which MSEs can flourish. Thus, from above instances; it has been exposed that policies are subjectively developed in terms of goals/ objectives in order to address the specific problem at hand.
In conclusion; the paper has demonstrated that public policy is a complex concept hence no unanimity on the definition of this term