The understanding of the concept of public policy is of vital importance. Therefore, there is a need to define this concept. On one hand, Parsons (1995; 2-3) defines public as “a sphere of life that is not purely private, but is instead the common domain of all in society” and on the other hand, he defines policy as “purposive course of action followed by an actor or set of actors in dealing with a problem”. This means that public policy is regarded as the pursuit of a particular course of action that is aimed at achieving a desired goal for the public.
Another author defines public policy as “a relatively stable, purposeful course of action taken by Government or public actors in addressing a social problem” (Chimsinga, B. (2017b). It means that policy needs to address the social problems of the people. Moreover, public policy also refers to both action and inaction (Love and Garg, 2014). It imports that policies are made either when the government acts or fails to act on a particular issue. The other definition of public policy is “policy as an outcome and output” (Giugni, 1998).
Wogwood and Dunn, (1994) provide a definition of public policy that encompasses the above meanings. This demonstrates that public policy is a highly contested concept. In addition, the policy cycle is crucial. Chimsinga (supra), holds that public policy cycle involves problem definition, agenda setting, policy formulation, policy implementation and policy restatement. In addition, Chimsinga (supra), notes that the Government, media, political parties, civil society, citizens and international organizations are vital actors that constitute policy making environment. Hence this essay shall discuss the public policy cycle and the environment of public policy thereby incorporating the Coalition Theory and Sociological Theory.
Discussion and Analysis
Public Policy Cycle
There is a need to understand the public policy cycle. It is the policy making process that involves “problem definition, agenda setting, policy formulation, policy implementation and policy restatement” (Chimsinga, ibid; p.354). First, the issue of problem definition relates to identification of the issue to be resolved (Chimsinga, supra). For example, Daire, Kloster & Stroreng (2018), observe that Dr. Hastings K. Banda, Malawi’s first president after independence in 1964, rejected family planning.
In July 2015, Malawi’s Special Law Commission on the Review of the Law on Abortion drafted a bill to decriminalize abortion laws after estimating that “51,693 abortions resulted in complications (ibid). This policy was aimed at curbing the problem of maternal mortality. However, U. S. President Trump’s decision to “reinstate and extend the Mexico City policy” poses a threat to enactment of the bill due to that it states that countries permitting abortion would not receive donor aid from United States of America. This shows how politics play a role in identifying problems in policy making. It would have been proper to refer the issue to the members of parliament to vote as they represent the wishes of the people. The second phase is policy formulation.
It involves problems, policies, and politics that converge to create a “window of opportunity that results in issues on the agenda setting for legislative enactment” (Kingdon, 1995; 166). This is where the role of the Parliament in making laws is manifested. For example, the Access to Information Bill has been legislated by the Parliament in Malawi. This is aimed at expanding the rights of journalists to obtain information without problems.
Besides, as part of the agenda setting, the leader of opposition demanded, during the first reign of late Bingu Mutharika, that there would be no budget if section 65 of the Constitution would not be applied on members who crossed the floor (Watkins, 2005). Thus it provided the window of opportunity to resolve other issues before budget could be passed in parliament.
Next phase is implementation whereby “policy decisions attain their final structure during the implementation process often involving the bureaucracy” (Chimsinga, supra). It means that this process involves the carrying out of the policies into action after they are formulated. For instance, Banda’s foreign policy illustrates the point.
Since Malawi is landlocked, he supported Mozambiquecan government (during civil war there) which was communist by providing the army to secure the Nacara corridor alongside the Mozambiquecan solders to facilitate transportation of Malawian goods (Sagawa, 2011). At the same time he provided the Malawi Young Pioneer to help Renamo being the opposition-armed group fighting the government as a means of dealing with communist regime in Mozambique (ibd).
This means that Malawi’s policy was advantageous in that donor aid flowed to Malawi and imports and exports were transported through Nacara railway. However, Banda followed a dangerous path by assisting Renamo on account of that when late former president, Machel, of Mozambique realized that he had been assisting the said armed group, he threatened to deploy missiles along the common border with Malawi (ibid). This posed a threat to Malawi. Lastly, there is evaluation.
This is the end and the assessment of the policy (Sagawa, supra). For example, the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDs) is “the strategy for Malawi designed to attain Malawi’s long term development aspirations and covered a period from 2006 and 2011” (MGDs, 2006-20011). This policy had reduced poverty and “the economy grew at an average of 7.5 percent against the projected target of six percent (ibid). This is consistent with policy as outcome (Nadel, 1975). Consequently, the second MGDs policy was initiated to run from 2011 to 2016 with the same aspirations and objectives. Thus evaluation helps to determine whether a particular policy is a success or not and assists the policy makers to chart the way forward in tackling social problems.
Environment of Public Policy
In addition to policy making cycle, there is also the environment of public policy. It refers to policy making process by such actors as government, civil society and international community as some of the actors. Chimsinga (ibid), adds media, political parties and citizens to the list of actors in policy making. Accordingly, such actors as government, civil society, international community and media will be discussed herein. First, government relates to the actions of the executive, legislature and judiciary.
It is central to the initiation and formulation of policies. However, politics in Malawi have played a negative role in interfering with decisions of the court. For example, “in November 2001…National Assembly passed motions…to remove from office three judges of the High Court” for anti-Government decisions they made (Gloppen & Kanyongolo, 2017; 109). This was aimed at influencing the courts to decide cases in favour of the politicians; however, this policy had been blocked by civil societies and donors to Malawi.
Nourse (1941) holds that the Sociological Policy Theory assumes that “groups will organize and mobilize more or less vigorously depending on the perceived costs or benefits of a policy” to the society. In this case, groups mobilized more vigorously to prevent a policy that would favour politicians. Thus the government is sometimes politically motivated when formulating policies. It follows that the citizens could be disadvantaged by such actions. Secondly, the civil society also plays a vital role. The civil society involves “the church, interest organizations or pressure groups or specific NGOs…policy making process in their respective spheres of influence” (Chimsinga, ibid).
For example, Chanika, E. et al. (2013), hold the view that the minority rights advocacy organizations like the Center for Development of People (CEDEP) and the Center for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) condemned the arrest and conviction of Monjeza and Chimbalanga in 2010 and appealed to international community. Nourse (ibid), holds that the Coalition Theory “asserts the significance of conscious choices by actors and groups that have common and identifiable goals and purposes.” It shows that a group with common interests is more powerful in influencing policies than an individual. Accordingly, late Preident Bingu Mutharika pardoned the prisoners during an official visit of, UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon (Chinika et al (ibid).
This shows that in the implementation of policies the civil society play a pivotal role. I am of the view that laws should be decided by citizens not foreigners because they reflect their own aspirations. The next issue is on international community. These are the actors from abroad. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) assesses the budgetary expenditures, advocates for poverty reduction programmes and provides loans to Malawi Government to formulate economic policies (Watkins, supra).
For example, he holds that they helped to achieve the Malawi Growth and Development strategies from 2006 to 2011. It shows that they contribute significantly to policy making in Malawi. However, Chanika et al (ibid) note that the IMF also advocates gay marriages in Malawi as a condition for aid. This negatively affects the policies of Malawi as they are fashioned in the interests of donors and not the citizens. Lastly, the media also contributes to the policy making process.
Chimsinga (ibid), observes that the media “Acts as a sounding board in their interactive relationship with public opinion.” For example, since 1993, the mass media in Malawi have been providing information on “electoral process, the legal rights, duties of voters, policies of contesting parties, personalities of candidates, and the conduct of campaign meetings” (Levi Z. Manda, 2017; p.250). It demonstrates that they contribute positively towards policy making. However, Manda (ibid), argues that the media sometimes provide partisan political information. I am inclined to think that the media should avoid partisan politics by balancing the political information to permit the public have diverse views thereby promoting democracy. Thus the media is crucial.
The foregoing discussion has demonstrated that the concept of public policy in significantly contested. Among other conceptualizations of this concept is that public policy is dubbed as both action and inaction. The policy making cycle as well as the environment of public policy have been discussed. This essay has established that policy makers sometimes manipulate the process to promote political ends thereby putting the people at disadvantage. However, public policy is important and should serve the interests of the people in the country as it helps in resolving emerging problems.
- Anderson, C. (2005) ‘What’s the Difference Between Policies and Procedures?’ Bizmanualz: Routledge Ltd Chanika, E. et al. (2013, p.7) in their journal titled ‘Gender, Gays and Gain: The Sexualised Politics of Donor Aid in Malawi,’ available on line http://www.jstor.org/stable/43941321, accessed on 13-07-2018
- Chinsinga, B. (2007) as quoted by Svasand, L. & Patel N (2017). ‘Government and Politics in Malawi,’ Zomba: Kachere Series Daire,
- J., Kloster, M.O., & Stroreng, K.T. (2018). ‘Political Priority for Abortion Law Reform in Malawi: Transnational and National Influences’ available on https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/90023066, accessed on 10-11-2018
- Giugni, M. G. (1998) ‘Was It Worth the Effort? The Outcomes and Consequences of Social Movements’ available on https://www.jstor.org/stable/223486, Accessed: 11-11-2018 12:57 UTC
- Gloppen, S. & Kanyongolo, E.E. (2017) as quoted by Svasand, L. & Patel N (2017). ‘Government and Politics in Malawi,’ Zomba: Kachere Series
- Hogwood, B.W.& Gunn L.A. (1984). ‘Policy Analysis for the Real World,’ Oxford: Oxford University Press