One can easily find a paradox in the concept of public consultation. When public consultation is formally declared and prescribed under democratic procedures, it immediately loses the benefits for which it was introduced. Consultation enforced by law loses its power as an instrument to bring society closer to the formulation of laws and power. A consultation is only a consultation conducted deliberately for all stakeholders, including the government and parliament. Therefore, we should not be surprised that the public reacts to legislative proposals that are not part of public consultation, even if they have been formally publicly consulted. This is because formal consultation, in many cases, ends with publishing the proposal on the website. The fact that a proposal is available and open for discussion does not have much to do with public consultation.
The publication of a proposal on the internet is, in fact, communication of two symptoms of those responsible for public consultation:
(a) I do not want to interact with you. I do have something to share with you, but I reduce this to your feedback. Maybe I will take your feedback into account, but I will not share my reactions with you. What you will get is a new legislative proposal that might incorporate your feedback to some extent. I do not want to communicate with you, but I might take your position or part of your position.
b) I do not think I can learn anything from this process. I could take some feedback, but I do not want to learn.
Does this mean that there should be a serious public consultation? And what should such a serious public consultation look like?
Let us look at a clear consultation case when a professional consultant is engaged. It is pretty clear that the consultant’s views may not be accepted or only partially accepted in such cases. If his suggestions are not accepted, the consultant’s ego suffers, but he has done his job anyway and has no right to complain. The client, in turn, also has no right to complain as long as the counsellor has done his best. The client may not hire a counsellor whose proposals are often rejected, but that is all he can do.
On the other hand, politicians introducing public consultation have no option not to hire a consultant because the consultants are all members of a particular constituency. Similarly, if their proposals are not accepted, the consultants (constituency members) can complain by simply not voting for that politician anymore. It looks as if the power is in the hands of the politicians, as in the case of a normal client-consultant situation, but in reality, there are consultants in public consultations who can fire their clients.
For this reason alone, we should conclude that public consultation as a concept fundamentally fails. It cannot work.
But then we all agree that politicians should listen to their constituencies for re-election reasons and if they happen to want to benefit society. What should they do if public consultations do not make sense?
Nothing other than what is the essence of a politician: to know the interests of the various constituencies and to use his wisdom to devise policies that best serve those interests. He must understand his constituency, and he should make sure that he understands the changes that are constantly taking place. In short, he must be open to constant lobbying.
The simple conclusion could be that public consultation was introduced because politicians got scared by the negative reputation of lobbying. They have exchanged the existing natural water, which is full of healthy ingredients and some dirt, for distilled water, which is deadly if we drink it.