Alert! attentive and active US citizens keeps US governments honest
Bevan Springer | 6/6/2013, 3:59 p.m.
Former cabinet minister Zhivargo Laing asserts that the decline of trust in government is partly due to the highly publicized and seemingly increasing moral and ethical failures of political leaders.
Laing, a prominent political economist, added that the confidence crisis can also be blamed on "the persistence of social and economic problems facing large groups of people despite the promises of relief brought on by political change after political change."
A usually conscientious citizenry also had themselves to blame, he contended, "if they didn't contribute fully because of their disappointment with government failings, and as a result, withdraw from the political and democratic processes."
When citizens withdraw, he declared, "it is not the politicians that suffer, but rather them and their fellow citizens that do."
While politicians might play the political game merely to win elections, this does great harm to their communities and nations. The former finance minister of the Bahamas added: "Winning elections only matters if the governing that follows progresses the nation. The nation only progresses where citizens as a group are better off after the elections than before."
Whether citizens are better off or not, Laing opined, is a matter of judgment on the part of citizens and not necessarily what political factions assert. "In the end, in an open democracy, the wisdom of the citizenry wins out," he said.
He believed trust in government will not be restored "by what citizens expect, but by what they inspect. There is a great need for politicians at both the national and local levels to be forced to submit themselves to greater inspection, scrutiny and accountability."
Politicians, Laing recommended, should be scrutinized both before and after they are elected. "They need to be subjected to rigorous scrutiny as to their thoughts about governing and their conduct in the governing process. The issue is to get at the heart of their policy content, intent and execution."
Only an alert, attentive and active citizenry can ensure this level of inspection, he averred. "It is much to ask of people caught up in their everyday lives and the burdens of making ends meet, but when politics matter to the quality of everyday life, then involvement is mandatory."
While an active fourth estate is important, the media cannot do it alone. Laing said: "It is not enough to leave the media to this inspection. It plays its role, but an active media and active citizenry can make for a powerful inspection mechanism for politicians. If you want to make an inept politician shake, tell him or her that both the press and his constituents are demanding to speak with him or her and have some tough questions to ask."
"Sleeping voters and a passive media are an ill-intentioned politician's dream," he said.
Laing concluded: "Our world needs drastic improvements in governance. If any improvement is to come, alert, attentive and active citizens must rise up and demand it. The more alert, attentive and active, the greater the improvement is likely to be."