Political promises: The Say-Do gap

We cannot fail the upcoming generations, and we cannot indulge in the luxury of falsehoods to lure them into voting this way or that. So: no empty promises, but solid, sincere commitments

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

In health research we speak of the ‘Know-Do’ gap, that is the gap between new scientific knowledge and their application, between what we know and what is actually being done to improve health care, whether it is at country level or even at individual level. There are many factors that are involved in translating knowledge into practice. A simple example is the incontrovertible evidence that tobacco is injurious to health – which information is widely available and disseminated through public health policies advising that people should refrain from using tobacco. And yet people continue to smoke and harm themselves.

In the political domain we seem to have an equivalent which we could call the ‘Say-Do’ gap – the gap between what is promised in the electoral manifesto and what is actually achieved in practice. If my memory serves me right, there was a survey done in Australia some years ago to assess in percentage terms how much of what was announced during election time was fulfilled, and in many sectors the level of attainment fell quite short of what was expected.

As people listen to the political broadcasts and take cognizance of the manifestos of the different parties taking part in the coming elections, they are having high hopes about the immediate ‘goodies’ to come – but also apprehensions about whether it will really be possible to eventually meet all the promises that are being made. However, they assume that the leaders and others proposing the range of measures know what they are talking about and given the chance will be able to abide by what they say.

Tall order.

Again, the field of health – specifically public health epidemiology – could suggest an approach that could help the deciders to frame their proposals in a more realistic and credible way to the electorate. If we consider these proposals as ‘interventions’ to be implemented, this could be envisaged in three steps, as follows:

Step 1: CORE – Interventions that are feasible to implement with existing resources in the short term.

Step 2: EXPANDED – Interventions that are possible to implement with a realistically projected increase in reallocation of resources in the medium term.

Step 3: DESIRABLE – Evidence-based interventions which are beyond the reach of existing resources.

Valeur du jour, given the high degree of confidence and the forcefulness with which they have been announced, measures such as the increase of the Old Age Pension (taking the upper limit) to Rs 10,000 starting December, going up to Rs 15,000 by the end of the mandate; the extension of equivalent benefits to other vulnerable categories such as widows, the handicapped, etc; reduction of electricity price by 25% (for as several articles have argued in this paper, the price of electricity locally favours the producers at the expense of the consumers) are a few that would fall into the Step 1 category.

However, in my humble opinion, the credibility of the leaders with respect to their commitments would be much enhanced if they were to supplement such measures with personal examples of contributions to the national cause. I have suggested the idea of a dedicated ‘Solidarity Fund’ in my article ‘Practise what you preach’ in this paper (25 October 2019), which could eminently be a Step 1 intervention and would give a real boost to the incoming team.

In the same line of thinking, a major impactful step would be for the incoming team to walk the talk as regards waste of public resources – for example, by not renewing the fleet of cars for ministers, the existing ones being surely in good enough running condition to last the mandate. Besides, this would also demonstrate positively their concern for the environment.

On the other hand, they could also be magnanimous in applying, with due acknowledgement, some measures that have been echoed by other parties – after all, they are for the benefit of the people. One such that I heard being proposed concerned women who are victims of violence: instead of going to the police stations, arrangements should be made for them to be seen at hospital level, and secondarily by women police officers, and where this is needed, by the forensic medical officer also at the hospital level, all in a bid to respect their dignity and providing active support in their situation of distress. There is no reason why this could not be a Step 1 level measure; it would be an immense relief to these victims.

There are a number of other valid measures from among those proposed across all parties that could be similarly put into practice as Step 1. Unless I am terribly naïve, this would also be a way of neutralising some of the unhealthy rivalries, in the sense of recognizing that as a country we are open to ideas coming from any citizen or group of citizens meant for the common good. That would also foster a spirit of national solidarity that should set in once the fierce political sparrings have died down when the elections are over and done with!

I must say that I have heard a number of very valuable proposals being made by candidates from different parties. One for example was about helping out the Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) sector by setting up a ‘SME banking facility’ at each of the 44 post offices in the country. The idea was to spare the applicants having to knock at the door of politicians for access to finance, as well as save time by not having to wait in long queues at bigger banks. Whatever be, the feasibility of this suggestion of regionalization could be discussed in greater depth.

Another idea that sounded very doable was about giving a new lease of life to the small planters who have given up sugarcane plantation.

The very vocal young man speaking on the issue was evidently very knowledgeable about his subject, elaborating as he did on conversion of the 20,000 acres of abandoned land into areas for growing chanvre industriel. Apparently there was a potential of billions of rupees in this sector with export capacity and an assured income to the planters, besides the potential to also produce bioplastics which are in high demand worldwide. This would be a Step 2 intervention that would no doubt come as a great relief to the small planters.

I am given to understand that a foreign investor had come with a similar project here earlier this year but given the indifference of the authorities he decided to take his project elsewhere. Let us hope that this son of the soil will be heard and action taken that would simultaneously lighten the burden of the future team, for the small planters have been running from pillar to post with nigh a solution in view for their plight.

What we certainly need is a structure akin to the former Ministry of Economic Planning and Development where citizens with concrete ideas could bounce them with the assurance that the country is willing to at least lend an ear – and engage with them to advance any valid, viable project that would foster economic growth or bring about tangible improvement in the country’s overall welfare even if it doesn’t directly affect economic growth.

We have no choice but to look to the future with hope for our upcoming generations. As responsible adults we cannot fail them, and we cannot indulge in the luxury of falsehoods to lure them into voting this way or that: they must know what they are going for, and we must deliver to them, and for them. So: no empty promises, but solid, sincere commitments to reduce and if possible eliminate the Say-Do gap.

* Published in print edition on 6 November 2019

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