The polity: Who can be trusted?
By TP Saran
The level of mistrust in leaders in almost all countries is not a secret. It starts with politics and politicians, perhaps because they are the direct wielders of State power that can be used and misused (often seems to be more of the latter). In fact, as John Keane, Professor of Politics at the University of Sydney, points out in ‘notes on the future of democratic representation,’ inspired by Simon Tormey’s ‘The end of representative politics’ (2015), launched by the Sydney Democracy Network, we face a major ‘democratic challenge: the challenge of breathing life back into political parties as trusted representatives of the wishes and needs of citizens considered as equals.’ (bold and italics added)
Common good key to reversing trust deficit. Pic – Eureka Street
In fact, he makes an observation which reflects what we have been witnessing in established parties on the local scene: ‘Parties today are ghostly silhouettes of their former selves.’ And goes on to note that this ‘raises the question: since for the foreseeable future political parties will remain indispensable conduits of access to such state resources as taxation revenues, law-making powers and policing and military force, which kind of political party has the greatest chances of success in getting out the vote, attracting the support of citizens?’
In Mauritius we have kept changing from one political alliance to another, on the assumption that it was a change to another kind of politics, implying another, better way of doing things, of running the affairs of State for the benefit of its citizens. But what we have seen repeatedly is that after a brief sweep of the new broom, the old ways openly make a comeback.
Although we talk about the trust deficit across government, institutions and organisations of all kinds including civil society structures and corporates, at the end of the day trust is a matter that has to do more with people than with any system that is put in place by any of these entities. The latter are abstractions, maybe with legal ‘personhoods’ for the purpose of conducting transactions and assigning responsibility and accountability, but it is the people within them in their different roles and capacities who eventually ‘press the button’ as it were. That is, they take or influence decisions, and thus, when it comes to citizens trusting that such decisions are fair and meant for the common good, i.e. are equitable, it is clear that they think not of the abstraction but of the people associated with them. And, starting with the government and politicians – because, as has been pointed out above, they represent the apex of power in any country –, the issue of trust cuts across all aspects and levels of the functioning of society.
Going down from the top, as it were, as common citizens we put the question of whether we can trust:
- the government, that is the politicians who comprise it, to ensure the setting up of systems and structures that will govern the running of institutions in all transparency, objectivity and with accountability?
- that there will be absolutely no political interference in the running of these institutions, including threats that may silence officers into submission?
- that awards of contracts will be made on the basis of objective criteria that will be strictly adhered to, and that there will be no arm-twisting to suit lobbies or cronies?
- that the politician will not fool us with unfulfilled electoral promises, or promise more that can be delivered?
- that the banker will safeguard our money, and not siphon it elsewhere locally or abroad?
- that the insurance company will honour the terms and conditions of schemes that they propose, that they will not put the onus on us for not having been properly informed of the fine print clauses?
- that the lawyer or attorney will not take us on a spin and truly and honestly fight our case and obtain justice, rather than compromise in tacit collusion with the counterparts?
- that the civil servant that we face across the table or the window will not sabotage us through rigid procedures that could do with a modicum of flexibility so as to lighten our burden?
- that the media will not dabble in sensationalism but instead provide us with the real news, will verify facts before presenting them as information written in stone, will not conduct trials and make judgements but instead leave that to the law courts, will not falsely accuse and tarnish a person’s good name and relegate any rectification to the smallest print in the most remote corner of a newspaper?
- that the health professionals will look at us as human beings in distress who need support and due treatment, and not burden us with unnecessary and costly investigations? That they will not prescribe treatment that will be worse than the disease, and that they will inject compassion in the care which is our due?
- that patients will not pressurize doctors to do unnecessary XRays, scans, blood tests because their friends or relatives have had these done too?
- that patients will await their turn and not jump the queue when they come to hospital or health center, in the same manner as they follow the rules in other places, such as the bank or the post office?
- that teachers will teach with passion and interest, that students will be respectful of their teachers and accept the need for discipline and order in the schools and colleges? That the ‘ministry’ will not tolerate indiscipline and side with pupils who have political connections?
- that parents will fully assume their role and responsibility as regards the behaviour of their wards, and that they will not bully the teachers or principals – and that too in front of the unruly student – who are doing their level best to inculcate values and impart education that will prepare their wards for life?
- that priests will not exploit the vulnerabilities and weaknesses of people who are seeking solace, and that they will refrain from paedophilia?
- that the policeman who books us will be doing so genuinely and not seek a bribe?
- that we will neither bribe nor be bribable?
We can go on, but this list is representative enough of all types of situations in which the common citizen may get involved.
We have flagged the issue of trust and the idea, and the rest is up to all of us: to ponder seriously and to act accordingly, so as to reduce and if possible to eliminate the trust deficit that prevails, and to enhance the moral atmosphere in society. And make it a society worth living in, and which we can be proud to leave to our children. If not for us, at least we can do that for them?
* Published in print edition on 7 May 2021
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