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AS I SEE THINGS: Keep politicians on their toes


Brian M. Francis, [email protected]

AS I SEE THINGS: Keep politicians on their toes

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I HAVE ARGUED SEVERAL TIMES in the past that there really cannot be anything to be gained in the medium to long term by those in authority who seem determined to hide the true state of the economy from the people for strictly political and tactical reasons.

Given the relatively short cycle with which these officials operate – usually five-year intervals – such behaviour can be understood for what it is worth.

My thesis, however, is that while this strategy may benefit the politicians in the immediate period, there really cannot be any long-term gains because eventually reality will strike home. And from Trinidad and Tobago in the south to Jamaica in the north, there are hundreds of cases of politicians telling half-truths to their respective nations about the states of their economies, only to be awakened soon thereafter by the realism of the situation and their ultimate demise in the next general election. To avoid such pitfalls, economic veracity must always rule the day.

As sensible as that piece of advice is, we, the people, must accept that change is not inevitable. Our politicians will continue to use whatever strategies they think can maximise their chances of retaining power and hence control government following a general election. Since the electorate has the final say, then they must ensure that things are done differently. The electorate must hold politicians responsible for their every deed and word and be as robust as possible in enforcement.

In simple language, those honest politicians must be rewarded with more votes. The others must be punished by lack of real support and be given a chance to reconcile and rebrand for the next polls.

But as a practical matter, how do we go about instituting a system of accountability and transparency in voting so that our politicians will get the message that things will be different next time around? What guiding principles can we deploy to ensure that economic veracity reigns supreme every time, particularly during election campaigns when the floodgates to grand and often empty promises about things such as no new taxes and no tuition fees for university education open?

To assist us in moving forward, let’s turn to the wisdom of the Greek historian Thucydides. Instead of envisioning that the gods – as imagined by the poet Homer – interfere in human strife, Thucydides instructs us to look for facts yet note how eyewitnesses have deficiencies of memory as well as their own interests to defend.

In order to commit ourselves to future generations we should avoid patriotic storytelling, even if it is most enjoyable to our audience. Instead, we should judge the evidence in accordance with human nature and how events occur and recur in similar and comparative ways.

Engage in comparative analysis of otherwise similar cases to identify why something happens again and again. Search for “data” which, by implication, is assumed to be indisputable. Evaluate the informants because we should be aware that they might be biased and might also have a tendency to forget. Rely on your knowledge of human nature and compare what is similar and what differs in order to reach generalised principles for why events occur (causality).

Can these instructions be any clearer? Are we, the people, more enlightened now that we are prepared to engage our politicians in a more evocative way to ensure that whatever they do and say to us about the state of our economies must redound to our benefit and to the benefit of our respective countries?

Email: [email protected]

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