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AS I SEE THINGS: Governance and people’s expectations


Brian M. Francis, [email protected]

AS I SEE THINGS: Governance and people’s expectations

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THERE IS ABSOLUTELY no denying that a very close link exists between governments and the choices people make irrespective of the physical size of a country, the level of resource endowments with which the society is blessed, the type of democracy being practised and the economic and ideological make up of the government.           

That governments-people nexus is reflected in no better circumstances than the kinds of governance systems in existence in various countries. To me, it is always interesting to get a clear picture as to what precisely are people’s expectations when it comes to the governance of our societies. 

Are people willing and able to take full responsibility for the choices they make or are they prepared to surrender their freedoms to choose, allowing instead governments to make those decisions for the masses?

You see, there would always be those among us who are incapable of looking after their personal affairs, sometimes due to their own ill-discipline and other times due to no fault of theirs. For example, if a young boy drops out of secondary school before graduating with his CXC certificates and becomes unemployable but still decides to have children with an unemployed mother, clearly such behaviour is likely to lead to deprivation of many of the basic requirements of life for mother, father and children. The result is that the government may very well be forced to intervene to provide assistance to that young family. Hence, a cycle of dependence emerges. In this scenario, the individuals are at fault.

If, on the other hand, a young person loses his entire family because of an unfortunate act of nature, then, the government is obligated to look after that person’s interest. While that phenomenon also creates a state of dependency, the individual is clearly not at fault.

The two examples highlighted contrast the case with an individual making a poor choice with that of another person who had no alternative but to allow the government to make decisions on his behalf.

The question that arises therefore is: As citizens of a country, are we prepared to allow governments to unduly influence the pace and direction of life in our societies by making choices for us on important national issues or will we rise to the challenge and suggest to governments the things they can and cannot do in our names?

As we contemplate our responses to that million-dollar question, maybe we should take a bit of time to reflect on some sobering words of wisdom by one, Phillip Pettit, who had this to say about certain relationships that exist among agents in societies: “Think of how you feel when your welfare depends on the decision of others and you have no come-back against that decision. You are in a position where you will sink or swim, depending on their say-so. And you have no physical or legal recourse, no recourse even in a network of mutual friends, against them.

You are in their hands. In any case of this kind you will be dominated by others, being in a position where those others have the power of interfering in your life in a certain way: and this, more or less arbitrarily; more or less at will and with impunity.

If you do escape ill treatment, then, that will be by the grace or favour of the powerful, or by your own good fortune in being able to stay out of their way or keep them sweet. And even if you are lucky enough to escape such treatment, you will still live under the mastery of those others: they will occupy the position of a dominus – the Latin word for master–in your life.”

Have you fully internalised those words yet?  Your humble servant rests his case!

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