Public Theology Forum | Keeping faith with the public
The following is submitted by the Public Theology Forum, an ecumenical group of ministers and theologians.
As a country, we have just had a change of political administration. This occurred in the best manner, in accord with the democratic tradition, for the most part. The period of electioneering was relatively peaceful and the actual electoral process was devoid of any extensive corrupt practices, from all reports on the event. This must be seen as a sign of real commitment to the democratic mechanism and its value for maintaining a stable form of governance.
This having been said, it nevertheless remains less than comforting that the number of electors themselves who participated in the process was a little less than half of those eligible to do so. This happened despite urgings from several influential individuals and groups in the society for participation. It was disturbing that the low level of participation was of a noticeable trend over some time.
Of the reasons advanced for the declining level of participation in the electoral process, one that seems to stand out is that of a pervasive disaffection and disillusionment with the political parties and their representatives in the legislature. Trust and confidence in them that they have the best interest of the people on a whole have diminished greatly. These have been replaced by a disturbing cynicism about their real intention and motive. It cannot be said that the politicians themselves have not, wittingly or unwittingly, contributed to this state of affairs.
This has led to a matter that has become a source of public comment and debate within recent times. It raises issues of the importance of keeping faith with the public on the part of elected representatives. Certain promises 'solemnly' given, not just in broad generalities but with very concrete specifics, accompanied by clear and direct assurances, were the basis on which support was sought from the electors, by one of the contesting parties in particular. The support was given and the party was elected to form the government.
The question has now arisen, what moral obligation does the party have to keep its word and satisfy the assurances as solemnly given? This is in the face of actual indications of substantial departure from, or modification of, the promises and assurances originally given.
What this has actually done is that it has afforded the opportunity for some serious thought to be given to certain of the disciplines and ideals that are necessary for maintaining and sustaining a viable and effective parliamentary democratic process. These relate directly and particularly to the matter of keeping faith with the people as indispensable to it all. What are some of the disciplines referred to? The following are worth mentioning as basic:
- Demonstrating absolute respect for the people as a non-negotiable necessity. This will mean, among other things, honouring their trust and confidence by displaying and maintaining absolute trustworthiness that is worthy of their trust and confidence. This immediately makes it unthinkable that at any moment there will be any attempt deliberately to deceive or mislead.
At the same time, the reality must be faced that the challenges and complexities of political decision-making, at the best of times, are daunting. There are imponderables, as well as daily dynamics, to be encountered that do make for less than easy policy implementation from time to time. Oversimplification must be avoided when the task of the governing political authorities is evaluated, related to their given word and promise.
Plans, policies, programmes and priorities are always best justified by conforming to ideals that promote the common good. Such ideals work for the personal and corporate development of the human potential and character of all, barring none. Such ethical norms as justice, righteousness, equity, compassion and solidarity are representative of ideals of the kind which will be a source of guidance.
It means that policies and programmes set to be implemented by a new administration will seek to conform to such ideals. It may well become tempting for an incoming administration to repeat the very policies of the previous administration that were then considered unfair in the name of fairness now. Policies and practices that are bad remain bad and cannot become the norm for subsequent practice in the name of moral balance and fairness. It is a retrograde step morally. It extends and advances what was already and remains bad.
It does not represent moral growth, development and maturity, which must be part of any perceived necessary growth need of a people. It runs the risk of normalising and institutionalising a bad idea and practice, that has been taking place over time. A new way of seeing and doing things will demand a break with such a practice.
Wrong used retributively distorts a people's moral vision and sets the stage for making vindictiveness acceptable. The antisocial nature of this is inimical to the democratic ideal from beginning to end.
Manifesting due civility towards, and regard for, fellow politicians, especially opponents, must be part of the exemplary function expected of those who are active participants in the democratic parliamentary process. This must, in turn, contribute to the nature of the relationship shared by followers and adherents of the respective parties and also for relationships shared in the wider community. Those who are trusted to be the people's representatives must be trusted to maintain a code of conduct and pattern of relationship with one another that set a standard worthy to be emulated.
The truth is that the democratic process and procedure allow for, and facilitate, sharing of contending ideas and sharply divided opinions and convictions. At the same time, these are different ways in which it is thought that the people's welfare will be appropriately and effectively served. There is a common commitment associated with the diversity and that is service of the people.
Mutual disrespect, disregard, contempt and demeaning attitude towards opponents are unacceptable. This must be extended to the people themselves who consider such persons fit to be their representatives.
Holders of the offices of power and authority must have the abiding awareness that they are mere mortals, with human limitations, neither perfect nor immovable, self-sufficient nor omnicompetent. Arrogance and authoritarianism are signs of critical weaknesses that lead to self-destruction in due time. Strength of character, moral courage, humility, wisdom and a vision of the common good to which all have a valuable contribution to make, and from which all are meant to benefit equitably, are virtues to be cherished at all times.
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