Democracy reflects a country’s political conditions, echoing public voices in reiteration as well as the all-important practice. More than mere promises and claims, it embodies how state structures function and deliver the services to an average citizen. That really reflects what all democracy and governance is all about—or should be.
The Washington Post the other month reported that police officers had killed 1,096 people in the United States in 2022. And The New York Times commented: “The victims are disproportionately young Black men. Six officers have been fired by the Department of Justice, and prosecutors have charged five of them with second-degree murder—an important measure of accountability.”
Likewise, India’s Vice President Jagdeep Dhankhar not long ago made a pertinent point calling upon Indian Administrative Service Officers to constantly work for improvement in the delivery of services and redressing the grievances of citizens. He reminded them: “You owe your highest allegiance to the Constitution and must always strive to preserve and uphold the rights guaranteed under it while maintaining the principle of anonymity. Attracting attention to oneself or taking political positions must be avoided at all costs”.
Dhankhar’s advice to India’s civil servants is relevant to others, too. Public servants and elected representatives bear immense responsibility to address issues within their designated work area. Popular leaders can do even more, though much depends on their vision, core mission and approach to life and their constituents.
Duty-bound to serve citizens with their best of ability upholding institutional integrity is the first and foremost task expected of the bureaucracy anywhere.
If slogans and rhetoric were delivery in themselves, the relentless cry for better performance would be rendered redundant in most countries. Policy-makers have the responsibility of ensuring good governance. This is at least in the oft repeated utterances that many political leaders and their organisations make so tirelessly.
The gap between the words spun and the implementation recorded sends the scale of hope or frustration. Statistics alone will not suffice to satisfy people desperate for rule of law together with the availability of basic services like food, health, education and jobs. A quick appraisal of claims should make things clear as to the existing state of affairs covering various fronts, including living standards and social justice, with democratic principles as the principle criterion. Civil society leaders, development experts and the news media in the quest of in-depth and investigative stories can contribute richly to drawing the attention of all stakeholders in a fair and knowledgeable manner.
The public finds reliable neither those economical nor cavalier with the truth. Leaders tampering with the truth are exposed if it is about a well-documented past. If the misleading step is about the present, things might go either way, at times obtaining the benefit of doubt. But in the case of the future, the concerned leaders and experts can promise the public the skies but with the right mix of seriousness and confidence.
For, by the time the public realises the truth, new times and events would have sidelined or dimmed the prospect of wide and heated discussion on the falsity resorted to by culprits. Those who care for posterity and personal legacy do not go for such tactics. But they are a rare and respected breed.
Suspicions run amok among nations, which is nothing new. All through history, we come across examples underscoring this aspect of attitude between and among nations. Little wonder then that some governments keep a close watch on foreign agencies operating in their countries.
Vladimir Putin’s Russia has laws and regulations put in place to manage foreign-funded NGOs. Following growing differences between Russia and the United States, Moscow started shooing away foreign foundations since 2013. The move affected the National Endowment for Democracy and the Open Society Foundations. Others that were allowed to operate in the country were registered as foreign agents.
The World Inequality Report 2022 published by the French political economist Thomas Piketty and his team reiterate the inequalities prevailing with persistence in individual countries. Between 1995 and 2021, the top one per cent wealthiest people in the world accounted for 38 per cent of the growth in global wealth. This gravely contrasts with a measly 2 per cent share for the bottom 50 per cent of people. Likewise, the share of the richest 10 per cent was 52 per cent of global income. And the bottom half had to make do with but 8.5 per cent.
The prevailing inequalities in wealth and income are much worse and painful in the less developed among developing countries, where unemployment is high and basic needs remain far from being fulfilled. Such income and wealth inequality rankles the less privileged. The situation is aggravated if their morale sinks and with it dips their sense of hope for a better future.
Governance is about not deluding people but energising them to look forward to a better future with due improvements. The public finds reliable neither those economical nor cavalier with the truth. Leaders tampering with the truth are exposed if it is about a well-documented past. If a misleading step is about the present, things might go either way—at times obtaining the benefit of the doubt.
In the case of future, leaders could promise the public the skies but with the right mix of realistic seriousness and confidence. For by the time the public realises the truth, new times and events would have sidelined or dimmed the prospect of wide and heated discussion on the falsity resorted to by political culprits. Those who care for posterity and personal legacy shirk from such tactics. But they are a rare and respected breed.
In Nepal’s case, employment generation, rule of law and administrative efficiency should steer the ship of governance on an even democratic keel. After all, much of the world in the 21st century clamours for governance matching in practice the tenets of functioning democracy.
An honest, periodic and competent review of the existing conditions and their causes followed up by the necessary measures offer the road to speedy achievements crisscrossing the length and breadth of the country.
(Professor Kharel specialises in political communication.)