Monday, 6 December, 2021

Overcoming The Trust Deficit

Overcoming The Trust Deficit

Namrata Sharma


Trust is the foundation upon which the legitimacy of public institutions is built and is crucial for maintaining social cohesion. Looking at the current political development in Nepal, it will not be an exaggeration to say that we are in a state of lack of trust among the citizens towards the government and the opposition who are the so-called caretakers of the country. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that works to “build better policies for better lives” has stated that government’s values, such as high levels of integrity, fairness and openness of institutions are strong predictors of public trust. Similarly, government’s competence, its responsiveness and reliability in delivering public services and anticipating new needs, are crucial for boosting trust in institutions.

Roller coaster ride
After the restoration of democracy in 1990, Nepal went through a roller coaster ride where one political party after another came to power mostly as a coalition government. The country saw a series of political party splits and breaking up of government coalition. Being fed up with the unstable government, the people voted the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) to power with near two-thirds majority for a five-year term. Unfortunately, the NCN has now faced the same predicament of splitting and threatening the end of a strong government.
Even after three decades of restoration of multiparty democracy in the country, which has become a republic state from an absolute monarchy, the political parties are still learning how to rule and lead the country towards prosperity! The unfortunate fact is that not only the party ruling the country but the watchdog parties which form the opposition, mainly the Nepali Congress, too has not shown the leadership qualities and farsightedness that is required in a republic setup. How long can political leaders give excuses for petty personal needs, inter- and intra-party rivalries as excuses for personal interests which are above the needs of the citizens for their weak leadership?
Trust is important for the success of a wide range of public policies that depend on behavioural responses from the public. For example, public trust leads to greater compliance with regulations and the tax system. In the recent years, in Nepal there has been an increase in the habit of tax payment by the citizens with the commitment that a stable government needs support to lead the country towards prosperity. It is important to increase trust and maintain it to increase the confidence of investors and consumers. Especially, during a stage when the world is going through a pandemic, it is very important in countries like Nepal to establish trust in public institutions during containment, mitigation and recovery to secure public support.
The recent development in Nepal related to the dissolving of the House of Representatives by the government on December 20, 2020 and the reinstatement of the same by the Supreme Court on February 23, 2021 declaring that the government act of dissolving the parliament as unconstitutional, shows that the judicial system in the country has ensured, once more, that the law of the land supersedes political ambitions. However, during this whole process, it will not be an exaggeration to say that the trust of the citizens of the country has taken a deep dip in the downward curb. When all should have united to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, the battle within the ruling and opposition parties demonstrated the fact that these political parties are still in the process of improving their skills in governing the country. It has also demonstrated that the Nepali political parties still have leaders who give importance to their own petty interests more than the interest of the citizens whom they claim to lead.
It is the responsibility of governments and the opposition to meet the needs of the masses as opposed to selected groups in the society. The countries which are described as the most successful ones are mostly the liberal democratic states in Europe and the Americas. They manage public affairs and resources in a preferred way favourable to the entire population. In Nepal, the unity demonstrated by the civil society with the union of the Nepali Congress and several left-wing parties to oust the absolute monarchy and set up constitutional monarchy in 1990 AD, then another collaboration to end monarchy once and for all via the 2062/63 BS movement has demonstrated how the civil society and the political parties have come together to address the needs of the people. During the last three decades the people’s movements with the rise and fall of the left wave in the country has more or less now shifted towards a social democratic movement.

Good governance
Now the time has come to focus on establishing good governance while reinstating the trust of the people. The time has come to end ineffective political bodies which lead towards ineffective economy policies without properly focusing on outcomes. To establish good governance and regain public trust, it is important for the civil society, the government and opposition political parties, to come together one more. This time the focus must be on staging a social revolution with set goals that cater to the deliverables demanded by the people which include health, education, water, enforcement of anti-corruption, protection of property, environment, equal wage, gender equality and zero tolerance to Gender Based Violence. This is the only strategy to regain the trust of the people and prevent an uncertain situation that could be created in case a crisis is created by loss of trust.

(Namrata Sharma is a senior journalist and women rights advocate Twitter handle: NamrataSharmaP)