It happens to all governments: they come in with the best of intentions coupled with the belief that only they are equipped to ameliorate a bleak situation. They envisage themselves listening to the people, and addressing their dissatisfactions; and in the heady world of campaign dreams they imagine they will be popular and the public will be grateful to them. In the process they confuse the glib arts of the politician on the hustings with the qualities required of ministers to govern a nation, like competence, pragmatism and a mastery of their portfolios, to name a few. Once in office, daydreams collide with reality, and the result is not quite what they or those who voted for them had anticipated.
Furthermore, it seems that those who become ministers do not set great store by undertakings given on the campaign trail, either because when they do get into government they find that many of these are unimplementable or unrealistic, or because they never intended to abide by them in the first place.
There are always some members of a governing complement, of course, who may have been genuinely idealistic when they started out, but who sooner or later find the trend of the cabinet and the head of state moving on a different trajectory from the one they had espoused. They will nevertheless go along with it either because they feel they are committed to the government project in its larger sense, and there will eventually be a return to the original objectives, or because of personality weakness, or both.
Ministers do not often leave governments on issues of principle, and in a vindictive country like this one, it might even be considered a daunting step to take. What can be said, however, is that an idealist in among the unprincipled in government will not convert the latter to his or her view; rather he or she will be subsumed by them, and will have to go along or leave.
The tone in our kind of political structure is set at the very apex of the system; if at the pinnacle there is an indifference to or a bypassing of the law and the rules, the rest of the government will take its cue from that. Accountability, transparency and adherence to the rule of law start at the top, not at the bottom. Yet here when governments which do not adhere to the constitution and the laws become the targets of criticism they are offended, and first deny they are in breach, and then attack the messenger who made the criticism. It is very rare for an official to admit a transgression.
Something happens between a government coming into office, and then becoming established. In that period the utter self-confidence which characterized their accession takes over completely, and they are convinced that only they know what is best for the nation; no one else’s perceptions have any relevance. In addition they confuse what is in their own personal interest with what is good for the nation. In the case of this government this process began early, with the awarding of salary increases to themselves and parliamentarians in general – never mind that the public servants had been promised substantial raises which they never received – on the grounds that these were people of competence. It did not take the electorate too long to discover that this was in most cases considerably less than the truth.
There is the complicating factor in our situation that whichever government has been in office since 1966, has ruled only half a nation. The leaders have always spoken about inclusivity (although the word was not in fashion in earlier times) and governing for all the people, but it has never happened. Even if that is what they – or some of them, at least ‒ intended, the structure of their parties and their own mythologies about the past have combined to militate against it. Certainly, at the present time, the perception is that government is showing a predilection for its own constituency, just as the previous one did (and still does) in the case of its own constituency. Given the changing demographics of this country and the fact that it was the Indian supporters of the AFC on whom the coalition depended to secure office, it seems quite a reckless approach. While shared governance is an improbable, and arguably not even a desirable goal at this stage, fairness and justice in government certainly is.
One must presume that the government has reached the third stage of evolution in power: that is, not only does it see its critics as not having anything to contribute, they are also perceived as hostile parties. It is the further stage of confusing the state and the government, where the government takes on an almost individual human personality and a critic, therefore, becomes a personal enemy. It is true that this administration has been the recipient of criticism from the opposition the substance of which the latter were themselves guilty when in office, but that doesn’t mean that the principle they are enunciating does not have validity in its own right.
A democracy is not an easy system to run because it requires consultation, discussion and compromise, and it is particularly difficult in our ethno-political circumstances. However, we do not want to go back to any form of autocracy, and it is not for nothing that many have pointed to the numbers of active or former army personnel in government who are unfamiliar with civilian political norms, and may be responsible for the attempted simplification of the decision-making process in the corridors of power. Whatever the case, it has produced poor results.
Whatever mission the President had in his mind when he won the 2015 election, it does not seem to square with what the small group of floating voters expected when they pushed him over the line with a one-seat majority. What they were looking for was solid autonomous institutions, especially the watchdog ones; all the necessary commissions in place; adherence to the constitution and the laws; accountability and transparency; fairness and honesty in government; and yes, competent ministers. Perhaps President Granger should look around his cabinet table and reflect on whether any of this has been achieved.