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Government matters & is legit

Edgar Leonard. Photo: Provided
Edgar Leonard

The institution of government matters, and it is legit. Nonetheless, the government is often criticised, maligned, and raked mercilessly over hot coal. Nevertheless, some of the criticism is self-inflicted and well-deserved.

For example, many often view government as a) bureaucratic, b) self-serving/parasitic, c) elitist, d) corrupt, e) wasteful and inefficient, f) reactive, g) master of spin and doublespeak, h) too big, i) habitat for the best and worst of elected and appointed officials, j) duplicative, k) chooses winners and losers, l) promotes nepotism and cronyism, m) tax and spend, n) tribal, cultural, polarizing, and divisive, o) favour the rich over the poor, p) favour lobbyists and campaign contributors over ordinary voters, p) viewed with distrust, cynicism, and scepticism, q) broken and dysfunctional, among other things.  Government has to wear many of the tags noted above, but the government can improve upon the shortcomings.

Moreover, in his inaugural address on January 20, 1981, former US President Ronald W. Reagan stated: “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.” Nevertheless, time and events have demonstrated that President Reagan may have missed the bullseye with his statement. Additionally, the following quote is also attributed to the former US president: “The most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”’ This mantra or maxim may have unleashed a persistent and present level of distrust in, disrespect for, skepticism, and cynicism about government. What is the function of government?

Roles and Responsibilities

Government has numerous roles and responsibilities attributed to it. However, the ideal, quintessential mission/vision is to protect and provide goods and services to the community and to develop goals, objectives, strategies, and tactics to protect and serve the community over the longer term. Moreover, it is unreasonable to expect markets to deliver efficient and effective services consistently; government is expected to fill the gap. In essence, government exists to solve problems other institutions are reluctant to tackle. Additionally, the government provides non-excludable services, i.e., goods and services that cannot be withheld even if some community members refuse to pay for them, e.g., public school.

Civil Service

In a modern, stable democracy such as the VI and other regional sister countries, the civil service is the engine that drives and makes government works. They are the lifeblood that carries the oxygen to make government work. Nonetheless, civil servants are often maligned and treated harshly and viewed unflatteringly: lazy, self-serving, incompetent, corrupt, bureaucratic, wasteful, and so on. Yet the hard truth is that they are indispensable and that few aspects of our lives would not be chaotic with their absence. Some civil servants often get the blame for poor customer service. However, the government institution must also shoulder the blame, for every civil servant from the top leader(s) down to the unskilled worker has a supervisor, a manager, or a team leader. A common saying in the universe of facility management is ‘don’t expect what you don’t inspect.’

Similarly, in government, what gets recognized and rewarded gets repeated. For example, if superb performance is recognised and rewarded, it gets repeated; similarly, if poor performance is ignored, it too gets repeated. Moreover, senior civil servants are non-partisan advisors (or at least they should be) to elected and appointed officials. They bring public affairs and technical knowledge experience to assist elected/appointed officials in enacting policies.  

Rough and Tough Going

The coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic clearly shows that government is the go-to institution/entity when the going gets rough and tough. President Regan’s revolution created the mantra that government is the problem, not the solution to community problems. Nevertheless, during the pandemic, residents look to and expected government to protect their health, safety, and personal well-being. Consequently, borders were closed, mask mandates imposed, social distancing suggested/imposed, curfews and quarantines instituted, testing and contact tracing conducted, gatherings size limited, vaccine delivered, hygienic protocols suggested, and stimulus provided to individuals and businesses, and institutions, among other actions. The government was the only entity with the power to implement such measures. Further, for example, when a hurricane (hurricane Irma in September 2017) or earthquake or flood strikes or industry or business close and employees are laid off, or an epidemic hit and so on, residents lean heavily on the government for help, not typically to the market for solutions. Moreover, the rallying cry often during a disaster, a crisis, is where is government, when is it going to show up, or what is taking it so long. Is government perfect? No. It is afflicted with many issues, some of which are self-inflicted, and others may be beyond its control. Nonetheless, voters/residents have the ability and responsibility to demand better governing.

Accountability and Responsibility

Voters have the ability, power, and obligation to demand and hold government responsibility and accountability for the things it does and the things it should have done but failed to do. The real power lies with voters/residents, but voters yield their power to politicians; voters must take that power back. Moreover, some politicians/political parties desire to get power, retain power and maintain control create an environment of polarisation, tribalism, weaponising issues, igniting culture wars, creating division, and killing debate and compromise. Many ardent supporters fuel this environment, adversely hampering the government’s ability to develop policies and enact needed and critical legislation to promote growth, development, and sustainability. Moreover, for personal/selfish reasons, too many of us refuse a) to speak out against poor governing, b) look the other way, or c) cast a blind eye towards deviant behaviour, poor performance, incompetence, corruption, etc.

Further, to make government work more efficiently and effectively, government must make the most probable, best decisions that benefit the most people; residents/voters must forcefully but peacefully advocate and agitate for better government. A country gets the government the public demands and expects. Similarly, a country also gets the government whose poor performance the public chose to ignore. Rewarding poor performing, do-nothing politicians stagnates a country; voters must avoid employing the Peter Principle. Changes may be necessary for politics to keep things on the level and continue to make government matter. However, change may not come from politicians; the public has to effect the change.

Government is not perfect and doesn’t always do things efficiently and effectively, but government matters. And active citizens activism and engagement are needed to hold the government responsible and accountable and drive it to perform better and to make it matter. Distrust, disrespect, cynicism, skepticism, polarisation, culture wars, tribalism, division, hypocrisy, spin…. etc. aside, government still matters. 

9 Responses to “Government matters & is legit ”

  • one eye (17/09/2021, 08:59) Like (1) Dislike (0) Reply
    Another good read
  • Good Advisor Free-Of-Charge Advisory (17/09/2021, 12:14) Like (0) Dislike (0) Reply
    Mr. Edgar Leonard, my deep respect for you Sis, almost ever statement that you have said about government is the truth. But most of us black and brown skin, and a lesser number of White skin people don't like reading articles that are very long, as good as they are, and the helpfulness of the information therein. In my honest opinion, sir, I would like to suggest to you that if you so desire for a larger among of persons to read your articles, then, try using less words to get your points across to us. In other words, if you have the ability, I believe that you do, to bring a point and more across to us by the use of 400 words, 1000 word used is a turn off. No criticism to you sir, your are a brilliant writer, and you are on point approximately 98% of the time, but less words to prove you points, get others to appreciate your good judgement, and skilful writings, ✓
    • E. Leonard (18/09/2021, 00:52) Like (2) Dislike (1) Reply
      @Good Advisor Free-Of-Charge Advisory, thanks for the kind words and your taking the time out to provide some valuable feedback. Your suggestions are duly noted, and I will attempt to strike that delicate balance clarity and brevity without sacrificing clarity.
  • RealPol (17/09/2021, 12:30) Like (2) Dislike (0) Reply
    Agree. Government matters. But people have to put personal interest on the back burner and step forward to take actions needed to make government responsible and accountable. Change is definitely needed but change must come from an engage populace. It takes the whole community to continue to make sure government matters.
  • Political Observer (PO) (17/09/2021, 14:18) Like (2) Dislike (0) Reply
    @E. Leonard, deep, thought provoking insight into how the workforce resulted in locals concentrating into administrative jobs and expats into the crafts/vocational skills. Many other commentators have waxed about the lack of locals in vocational education/skills; if memory serves me well, I remember you several years ago penning an article in another local eNews site on the workforce. You mentioned benchmarking Singapore educational system. In Singapore as my research shows, students entering secondary are allowed to choose from among three bands, ie, Express, Normal (academic) and Normal (technical). Truth be told, our people like to work in clean, air conditioned space jobs. Nonetheless, craft jobs, eg, electrician, plumber, mason, carpenter, automechanic, air condition and refrigeration tech….etc pay well and often on average pay better than admin jobs. Prying Virgin Islanders from admin jobs will be a tough row to hoe but needs to be done.
    • Political Observer (PO) (17/09/2021, 17:20) Like (2) Dislike (0) Reply
      Oops! Inadvertently posted under the wrong commentary . Intended to be posted under commentary that ‘ Virgin Islanders use to build everything for themselves.’ Nonetheless, this commentary too is an interesting thought provoking read. Though government is maligned and the butt of jokes, indeed, government does matter but citizens cannot put it on autopilot. As noted, our lives would be more chaotic without government. Thus, to make government work, we must be bold in holding it responsible and accountable to us. We too often hopelessly throw up our hands in disgust about government poor performance, giving up that we cannot do anything about it (government) until the next election perhaps. The vote of no confidence is a long shot, a Hail Mary in football lingo.,Perhaps, the next constitutional review should include a mechanism for a more practical recall opportunity for a poorly performing government. A majority of voters voted for a government and a majority of voters should have the opportunity to recall a government if the situation warrants it.
  • Long/Term Civil Servant (17/09/2021, 20:34) Like (2) Dislike (0) Reply
    As a long-term, hard working civil servant, thanks for recognizing, in-spite of some shortcomings in the service, that civil servants are indispensable and the lifeblood and the oxygen that make government function. Yes, sometimes due to politics and other means, it functions and matters.
  • Quiet Warrior (18/09/2021, 07:33) Like (2) Dislike (0) Reply
    Distrust in government makes it harder to see how government matter and how it works for the lil man. Government works for family, friends, big shots, campaign contributors….etc. Government is a lap dog for the rich. The rich has power and influence over government. The middle class is expected to contribute their fair share to make government. Make the rich do the same. Build trust in government.
  • Ne Timeas (18/09/2021, 09:12) Like (2) Dislike (0) Reply
    Dead on and timely. Political patronage and dependency are an integral part of the political and social culture. Almost total dependency is omnipresent and an omnipowegul part of the political constituency. In that vein, it is similar to the slavery designed total dependency—the plantation economy. A dependency that is a hindrance to creativity and innovation. The culture of dependency slows economic growth, development, snd sustainability, social development …..etc. It stagnates our people and the society. Worthy read but highly doubt that either government or a majority of on line readers will touch it with a 10 metre pole. It is longer than one short paragraph. The BVI has become a people with a fast food mentality. Our society like to partake in gossip, melee and other nonsense. They need a Damascus moment to turn this destructive mentality around.

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