Tuesday, July 14

Building trust in a society

We in the west live in what is called as a trust society. In other words, we usually dont see our neighbours, friends, family, government, bureaucrats, nurses, doctors, fellow road riders, shop girls, check out clerks as people who will defraud us. We stop for traffic, allow people to cut in front of us, form orderly queues, speak politely, smile at people and so on and so forth. I know you will point to Parisian waiters and German queue jumpers but come on, you know what I mean?

The current debate about the British MP’s stealing from the expenses system was so shocking was not because it was a very large amount, but the fact that they betrayed the trust of the society that public servants (which they are) are on the take. In many cases, it wasn't even breaking rules, it was within the rules. It was the basic flouting of the trust which caused issues with them.

Speaking to other friends on trust in India, it was quite edifying to hear their comments about trust in India, Singapore, USA and other places where and how people follow rules and trust. Nobody will spit in Singapore but the same man in India will busily go about spitting in every direction. I think its a combination of strong societal disapproval combined with a good welfare state (you dont have to steal to have your basic needs met) to education and lack of internal societal disruption. But the government here doesnt understand that, specially this one. It is shockingly weird in terms of defending basic rights and trust in society. Trying to imprison people (for the best of reasons, terrorism) without charging them, asking for ID cards and then being a supine corrupt idiot in the face of expenses corruption or the immigration challenge. This Labour government has done quite a bit of wrong, all to keep in power. Shameful.

But here’s a fascinating article which I read. Its to do with Sierra Leone which was racked with civil war not so long ago. We have spent quite a lot of money and troops in there to rebuild that poor nation. Here’s the abstract:

In 2004, Sierra Leone's Truth and Reconciliation Commission reported that building public trust in Sierra Leone's post-conflict government and political system was a precondition for development in all sectors of society. This article assesses progress in this venture, and finds that problems of deep distrust continue to pervade all levels of socio-political interaction in Sierra Leone. Nevertheless, the manner in which political trust is conceptualised in Sierra Leone is changing as traditional inequitable systems of patronage are gradually rejected. Noting this trend, it is a central argument of this article that the channelling of prevailing political cynicism into mechanisms of accountability, combined with the earning of public trust by exemplary political leaders, represents the most effective way to reconstruct trust in government, the political system, and throughout Sierra Leone in general.

Pretty interesting, no? We have to break this idea that the government is there for everything, opportunities should be there for all, the nanny state has to break apart for the essential humanity to break free. Stop promoting these time servers, have open transparency in the government. Stop hiding behind the official secrets act. The Freedom of Information act should have more teeth built into it. The Parliament is not sovereign, its the people who are sovereign. The centralising and controlling habit of the government has to stop to improve the trust factor in the country. The government itself has to shrink, it has lost trust. Kick the criminals out, kick out the corrupt lot, that’s a very big start.

If Sierra Leone can do it, then why cant countries such as India and the United Kingdom?

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