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Better governance had better be made of sterner stuff than this

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Wednesday, 22 July 2015 00:00




Yes, the murders have stopped. No, not even the odd abduction captures the headlines anymore. Even in the good old, bad old days, there was hardly any reportage about corruption or fiscal/fiduciary crime by the powers that be. So, the hues of good governance today are tinged with a patina of regret. Oh, that it were not so!

Sterner Stuff No. 1: A little leaven leavens the whole lump.dtj

Yes, there has been some improvement in the cost of living. No, we’re not over the moon about the final shape and substance, form and function, of 19A; but we’re grateful that important and significant first steps have been taken towards the restoration of republicanism. 

Less than nine months ago there was still the feeling that a war of sorts was on – a conflict internally created and waged on an unwitting citizenry. So, could it get any better than this – this sense of law and order, this sensibility of democracy and space for dissent – this mini-utopia we have all taken for granted a little? Ah, how could it be so?

Sterner Stuff No. 2a: A democracy talking to itself is a good sign for the people and for democracy itself.

Sterner Stuff No. 2b: A demographic asking tough questions of its politicians is bad for politicians and worse for the demagogues among them. 

Yes, the cumbersome convoys/security squads have all but disappeared. No, it’s not nice, but a healthy sign, that President and Prime Minister get taken apart in the free press – as much as the opposition and progressive apparatchiks of the new Left. 

That apart, much can be said about the many-splendored improvement to the quality of life. Even if visible development has slowed down in the periphery. Growth is on the up! Democracy is so infectious that even would-be dictators are talking about the people’s will as if they meant it! People are talking openly about their leaders’ weaknesses, and leaders are baring and sharing their heart in public!

Sterner Stuff No. 3: Sauce for the swan is sauce for those who would swan about.

You get the picture. The revolution is here! The revolution has succeeded! The revolution is delivering the goods! The revolution is hot stuff! And, perhaps most gratifyingly, the revolution will not be televised (at least, thanks to the Elections Commissioner, not telecast again and again)! So, what’s wrong with this picture?

Well nothing, really. It’s accurate enough. Growth with good governance (allegations of stats-massaging being pure puffery). Democracy with space for dissent (er, so far). Peace with the all-important previously missing ingredient justice (um, or technocratic attention to the letter of the law). The old all-new ‘GDP’! But this time we believe it, because it is credible, because it is experienced. And we’re all starved for the good stuff democratic-republicanism promises and delivers, so we’re all something like suckers for it anyway. But is it complete? 

In words of a little more than one syllable: Maybe. Maybe we need to take the naïve and sentimental view that all is as it seems, and there is nothing slightly off in the state of “Denmark’s” sacrosanct nature. Maybe the Prez and the Premier are not being pragmatic and are simply doing what must be done as part of practical politics that the romance of realpolitik requires – no, demands – from political strange-bedfellows. 

Maybe the coalescing coalition for Good Governance is being strategic, pure and simple; although in coalition politics nothing is ever pure and rarely simple: so we might as well go on being cynical in order to stay a tactical step ahead of shysters and hucksters. Maybe there is a grand plot to destabilise the nation and the gullible polity is playing into the hands of one camp (“it’s a western conspiracy to subvert our culture and civilisation”) or another (“it’s a chauvinistic/nationalistic/ultrapatriotic plot to ward off internationalism/interventionism”). 

Maybe. Maybe not.

The one thing we know for sure, the one thing we feel for certain, the one suspicion we have for now (you sense the decline and fall), is this. That Good Governance has to get a lot better – soon – before governance per se gets a lot worse – fast. Government, if it means what it says, has to be not good… just better – it has to be leaner, meaner, and cleaner. 



Small is beautiful. Big is heartbreakingly passé: redolent of the very banana republic you once so vigorously critiqued; and from which we though neat, trim, and tight Good Governance would rescue us. In terms of the embarrassingly burgeoning cabinet that Good Governance accommodated, in its first half a year in power, here was a mistake keenly to be avoided. 

Now, though, it appears that for the UNFFGG, a machine which might sweep the polls stakes is the consummation devoutly to be wished. At its heart, the Grand Old Party of the major part seems to be saying, never mind the gravitas, let’s get everyone who’ll join our bandwagon on board. Last week, we essayed the suggestion that ‘good governance’ has become to political campaigns what CSR and triple-bottom-line reporting is now to big biz and its penchant for being nominated most-this or much-of-that ‘Company of the Year’. 



Sadly, however, the cynical/strategic/pragmatic (oh, call it what you like!) opening up of a broad inclusive front – a ‘coalition’ or ‘unity front’ of good governance – is only setting you (and us) up for impending future grief. Sure, you may attract more weight, muscle, flesh and bones to your broad-base of do-gooders or even those who expediently pay homage to ‘good’ governance (even if their track records show serious infringements of it during their time in power).

Probably, you might come first past the post in many electorates (especially as you’re contesting under the old dispensation that, no matter what yon theoreticians might say, has shown that it favours mixed results from a goulash of contenders). Possibly, you might win in some (even if it is not the rout or ‘Waterloo’ that your propagandists claim it will be). Painstakingly, you might gather enough moss to form the cornerstone of government (although yet another hamstrung national unity government is the last thing we need to move forward with dispatch). Pity, you would have done so at the expense of your credibility – if you win. (Are you convinced of the credentials of all your co-candidates? Or despite the smoothness of the front – in every sense – is your conscience a tad rough-hewn and oddly shaped?)



Politics of old was “the art of the possible” that you mastered and demonstrated in the 8 January revolution. Politics anew can and must never be “the art of the pathetic” in a 17 August reprise that clutches at grimy straws.

If any party, or party leader or other eminent personage, or coalition to end all coalitions, was desirous of being representative or reflective of ‘good governance’, here are some of the lacunae they’d address (in your tyro’s neophyte opinion):

nThey’d admit that mistakes were made (who believed the gauche “zero civilian casualties” spin then or the “I am not a crook” guff now?)

nThey’d admit to the further marriage of true minds no more impediments (in brief, the obstacle – you know whom: culpable or not, definitely conflict of interest – must go, even now it is not too late)

nThey’d acknowledge an undesirable coyness in their communications strategy, and make amends as soon as possible (for better or for worse, tell us why you are doing what you are doing – no, start by telling us what in fact it is that you are doing in the first place)

nThey’d acknowledge that ‘good governance’ is, like love, a sin that covers many multitudes (you don’t have to be perfect for us to vote for you, just pleasingly better at some of the things that the previous lot were bad at) 

So yes, murder of dissenters and rapine of state assets and pillage of public funds is out. Now alleged crimes are of the allegedly white-collar ilk. Just admit it when and where there has been a decline and fall. Also, stop defending every appointment that has the least smidge of scandal about it. We all know that there are rotten eggs in every basket of goodies. Thus, methinks the ‘honourable gentleman’ doth protest too much… We’d recommend you stop defending the indefensible – it doesn’t do your reputation much good, and your campaign prospects much less good, to defend (or be perceived to be defending) your own avatar of favouritism. 

Certainly, cronyism and nepotism under the previous regime was a national embarrassment; but if it’s “relative merits” you’re banking on – the argument that your excesses are fewer and farther in-between, and less egregious – you’ve already lost the argument. You’ve already lost the high moral ground. You’ve demonstrated that you’re no better.

Some of the over-the-top protestations that any self-respecting coalition genuinely keen on ‘good governance’ can and must drop include glowing references (“My No. 2 is squeaky-clean”), grand self-references (“UNFFGG”), gross lies… I’ll leave the last of these unelaborated upon… You, gentle reader, have only to employ your sanctified imagination in the direction of recent imbroglios over key posts. 

One more thing. We are very grateful that you delivered us from the jaws of a near despotic hell, arrant totalitarianism, and incipient banana republicanism. We are evidently counting on you to repeat your charitable act (although your stalwarts insist that ‘good governance’ is not an ad-hominem platform to use as a plank to beat Someone over the head with…) But don’t feel obliged to rap us over the knuckles in public addresses every time you don’t like the tone or tenor and timbre of our criticism of your less-than-good but better-than-bad performance. 

We voted you in to do a better job, not a pluperfect job, so stop acting like we expect it to be the final act of Sir Galahad and the Holy Grail all the time, every time. You, too, are mortal, Brutus! Not that we loved Rome more, but that we loved Caesar less! Ambition to be “good” would, should, could, be made of sterner stuff!

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