Defining good government

GUESTXCOLUMNThe framework for practical balanced government, including health and social services, which we take for granted in Barbados, came through individuals who probably had some conviction of scriptural principles. Romans 13:1 to 6 impresses upon us the importance and purpose of government, as well as the need to support those in office with our taxes, respect and honour. It reads:

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.

Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.

For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended.

For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.

Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing.

Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honour, then honour.

This particular scripture tells us that those in Government are God’s servants and are there for the good of the people. This is fitting with the phrase “government by the people for the people”.  To that end, our Government in Barbados provides services deemed necessary for our common good.

These essential services include national defence and criminal law, employment insurance, postal service, census, copyrights, trade regulation, external relations, money and banking, transportation, citizenship, property and civil rights, administration of justice, natural resources and the environment, education, health and welfare, water sewerage, waste collection, public transit, land use planning, libraries, emergency services, animal control, and economic development.

The rightful use of Government revenues (our tax dollars) is to provide those services needful for our common good, as well as pay for the full-time services of those employed in promoting and protecting our highest good. This would mean that those employed in Government help to provide only those essential services deemed necessary for our good.

Therefore, there must be a limited number of public services and hence public servants.  It also means that good public servants understand the finite resources they have at their disposal and those who sustain them (taxpayers).

It is important to note that the purpose of Government is to provide essential services and protection, not create wealth or jobs. This might come as a shock to a lot of people; but while Government can help to provide the right environment for wealth creation, its primary role is not that of creating wealth or providing jobs for its populace.

One of the challenges we are presently facing with respect to Government is the severe departure from this premise. When you add to this mix the subtle training over time of Government dependence at the expense of personal responsibility, then we have a recipe for disaster on all levels.

Let us look at some key critical factors that must be understood in order to establish good Government.

Essential services not permanent power. Over the past number of years, we have witnessed leaders in Government do literally anything to secure and entrench themselves in power at the expense of providing essential services to citizens. This unbridled lust for power has come at a cost of billions of dollars to taxpayers in this country.

Increased taxes and use of revenues. Increased taxes and the irresponsible use of tax payer dollars
to fatten ministry departments without truly adding to the provision and quality of essential services has been another repeated violation. The reasons we have been given for tax increases in Barbados are numerous –– from VAT to taxes on nearly everything!!!

Public sector salaries and entitlement. Over the past several years most people have endured fixed wages and salaries, without any promise of guaranteed employment, raises and pensions. Despite this, and even in a time of recession, the labour unions, to whom political parties and leaders are beholden, insisted upon and received for their members guaranteed salaries, raises, bonuses and pensions. The overriding motive: guaranteed job security; not service to the people.

Probably the greatest challenge we face is combating this spirit of entitlement that has pervaded the public sector. It is even more evident now as the Government tries to bring some semblance of respectability to the burgeoning public sector.   

Basic economics and debt. In a simplified way, a Budget is a Budget. Whether one makes $2,500,000, $5,000,000 or $500,000, one must decide what is important and necessary, as well as what one can or must do without. Decisions must be made, some of which may be painful and difficult.

It appears there is this prevailing thought in the mind of many in Government that there is no limit to what they can spend. Therefore, promises are made without the question: “What do we have to pay for it?” Who cares if the country is in debt.

“We know we cannot afford it since we are in debt; so we will simply raise taxes.”

Signs of a bad Government include: raising taxes as the only way to increase revenue; making promises to everyone; and a refusal to say no to anyone.

Creating efficiencies and doing things better. There is always a better way to do something. We must be willing to look for it and sometimes demand it. However, the more obligated governments make themselves to unions and special interest groups, there is often the compromise of essential and quality services provided to the public.  There are some services which could be done at a cheaper price than the Government is paying, but changes have to be made.

What about looking at things that would have greater longevity and decreased maintenance costs? Roads out of concrete a possibility? Failure to make the necessary changes to services can result in the paying the price and making up the difference for the costs and expenses
these service continue to maintain.

The individual and wealth creation. Individuals create products and services. Individuals invent things. Individuals and people create companies and build corporations. Individuals who create products and services, as well as build companies and corporations, create jobs.

Governments have never been good at job creation, creating employment or creating wealth. This is because it is not their purpose or function. It is not in their DNA. Again, the purpose of Government is to provide essential services; not to create wealth or guarantee employment.

Government dependence versus personal responsibility.

The foundation of greater Government dependence, sustenance and growth by higher taxes and decreased personal responsibility is much stronger today than it has ever been. Much of our nation is moving towards a strong mentality of Government dependence as opposed
to personal responsibility.

In fact, certain well-placed and entrenched Government leaders count on this, building their entire platform
on Government dependence.

It is important to have Government that is sensitive to the needs of the people. For example, we need welfare services as a safety net. However, we have developed over time a perversion of this, to the point that some politicians know how to tap into the increasing pool of families that actually believe it is the Government’s responsibility to see to it that they are fed, clothed and housed, as well as surrounded by increasing social services.

Accountability. Accountability is defined by Webster’s Dictionary as “an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility, or to account for one’s actions”. Public servants and employers must be responsible, answerable and liable.

They must hold themselves to a certain value system, standard of service and quality of person as those considered worthy to serve the public.

The qualities we must seek for and insist upon from those in Government. We need the kind of governance that possesses a good dose of common sense.

Continued on the next page.

We need and must demand leaders who possess a keen, proven, practical and respectful understanding of the following:

They are in public service to provide essential services, not secure permanent power.

Basic economics and the dangers of debt.

The source of Government revenues (taxpayers) and their purpose.

Public sector employees provide essential services; public service employees who do not provide truly essential services are not guaranteed job security;

The importance of always striving to be more efficient and doing things better.

Individuals, not government, create wealth.

It is critical to continually emphasize personal responsibility; not Government dependence.

The importance of accountability; public servants holding themselves accountable and being held to the highest standards.

Based on the above, certain individuals have already disqualified themselves from public service. All of the above require a certain quality of instruction, training, discipline and conviction. They come about and are built into an individual over time and through various experiences.

Finally, Government leaders and employees who earn the right to govern must understand, live by and be committed to these principles, if they are to truly fulfil the best interests of those they are called to serve.

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