• Should you trust a politician?

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    MIKE WOOTTON

    MIKE WOOTTON

    The answer is, of course, you should; in fact you have to. They exist in a democracy to represent the interests of their constituents in matters of national governance; note that I say their constituents and not just the people who voted for them. The politician is the voice of the people and, being so, must fairly and objectively represent their best interests in line with the objectives given to the voters and which, at least in theory, formed the basis for the politician’s election to office. The “election manifesto.”

    The job of the politician is, therefore, to represent constituents, to make laws and ensure that they operate properly, and generally to play an important part in ensuring that the nation operates in the way that the population, or at least the great majority of it, wants it to. Hence the oft repeated quote about the people being the “bosses” of the President.

    But, of course, the people cannot be the bosses. They do not have the necessary information on which to base their decisions on matters of national importance; they do not in many cases have the capacity to analyse the information, which is available to them. Most important of all, there are too many of them with differing desires, opinions and backgrounds to ever come to a single consensus and advise the President what to do. So the politician must use his own judgment to decide what is best, giving due weight to the opinions of his constituents.

    Wisdom is required—knowledge, experience and worldliness all wrapped up in a critically important ability to make good judgement . . . The politician must also be skilled in debate and negotiation in order to articulate his arguments in a manner which will convince his opponents or the undecided. They also need to know how to make political tradeoffs. To be a good and effective politician in a well-run democracy is not an easy job and the considerable responsibility is not to be taken lightly.

    It is normal for politicians to be appointed politically responsible for the various executive functions of government (health, energy, transport, communications etc.), but they would not normally be expected to be technically or managerially responsible. Technical and managerial responsibility would be left with experts who are familiar with the sector, its manner of operation and the issues surrounding it. To allow politicians –who, by the nature of their role are continually subject to all sorts of lobbying and who for continuance of their position require votes and “popularity” and continual political tradeoffs – to be directly responsible for the technical management of the executive functions of government not only leaves the unknowledgeable in charge but also puts at risk the technical objectivity essential to the efficient management of such departments.

    Different skill sets are needed between national governance and lawmaking, and managing a sector of the economy. Should the appointment of the minister of health, for example, be the subject of a national election? If it should be, at least the electorate may just give some consideration to the candidate’s technical knowledge and capacity to do the job—the relevant merit required.

    To put a politician in a technical management role is not good for anybody. It politicises what should be a position dedicated to greater technical and managerial efficiency and must be a major challenge to politicians lacking relevant knowledge and experience of the sector for which they are responsible. How can a politician, who knows little or nothing about the technicalities of a sector for which he is responsible, credibly advise others in government as well as international bodies, on what is the right thing to do in any particular circumstance? It is unfair to expect of such person high quality knowledge-based advice and opinion.

    A political statement such as that the Philippines will reduce its carbon emissions by 70 percent by 2030, has little or no basis in fact. Vehicle sales are growing at about 25 percent a year and power generation is committed to a coal-for-power policy, building 23 new plants by 2020, almost doubling existing installed capacity by the use of CO2 emitting coal. Informed attendees at international fora who hear such statements will know that they are unachievable. It is a statement made presumably for some geopolitical purpose but which does little to encourage the international community to take the Philippines seriously.

    Better to let the politicians concentrate on making laws and ensuring good governance and give the job of technical management and service delivery to those who are properly qualified to do it.

    Mike can be contacted at mawootton@gmail.com.

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