27 May, 2020 – If we want good leaders in government, then, we the voters, must do a better job of vetting and selecting the right candidate. We must go beyond voting for a relative, a political party, or, the guy who comes from the same village. We need to take seriously our democratic duty and vote for people of substance i.e. people of good character, virtue and a consistent track record in following the rule of law, accountability, and transparency in the public square.

As an example, this quote sums up what it means to choose good leaders:

“Good governance never depends upon laws, but upon the personal qualities of those who govern. The machinery of government is always subordinate to the will of those who administer that machinery. The most important element of government, therefore, is the method of choosing leaders.”

We often hear our politicians talking about changing the system. But the system is not the real core issue. The system is made up of people, and the same people make or break the system by their leadership style: for better or worse. Therefore, corrupt leaders running a good system will always end up with a dysfunctional system. Where as, good leaders running a broken system will  turn the system around into an effective model of good governance.

“The basic ingredients to good governance must include transparency, accountability and rule of law. “

Transparency (‘Ata ki tu’a) – the right to information and participation

On transparency,  Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India said this, “While transparency reduces corruption, good governance goes beyond transparency in achieving openness. Openness means involving the stakeholders in the decision making process. Transparency is the right to information while openness is the right to participation.”

An apparent deficit in this current government administration is the lack of transparency in certain key issues involving procurement of lucrative infrastructure contracts. To illustrate, the uncertain nature in which multi-million dollar “sweetheart” deals are awarded have been hidden from the curious eyes of the public. Even during recent debates in Parliament this week, Prime Minister Pohiva Tu’ionetoa defended not revealing the identity of the companies involved, citing confidentiality of cabinet decisions. However, the same cabinet decision was leaked on social media. The government in reply, denied there were contracts in place with their selected contractors. Though debates in Parliament reveal otherwise.

This only leads to more unanswered questions and speculation of nepotism and cronyism. Lack of transparency and openness in government’s handling of the public purse is a major concern for tax payers and voters. The voter’s right to participation has been muffled in lieu of backroom deals and political favors.

Accountability means answering to the people

The next key ingredient to good governance, accountability, is one of those ideals we hear eloquently preached on the campaigns trail, yet in reality, once in power, politicians have selective memory and they revert back to being only accountable to their back wallet.

Thomas Paine, an influential political activist in the 18th century puts it very succinctly,  “A body of men holding themselves accountable to nobody ought not to be trusted by anybody.”

If we keep voting for individuals who says one thing and but does another, we will keep voting for the same broken system. Accountable leaders are not afraid to let the public participate by giving them information. In fact, by giving the public information it builds trust and allows voters to see their leaders respect their voice, and their place in society as the people who empower them with their votes to hold office. Lack of accountability insinuates a lack of respect to the general public, and places elected officials above the law.

No one is above the law

Finally, the last basic ingredient, rule of law, “is the most important element in any civil society, according to successful businessman,” Mo Ibrahim.

Following the law is what brings order to society, otherwise we end up with chaos and anarchy if we all choose to do whatever we want. The burning of Nuku’alofa on 16/11 is a prime example of how rule of law was ignored by leaders of the day – chaos and anarchy was the end result. The end never justifies the means. We can never commit an evil act for the purpose of attaining a good outcome. Nor, can we put the law aside and still claim we are following the rule of law. This brings to mind the biblical admonition of “those who are faithful in small things will be faithful in great things.”

Leaders in position of power are the ones who set the tone and example for the rest of society. If they’re tone deaf and put the law aside while they overreach and abuse their power, the result will be a restless and anxious society – endless division and systematic breakdown of the society.

In conclusion, a free and civil society comes with responsibility. If voters want different results, then we must vote differently. We have to start evaluating our candidates based on their character, experience, and track record. If we continue to vote for the same politicians who contribute to the problem instead of being the solution, isn’t it time we vote them out? If we fail to do our democratic duty – then  we will always get the leaders we deserve, and not the ones we need to bring lasting solutions and build up our beloved Kingdom.

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