Government’s responsibilities towards its citizens

[By Gregory Kaputula]

As the 2021 general election campaigns and preparations begin to gain momentum, it is cardinal that we take time off our busy schedules and remind ourselves about government’s responsibilities towards citizens.

Various political parties will be giving us varying political and governance promises through their manifestos. Some parties have already done so and others are in the process of launching theirs. These manifestos are promises of what they intend to be responsible for when in power.

However, there are standard responsibilities that every noble government has towards its citizens. Government has huge responsibilities in the everyday running of a democratic country like ours. And as citizens who are on the receiving end of government’s decisions and actions, we have a duty to keep checking if the government is being responsible towards its citizens.
We have heard time and again supporters of the ruling party chanting (Boma! Boma!) during political rallies and as a show of strength and solidarity whenever a high-ranking government official is passing by. This minimalist view of government is clearly on display in Zambia. The big question which calls for answers is; do ordinary citizens, supporters or cadres understand the responsibilities of the government of the day towards citizens? I want to emphasise here that the government of the day is not a government for the ruling party but for all citizens in Zambia.

We all know that state governments are important for various reasons. They are important because they are responsible for basic community infrastructure, such as schools, hospitals, transport system, security, police services, shelter, food, communication, and access to clean drinking water plus all other important public goods like markets and bus stations. According to Thomas Hobbes, the purpose of government is to ensure that peace persists in society. Hobbes believed that the purpose of government was to reign in the natural desire of man to be evil, and chaotic.
He believed that life without government would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

I want to conquer with the thinking of this enlightenment philosopher, Hobbes. You cannot have peace as a country when the government of the day fails to take up its responsibilities towards its own citizens. How can there be peace without basic community infrastructure such as schools, hospitals, transport system, security, police services, shelter, food, communication, and access to clean drinking water plus all other important public goods like markets, bus stations, and above all employment? Unemployment must worry not only the government but every citizen. Where there is no employment, crime, chaos and insecurity reign.

The horrors of no government to provide basic community infrastructure, such as schools, hospitals, transport, police services, shelter, food, water etc., are on global display in the world’s many fragile states and essentially ungoverned regions. And, when the chaos of disorder mounts too high, citizens choose even despotic and fanatic government.

Country men and women, it is the responsibility of government to provide for its citizens. Government has the responsibility to provide public goods and services that individuals cannot provide individually for themselves. Government is supposed to be the solution to collective action problems, the medium through which citizens create public goods that benefit everyone.
Government can cushion the inability of citizens to provide for themselves, particularly in the vulnerable conditions of youth, old age, sickness, disability, and unemployment due to economic forces beyond their control as is the case with the current COVID -19 situation we are grappling with.

It is government’s responsibility to ensure that the basic economic infrastructure of human connectivity such as roads, bridges, airports, canals and communication towers are in place and available. The capital necessary for such infrastructure is so huge and the public benefit is so obvious that ultimately the government must be involved. Government has a responsibility to continue providing public goods at a level necessary to ensure a globally competitive economy and a well-functioning society. And importantly, government should invest in citizen capabilities to enable them provide for themselves in rapidly and continually changing circumstances.

To lift Zambian people out of the jaws of poverty, government has a responsibility to answer the call for responsive, responsible, committed, and dedicated leadership. Government has a responsibility to provide its citizens with sound leadership every day of their existence.
The vision of every responsible government should be to become the number one investor in its own citizens and the country at large. The most important priority of government as an investor should be education. A government that believes in the talent and potential of its citizens and devotes a large portion of its tax revenues to investing in its citizens to help them reach their potential creates an attractive and competitive citizenry ready to conquer the world. The government has a responsibility to spark innovation amongst the citizenry.

Government has a responsibility of investing in Zambian citizens, rather than always protecting capitalism and its supporters. The government has a responsibility to spark innovation amongst the citizenry. To achieve this, government should heavily fund education and encourage more active citizenship.

However, even well-educated citizens cannot live up to their full potential as creative thinkers and makers unless they have resources to work with. Inequality remains stubbornly high in Zambia because too often success is not shared by all. It is government’s responsibility to see to it that all segments of society have an opportunity to make a better life for themselves. Inclusion remains key to achieving sustainable economic growth.

All Zambians regardless of their region, religion, tribe or political affiliation must have a share of the national cake. For instance, government should consider reducing subsidies for maize production to enhance productivity in the agricultural sector of other regions wHere they do not grow maize extensively like Western and Luapula Provinces. Such an approach would be helpful in reducing poverty and inequality to some extent. The main crop in Western Province is rice while in Luapula it’s cassava.

Commenting on how economic growth policy can reduce inequality, Christian Lagarde, who served as chair and managing director of the International Monetary Fund and the current president of the European Central Bank had the following to say: “Economic growth does not always correlate with even distribution of wealth. Growth is essential for improving the lives of people in low-income countries, and it should benefit all parts of society. More, and more efficient, spending on roads, airports, power grids and education help an economy grow more productive and make it easier for people to relocate from farms to cities. But infrastructure investment can also increase inequality if some sectors of the economy become more competitive than others.”

It is government’s responsibility to target investments to improve productivity in disadvantaged sectors. Example, if government were to increase credit facilities to the agriculture and private sectors to promote agriculture and manufacturing, the sectors would boost growth and create employment. This complemented by broadening financial access to the rural population and increasing labour mobility through easier transport that connects rural and urban areas, with affordable urban housing, and other facilities, would help reduce inequality across sectors.
Rural workers would then be able to find better paying jobs in more modern and competitive sectors, such as manufacturing and services.

It is government’s responsibility to come up with economic policies that will reduce inequality.
It is the responsibility of government to balance communal and individual good. This is only possible when society is governed by the principles of morality and justice, law and order. The key to balancing individual and communal needs is education. For a government to be truly dedicated to the welfare of its citizens, their physical, emotional, and, above all, spiritual welfare, it must make education its primary objective without which all the other efforts are moot.

Government has the responsibility to protect its people, particularly the weak and the poor, secure their rights and uphold national interests. Government also ought to manage national resources in a manner that achieves maximum economic growth and a real increase in human welfare.

Undoubtedly, a government impacts every aspect of our lives for good or for bad, and so it is important that we have a clear understanding of its responsibilities to ensure it is what we want. I am specifically thinking of a government of the people by the people for the people that which is freely chosen. I believe government officials are there to serve and to help create a healthy and safe socio – economic system for the country to thrive.

So, as different politicians and their agents come around galvanising and enticing you to give them a vote, ask them about the responsibilities of government towards citizens. Don’t just vote for anything. Governing the government falls in the hands of citizens of this country, and we should not be lax in our attitudes or our resolve towards the government, because this creates the perfect opportunity for the human condition called greed to raise its ugly head. When we vote them into power, it is our common responsibility to make sure that they stay responsible.

Until next time, bear in mind that the Zambian government has a responsibility to protect, provide for and invest in its people.

The author is a development activist and social commentator. Send comment to: gregory.kaputula@gmail.com

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