‘Let people talk and government respond’

CHIEF Choongo of Monze district in Southern Province says there is nothing wrong in citizens asking their government to explain what it is doing for them.

He says debates going on in the country around the removal of fuel subsidy and many other issues are very healthy because there is freedom of speech.

“There is nothing wrong for citizens to ask their government to explain what they are doing for them. It’s a healthy situation. Talking should be taking place. People should talk because there is freedom of speech. The role of the government is to explain what they are doing. They should explain to the people and make them understand that what we are doing now is this and that, after this what is going to happen is this. People should be free to talk because when they don’t talk government won’t know the truth,” says Choongo. “Time for politics is over. Now it is time to offer good checks and balances, hence the reason there should be an opposition. That’s why we agreed to have multiparty democracy. We love the opposition political parties because they help governments not to go to sleep. So, let people talk and let government respond; and at the end of the day we will be moving on the same page. As Zambians we gave this government the mandate and we have the right to pressure them on. It’s the duty of the government to respond and explain for us to understand…What we are urging our people is that let us be calm. We want them to take full responsibility of their actions starting this New Year. We are praying that they don’t get detracted. Let them maintain their capability. We know they are capable but that does not mean that let us not question them. If people want to talk, let them talk because it is their country. I’m very happy that the new dawn government has assured us that it will give people the freedom to speak, and we are all witnesses of this freedom of speech citizens are enjoying under this government.”

Indeed, government must respond, respond – engage, engage. And citizens must continue speaking out. Bringing pressure upon their government to deliver on the campaign promises is a crucial responsibility. And Citizens have an obligation to ensure their rights and freedoms are not taken away by their government. Citizens cannot afford to blink because doing so may allow their government, no matter how good intentioned or how good natured the leadership can be, do the undesirable. It is very easy for governors to abandon a noble course.

This is why Robert H Jackson urged that, “It is not the function of our government to keep the citizen from falling into error; it is the function of the citizen to keep the government from falling into error.”

And good checks and balances entail having information and seeking factual responses. This brings about a healthy feedback which is progressive to both the citizens and their leaders.

Remember James Madison’s warning that, “A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it is but a prologue to farce or tragedy or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives.”

And Baruch Spinoza summarises it better in saying, “The object of government is not to change men from rational beings into puppets, but to enable them to develop their minds and bodies in security, and to employ their reason unshackled…The true aim of government is liberty.”

In fact, the best leaders are those who listen more to criticism than praises. It is not healthy for leaders to be too sensitive to criticism because not all criticism is malicious. And, certainly, there can never be a perfect government. So, it shall always be the job of citizens to speak out whenever things go wrong, or when there is no clear information from those governing them. Let the conversations continue between the government and citizens; that’s healthy for our democracy.

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