(I originally wrote a much longer LegCo post, but felt that I was making two different points, so I separated them. The other post is about the public expectation of LegCo to be about “debate”, and the response from concerned citizens on Twitter about the relevance of issues raised.)
As a young opinionated citizen with no background in politics, I would like to share my personal opinions and observations regarding the ongoing 8th Legislative Council proceedings in Brunei.
I write without having ever sat in a LegCo proceeding (yet!), or being in the shoes of a Minister.
I am also secretly (cough, cough) a civil servant.
IMHO, or, Thoughts on Appreciation and Progress
It started with National Day.
In the week running up to Brunei’s 28th National Day, my boyfriend and I discussed the “point” of National Day. We wondered what the public expects out of the annual celebrations in the capital. We wondered where feelings of patriotism came from. We wondered what we were supposed to feel, on the 23rd of February, every year.
Some people think it’s the time of year where you write “I <3 Brunei” in your Facebook statuses, and post up your trendy picture of the Brunei flag (with a retro filter!) to Instagram. And there’s nothing wrong with that, really!
But maybe I could be feeling the love more. What if, instead of watching the televised parade and field performances in Bandar Seri Begawan, I were to spend the same two hours thinking about things that mattered to me, and reflect on how they have developed in Brunei over the past 28 years? If I appreciate my country more, would it make me a more loyal citizen?
So, two weeks later, reading news about the 8th Legislative Council (LegCo) session, I had a feeling that someone out there was trying to turn me into an exceptionally loyal citizen. It seems that I was supposed to appreciate how the Government has made efforts and consideration in the different areas of citizen life: road safety, religious duties (or their negligence), poverty, unemployment, the welfare of civil servants, and, er, CCTVs in mosques.
Hmm, you’re a bit late, guys. I was supposed to be reflecting on the development of my nation two weeks ago.
Not only that, but I felt an uneasiness in the spirit of these justifications. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good to be updated on the progress of these issues. I understand that for some Departments, you feel a need to defend the work you’ve done. I know that a lot of it is paperwork and meetings and trying to get people to work together, and as a civil servant I know how hard it is and how frustrating it can be to get things moving.
I just feel unsure that I wanted to hear about it from the LegCo proceedings.
I know that if you’ve made significant progress on an issue, it would have been out in the papers, or television, or on a popular local blog. I would not have needed to wait until March each year to hear about it. You may as well have each Ministry hand out annual reports for the public to scrutinize and feel assured that, indeed, your Ministry has done work this year. While you’re at it, please prepare carbon copies for other Ministries, as it appears that they are just as under-informed as the public.
Success, Failure, and the Journey to Get There
If we’re going to use LegCo as a platform to report on what your Ministry has done in the previous years, then let me humbly request a few more fillings in the pie, thank you.
I want to hear about why there is, or isn’t, progress. What are the success stories? What are the stumbling blocks and struggles? Which strategies work better than others? What are the underlying issues that still plague the Government? And then, you may tell me the progress so far on tackling these issues.
What are your long-term plans? Don’t give me your Ministry’s vision, but elaborate more on new initiatives and how they fit into the aforementioned vision. Give us the details of action plans. What are your priorities, and what will your employees be working on this year? Assure us that the Government knows what it’s doing and where it’s headed.
I admit that the above sentiments are probably related to my own experience as a civil servant, and may not be issues that the general public want to see. I do believe that people would want to be assured that their Government is learning from the past, and evolving in its approaches.
But, it’s the Government
Reviewing the above points, I come to realize that a lot of the above cannot happen. Not as long as certain attitudes or ways of working within the Government remain in place.
If the Government has an unwillingness to be transparent, do we really expect them to share “why there is, or isn’t, progress”? Are they really going to tell the public that they honestly haven’t really planned ahead, or that they had trouble prioritizing things this year?
And often, this lack of transparency is due to an unwillingness to be held accountable. No one wants to own up to their mistakes or oversight, that may have affected a project timeline, or a failed strategy, or a badly thought-out policy.
Not really a conclusion
Until such underlying issues are addressed, I’m not sure what the value of LegCo is to me, and I’m not sure if it serves to make me a more grateful citizen, just two weeks after National Day.
The idea of having a LegCo, in the first place, is a good one! There are good points raised in LegCo, and it is always good to be reminded of ongoing or outstanding issues in the nation.
My argument is that LegCo may not be the proper platform to update on these issues. If the Government wants to use LegCo as a way to update other Ministers, their Departments and Village Heads, then why not make the update more useful? The existence of progress is usually not as valuable as sharing “lessons learnt”, or a sense of learning from past mistakes.
(For points regarding the expectations the public have of LegCo, including the disconnect between the high-profile attendance of LegCo and the issues raised, read my other post: LegCo 2012: Word of the day is “Expectations”. Less rambling reflections, and more quotes from the Twitterverse.)