Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Citizen Participation Makes for Good Government

Government exists to serve the people.  As government officials, we all sometimes forget this basic truth.  We can become so preoccupied with the details of our day to day activities, moving papers from one place to another, writing and following myriad regulations and laws, attending endless meetings, we forget that we have our jobs for one reason, and one reason only – to serve the public.

The basis of good government, like good business, is giving the customer or client what he wants.  The citizens we serve are not distractions, they are our customers.  It behooves us, then, to consider them when we make decisions.  Citizen input into government decision making should not be considered a nuisance, it should be an integral part of the process.  There are admittedly certain decisions that must be made out of the public view, but these should be the exception rather than the rule.  There are also situations when decisions must be made quickly; but when time permits (and in most government decisions, given the slowness of the bureaucratic process, time is not a factor) citizen participation should be sought out.

Whether it is writing a constitution, passing legislation, or building a road, when government undertakes activities that impact on the lives of citizens, the concerns of those citizens should be given full weight in the process.  This might seem to be a cumbersome way to carry out government, but consider this; if a constitution is to be respected, laws obeyed, and government projects supported, citizen participation in the decision making process gives them a stake in the successful implementation.

A good government is one that meets the legitimate needs of its people.  In order to effectively meet those needs, they must be understood.  Having citizens participate in the process from the beginning is one of the best ways to develop that understanding.  An informed citizenry, rather than being a threat to government, can be one of its greatest sources of strength.  Good government is government of the people, for the people, and BY the people.