Ears on the Wall Syndrome: The buck has to stop somewhere...

5 October 2012

On May 29, 1850, a Unitarian Minister, named Theodore Parker, defined democracy as “a government of all people, by all the people, and for all the people.” It was a phrase that some eight years later, on America’s Independence Day, he would again use in a sermon entitled The Effect of Slavery on the American People, calling for the emancipation of slaves; he went on to say, “Democracy is direct self-government over all the people, for all the people, by all the people.”

Dr Featuna'i Liua'ana and author of Ears on the Wall syndrome

Dr Featuna’i Liua’ana

Some five years later, Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth American President, picked up on Theodore Parker’s sermon, and used the phrase in his famous Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863, at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, some four months after the Union army had defeated the Confederacy army at Gettysburg. Abraham Lincoln, towards the end of his speech, spoke emotionally on the importance of good governance; he said, “We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

I have been reminded this week of the whole notion of having good government of the people, by the people, for the people, as I continue to reflect on the performance of the present National government, and the less than adequate opposition being put up by the Labour Party and those who have been given the task of checking every non-democratic decisions and policies that would adversely affect people’s lives from time to time.

It is so important now than ever before that we remember that government of the people, by the people, for the people, needs to be upheld and seen to be done as people of our great nation look for strong leadership and those who would make decisions, not for the sake of wealth and profit or for personal gain, political achievement, or even political superciliousness; but for the sake of the people.

Recent events have seen many people, especially the vulnerable and less fortunate, the poor and the poverty stricken families, and the unemployed and ill-health individuals and communities, face hardship to a point their faith in a government elected of the people, by the people, for the people, has eroded.

To make matters worse, those who have been entrusted with making decisions for welfare and benefits, education, employment, health, national security, and most recently our justice and courts system, have all let us down with their lies and excuses, and incompetency in decisions and policy making, or as Claire Trevett in the New Zealand Herald brilliantly puts it, a “litany of cockups”.

Over the last nine months, government has ‘cocked-up’ so much that New Zealanders have been tempted, as Clare Trevett reminds us once again, to interpret all that has happened in light of a “conspiracy theory over the cockup theory.”

And just this week alone, the Prime Minister, John Key has been found wanting over the Dotcom illegal spying affair as new evidence comes to the fore to suggest that he had lied to the New Zealand public about not knowing about the Dotcom situation until last week. But, John Key has brushed the charges aside admitting that he could remember a very brief presentation by the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) but he could not remember its content.

And just in case it is not an isolated ‘cockup,’ the education ministry has blamed incorrect data when they proposed the drastic plans for Christchurch schools, and would now go back to the drawing board for more planning.

The latest news by the Courts Minister to close courtrooms in Fielding, Upper Hutt, Warkworth and Whataroa at a cost of over 100 jobs, has felt like a magnitude seven earthquake on the Richter scale as it caught many workers by surprise; not only on the magnitude of job losses, but the speed of the proposed changes.

The sweeping changes have been disguised as an effort to provide our people with better services, but it would only create further delay in the justice and court system; it will over-work staff who are already under paid; and it will put more people on the unemployment queues, with a hope and prayer of receiving a benefit that has already been eroded, cut and trimmed, so that more and more families, who are already hard-up, get pushed to the peripheral of poverty just in time for the festive season.

Again more lies and excuses for incompetency; because at the end of the day, the changes to the court system is just another cost cutting exercise by the government where money once again is more important than the welfare of its citizens.

But, the most unbelievable thing that has come out of all these lies and excuses is the unwillingness of the government, starting from the Prime Minister down to his Cabinet Ministers, to accept responsibility for all that they have ‘cocked-up,’ or even have the common sense to apologise to the people of New Zealand for their ill-placed arrogance and lack of repentance. Instead they continue with the charade that all is well, and that they have done nothing wrong.

And if that is not enough, the Prime Minister and his Cabinet Ministers have throughout the year found scapegoats to sacrifice, in order to divert attention from them, and legitimise their denials of any responsibilities for the farcical events that have transpired. And, even when there have been amble evidences to prove they have lied, the new political craze taking government by storm, is to declare temporary amnesia, play dumb, or just call upon plain ignorance.

The people of New Zealand are at a crossroad and needs to know if there are any Members of Parliament in our political system who are brave enough and care enough for the people of New Zealand to admit responsibility for the ‘cockups’.

Furthermore, are there any politicians who can avoid evading responsibilities by passing it on to someone else, or as the Wild West poker players of the cowboy era call it – passing the buck? Perhaps, John Key and his Cabinet Ministers need to take a leaf out of Harry S. Truman’s book; the thirty-third American President, he personified the kind of politician that truly champions a ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people.’

Harry S. Truman had seen over the years the people’s trust in their elected government waning and eroding because of the arrogance, the lies, the excuses, and the lack of action that truly benefits the nation and its people. So, when Harry S. Truman was elected into office, he decided to turn the phrase ‘Pass the Buck’ into ‘The Buck Stops Here.’

Truman made a sign with the words ‘The Buck Stops Here’ and placed it on his desk at the White House as a promise to himself and to the American people who had elected him to office, that he would ultimately be responsible for the decisions made by him or by anyone in his government and administration.

Over the last few months in Aotearoa, the many headlines in our national tabloids have suggested our present government has failed, not only to sustain a government of the people, by the people, for the people, but have also failed to take responsibilities and declare ‘the buck stops here.’ It is about time the Cabinet Ministers become more responsible for their actions, and for our own Prime Minister to stand up and declare: The Buck Stops Here! Stand up and, as Harry S. Truman had done, to ultimately be responsible for the decisions they make, but also, be responsible for the decisions made by people in the government and government administration.

The Prime Minister and his Cabinet Ministers have been depicted in recent newspaper headlines as having lost touch with reality; the headlines include, ‘Precious little sense on planet Paula’, ‘No work, no toilets, on planet Key’, ‘The secret diary of…planet Key’, and ‘Key the ostrich has head firmly buried in sand’, just to name a few. It shows just how New Zealanders perceive the present government – it is a freak show from another planet, and, perhaps, I am not far away from my previous take on John Key and his government as a caricature of Peter Pan and his Fairies living in Neverland.

And what a way to reiterate and confirm that the present government has lost touch with reality, than John Key travelling to Hollywood to “woo the big boys”, as Fran O’Sullivan puts it in her recent article in the NZ Herald (a brilliant piece of satire). Granted, the trip had being planned for months even before much of the present debacle had taken place, but it shows once again that our present Prime Minister has no scruples to at least admit responsibility for the present carnage before embarking upon the yellow brick road to see the wizards of film making in Hollywood.

But, I can understand John Key’s reluctance to admit that the buck stops with him, as it would be an admission that he had lied to the New Zealand public, and that would not go down well with the ‘big boys’ in Hollywood whom John Key is trying to convince of his integrity and as a man of his word. The freedom from slavery Theodore Parker had fought for so long ago happened because those elected to govern believed in a government of the people, by the people, for the people.

Today, we are also fighting for emancipation from a different kind of slavery – political slavery – of lies, excuses, and passing the buck. The buck really needs to stop somewhere…perhaps the time is now, for John Key and his government to say: The Buck Stops Here!

The government needs to think deeply about the sacrifices made by many great New Zealand politicians who have passed on to the next life, who had made this country what it is today. And, perhaps, a repeat dosage of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg speech, to remind us again would suffice here: “We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

If there is ever a time to pray for our beloved New Zealand…it is now.

And remember, continue to seek the peace and prosperity of this country to which God has given us to dwell. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper…





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