Thu, Sep 14, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Pitfalls to avoid in the pursuit of democracy

By Wu Eing-ming 吳英明

Global studies on development administration show that on the road to modernization many countries go through a period characterized by serious political corruption and abuses. These include the stealing of international relief and development aid, as well as national and administrative resources.

Studies dealing with national transformations also reveal that a country transitioning from an authoritarian regime into a democratic one is almost always threatened by groups with vested interests, as well as questionable and complex relationships between political parties and economic as well as political interest groups.

Furthermore, international literature on globalization and global governance show that because of the rise of the new division of labor in the international community and new models of governance, the political and economic elite enjoy much greater "mobility" and "penetrability," allowing them to move around and make use of more resources than ordinary people. This has made quality governance more difficult to achieve, requiring the deployment of more resources and sophisticated legal mechanisms to maintain government integrity. Emotional power struggles and sensational political discourse are just cheap attempts to achieve government integrity at a low cost.

In the quest for democratic progress and government integrity, one must avoid the following traps.

First, taking efficiency as an absolute value, and anti-corruption as a moral value. Efficiency is very important in the value system of democracy, but it is not an absolute value. We cannot directly equate inefficiency with corruption. After all, the government has greater values to fulfill which may be in conflict with efficiency. As for anti-corruption, it should not be limited to calls for higher moral standards, there must also be room to review the mission of parties and political groups and their actions in pushing for sunshine bills.

Second, treating media reports and commentaries as legal rulings. Broadcast technology has given media reporting significant power, mobility and penetrability. However, some commentaries are designed to promote a specific agenda and inflated to the point that viewers might mistake them for judicial verdicts. The effect of these rapid and inflated commentaries is anti-democratic and runs counter to professional responsibility.

Thirdly, professional ethics in postmodern societies contrast with civic and public values. Postmodern societies are diverse and disconnected, emphasizing individual autonomy. They are highly mobile societies that are prone to conflict. With the clash of professional ethics from different fields, one should not overlook the public and society's needs and interests.

Fourth, the erosion of the principles of the separation of government powers and checks and balances. In the quest for government integrity, we must not depart from democratic constitutional government -- the separation of powers, checks and balances and the democratic rule of law. Observing the law and fostering a sense of responsibility are basic to the pursuit of clean government.

The key to establishing an honest government is to provide a normative democratic discourse to build a public consensus on anti-corruption. It also requires us to establish the rule of law as the basis for fighting graft. This is the only way we can avoid creating more public problems and social disorder.

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