The question is how to improve the situation I have tried to analyse. Here I am going to be brief as it seems to me that part of the reason for low public participation is that people like ourselves monopolize public discussion in confined conditions such as this.
Allow me therefore to sketch out the following recommendations.
- The political parties that are effectively responsible for making the laws of this country should be required to publish their sources of finance. The public can only feel to participate effectively if they know that public participation is not effectively being subverted in the backrooms of power. We must know who pays those whose acts bind us all. For those who feel that we can only do what Britain does, the 1967 United Kingdom Companies Act requires all companies to reveal the destination of all political contributions of over £50.
- The Brownstone Report on Local Government must be published. This should be used as the occasion to initiate a national debate on one of the surest guarantees of effective public participation – national local government institutions.
- We should seriously consider whether our social needs do not just1fy drastic departures from the orthodox theory and practice of representative democracy. People need to know that theirs is the power, not only to read it in a constitution. I recommend some constitutional mechanism whereby the public has the authority by a two-thirds majority or what have you, to recall their so-called representatives before the end of the five-year period.
- Civics must be taught in schools to our adults. Our people must know what the state is, how an economy works and what is their place in the total scheme.
- Since we have had a chance to see how our constitution in fact works, it is time to call a constituent Assembly of the people to review it. All organizations of the people should be invited. We could hold it in the National Arena. That we should have done it long ago means that it is even more urgent to do it now. (Or. Williams in Trinidad called a conference of the people when he ratified his constitution. We can learn from his experience and errors.)
- The public should be afforded all possible opportunity of being exposed to national political life. Legislative proceedings should be broadcast and televised. We do this when the Queen speaks in Gordon House. Why not all the time? Secondly the ordinary public should not be assigned the role of listeners or the subjects of political lampoon. The News media should go to the public, give them time and space to express opinions in their own words on national issues. For example look at this panel. Why is there no ordinary man here behind this table telling us why he does not participate in national life? Do we presume to know all?
No doubt there is a lot more one could recommend. But allow me to close with a challenge. Members of our Parliament call on our people daily to make sacrifices to build the nation. I submit that the unemployed, the landless, the underpaid every day make involuntary sacrifice to maintain the fat salaries and idle acres for the “haves”. Let our legislators begin to show that they themselves are making personal sacrifices. As a token of their seriousness let them cut their salaries by ten per cent and tighten up on the excesses of their personal life. (President Nyerere of Tanzania in calling upon his people to sacrifice for nation building set an example by cutting his salary by twenty per cent). Until our leaders do the same, the public will continue to ignore public life, will treat calls to national building with indifference and dismiss the big men who make these appeals with deserved contempt. At least they will do this until information about how the whole Society works and consciousness of their capacity to change it moves them to action.