The power of ac­tive cit­i­zen­ship

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

As dif­fer­ent as these ex­am­ples of pub­lic protest are, they have one thing in com­mon: they re­flect ef­forts by or­di­nary cit­i­zens to hold not just their gov­ern­ments, but also com­pa­nies and other in­sti­tu­tions, to ac­count. Such ac­tions, and the right of cit­i­zens to or­gan­ise and par­tic­i­pate in them, are es­sen­tial to a vi­tal demo­cratic so­ci­ety, es­pe­cially dur­ing tu­mul­tuous times.

There is no doubt that these are tu­mul­tuous times. US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jongun have been ex­chang­ing in­cen­di­ary rhetoric, caus­ing many to fear a war on the Korean Penin­sula – and per­haps a nu­clear clash. Large-scale nat­u­ral dis­as­ters – hur­ri­canes in Puerto Rico, floods in South Asia, earthquakes in Mex­ico – have brought mas­sive dam­age and loss of life, and not nearly enough re­lief aid.

More­over, cor­rup­tion scan­dals have erupted far be­yond South Africa, in­clud­ing in Brazil and South Korea, yet the links be­tween busi­ness and gov­ern­ment across the world re­main com­plex, close and opaque. Far-right pop­ulists have made great po­lit­i­cal strides in western democ­ra­cies, most re­cently in Ger­many. And, all the while, in­come in­equal­ity con­tin­ues to grow.

Against this back­ground, it is easy to see why or­di­nary peo­ple the world over are feel­ing in­creas­ingly help­less. But it is in the most try­ing times that we show who we re­ally are. And, from small ges­tures be­tween neigh­bours and large pri­vate con­tri­bu­tions to cri­sis-re­lief ef­forts by ma­jor com­pa­nies, there have been plenty of sto­ries of hu­man­ity, in­di­vid­u­ally and in­sti­tu­tion­ally, that of­fer rea­son for hope. In­deed, such ac­tions, and the sense of per­sonal ac­count­abil­ity they re­flect, are what en­ables our so­ci­eties to progress and thrive.

As we well know, with­out rules and ac­count­abil­ity, gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials and busi­ness lead­ers can­not al­ways be counted on to do the right thing. More­over, given their in­flu­ence over pol­icy and the econ­omy, their eth­i­cal and moral fail­ures have far­reach­ing con­se­quences.

Yet, while the need to hold gov­ern­ment to the high­est eth­i­cal stan­dards is gen­er­ally agreed (if not nec­es­sar­ily i mple­mented), many ar­gue that com­pa­nies should be free to pur­sue prof­its at any cost. Like gov­ern­ment, how­ever, com­pa­nies are ul­ti­mately run by peo­ple in or­der to serve peo­ple; they must there­fore also be ac­count­able to peo­ple.

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