Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - To be, or not to be generous: That is the politician’s question

To be, or not to be generous: That is the politician’s question

Prime Minister Hun Sen presents a donation to workers at the construction site of Phnom Penh’s Stung Meanchey flyover in 2013.
Prime Minister Hun Sen presents a donation to workers at the construction site of Phnom Penh’s Stung Meanchey flyover in 2013. May Titthara

To be, or not to be generous: That is the politician’s question

It is an established wisdom that politicians shall try to win the hearts and soul of their supporters. What else would they rather do? In the US, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is an obvious example.

This businessman-turned-politician would say anything in order to be liked by those coming to his campaign rallies. Commentators across the globe have plenty of his quotes to be entertained with almost on a daily basis.

Whether his tough-talk strategy would win him the Republican nomination remains anyone’s guess. But his case isn’t a lone one. Actually, thousands of kilometres away from America, Cambodians have been receiving plenty of “gifts” recently in the form of reduced public service fees, exemptions and so on.

This art of giving the people what they want is really something. A lot of beneficiaries are rejoicing over this generous phenomenon. The gift giver deserves credit and praise and is indeed receiving them.

On the bright side, average people can be very excited about the new-found “direct democracy” by which they have been able to directly affect the decision-making process simply by posting and commenting on Facebook.

Requests of the ordinary people are, astonishingly, being met, even beyond their expectations.

A few hundred years ago, the renowned thinker Machiavelli advised that a future prince must be considered generous. Furthermore, the increase in traffic on social media clearly shows that the executive recognises the power of social media actually possesses the skills to master its usage.

On the dark side, however, gift-giving in a liberal democracy could be quite problematic. First of all, if not carefully executed, the act of generosity may be prone to eventual abuse of power.

Nepotism, as is widely applied, is one clear form of generosity, but this is very problematic because it would only benefit a particular group of people to the detriment of others.

In principle, power may be found to have been abused if it is used without a proper legal basis, in a wrong formality or without having observed the established procedure.

Generous decisions taken at times of pleasure or at the heat of the moment can easily defy logic, especially when a wave of changes is brought in too frequently in a short period of time.

Secondly, since generosity simply cannot be extended to each and every member of society, it definitely creates favours for some while potentially leaving others behind.

For instance, veterans who had risked their lives and sacrificed their family duty in order to protect the rest of the country have not adequately received as much attention as garment workers have in terms of the provision of health care services.

Indeed, the executive has just mandated a new benefit system that allows garment workers to enjoy medical treatment even at private hospitals and clinics. Neither veterans nor current civil servants are entitled to such a nice benefit.

The third danger of generosity is reflected in the people always desiring more and more. Once given, a benefit cannot be easily withdrawn without creating a deep resentment and anger.

Politicians who have made a certain service available would have to keep providing it at all costs in exchange for popular support. Otherwise, generosity would quickly backfire.

The fourth inconvenient truth about generosity is that it may make people question the real motive behind it, prompting them to ponder why such generosity wasn’t shown earlier or whether it was done simply out of pity or in an effort to garner votes rather than as a matter of good policy.

In any society, there will always be groups of rational people and cynics who simply refuse to believe in the possibility that good policies do happen once in a while without any ill motive behind it.

But cynics, unfortunately, are often very loud and convincing. In a land where politicians are generally considered as skilful deceivers, the cynical line of argument almost seems irresistible.

Therefore, leaders would do well to ensure that any act of generosity is well principled and is clearly thought through to avoid the feeling of being left behind, the eventual abuse of power and, above all, the adoption of risky policies.

Machiavelli vividly warned against the negative effect of generosity when he wrote in chapter 16 of The Prince that generosity could “incur a name for rapacity which begets both disdain and hatred.”

Good policy makers and politicians should apply good principles when they decide on public policies. Below are a few key principles and criteria for developing a good public policy:

• It benefits society equitably and contributes to sustainable socio, economic, political and democratic development and enhances the rule of law.

• It helps shrink the gap between the rich and the poor, and promotes social inclusiveness and harmony.

• It promotes social accountability and encourages citizens to do their duties and obligations to serve and contribute to their nation in the form of labour, skills and finance.

• It is not biased in favour of or has a conflict of interest with the policy makers themselves, their groups, families or relatives.

Preap Kol is executive director of Transparency International Cambodia.

MOST VIEWED

  • Accused not treated equally, says CCHR

    The Cambodia Centre for Human Rights (CCHR) has urged the Court of Appeal to do more to ensure that an accused’s right to a fair trial is fully respected. In a bulletin released on Monday, the CCHR said it had monitored 273 cases at the

  • Investors’ $14.4M projects approved

    New investments from local and foreign sources continue to pour into Cambodia despite the Covid-19 pandemic remaining a lingering threat to regional and global economies. This comes as the Kingdom’s gross domestic product (GDP) is expected to contract between one and 2.9 per cent this

  • NagaWorld casinos set to reopen, schools to follow

    NAGACORP Ltd has requested that it be allowed to reopen its NagaWorld integrated resorts in Phnom Penh after the government recently approved casinos to operate again, provided they follow Covid-19 prevention measures set by the Ministry of Health. Mey Vann, the director-general of the Ministry

  • Rubber exports stretch 17%

    Cambodia exported 97,175 tonnes of natural rubber in the first five months of this year, surging 17 per cent compared to the same period last year as the Covid-19 pandemic stretches on, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries official Khuong Phalla told The Post on Thursday. Phalla,

  • ASEM supports Kingdom’s proposal to postpone meeting amid Covid

    The 13th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM13) scheduled to be held in Cambodia in November has been postponed until mid-2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation press statement released on Saturday said. The decision was made during a two-day meeting

  • Coffee maker roasted for producing fake product

    The Ministry of Interior’s Counter Counterfeit Committee will send a suspect to court on Monday after she allegedly roasted coffee mixed with soybeans and other ingredients, creating a product which could pose a high risk to consumers’ health. On the afternoon of July 2, the

  • Cash handout programme 80% complete

    Minister of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation Vong Soth confirmed on Thursday that the implementation of the Cash Transfer Programme For Poor and Vulnerable Households During Covid-19 had been implemented for more than 80% of the over 560,000 families. The programme was introduced one week ago.

  • Cambodia armed with money laundering laws

    Money laundering will now carry a penalty of up to five years in prison while those convicted of financing terrorists will be jailed for up to 20 years, according to new laws promulgated by King Norodom Sihamoni and seen by The Post on Thursday. Comprising nine

  • Where is Cambodia’s exit strategy that can save the economy?

    With the prospect of being slammed by a double whammy, the government is working on an economic recovery plan to deliver it from Covid-19 and the EU’s partial withdrawal of the Everything But Arms scheme in the next two to three years Cambodia is

  • Schools to be reopened in ‘three stages’

    With guidance from Prime Minister Hun Sen, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, is in the process of reopening schools in three stages. But no timeline has been set, ministry spokesperson Ros Soveacha said on Thursday. Soveacha said the first stage will be to