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Local government

These days national governments have to pay much more attention than they did to developments overseas, to fast-changing political and trading relationships with countries near and far.  But most of these citizens still live scattered in local towns and villages.

Though in due course everyone will be affected by those major changes, meanwhile family and village life goes on much as before.  Good citizenship begins at home.

It is obviously very important that towns and villages should be well managed, and that citizens should take an active part – just as they do in national affairs. People should therefore be concerned that good men and women are elected to local boards and councils, and that sensible policies are adopted.  The same high standards of governance, honesty and accountability should be maintained as in the national administration. Dealing with local issues electors may well find it easier to assess the ideas and capacities of candidates for office.

Elected mayors and councilors, district and town officers, are generally working on matters closer to the daily lives of individual citizens than are prime ministers and members of Parliament, but though the focus of their interest is narrower, the work is just as challenging.

Standing for office: One of the great strengths of democracy is that virtually any citizen can put him or herself forward for public office, as, say, in a local council. This opens up opportunities for any man or woman who feels that he or she can do good for their fellows – improving roads, schools, the market place, public parks, the fisher people’s anchorage and so on. Local councilors have regular contact with a range of groups, whether farmers or fisherpeople., sporting, religious, educational or welfare, or perhaps local representatives of non-government organizations which may be promoting, for example, human rights.

Some candidates may simply have become critical of current arrangements and want to change them. Others may have observed how things have been done differently elsewhere – for countries and town councils, like people, learn from each other. It is open to anyone to seek to persuade the electors (who are often their neighbors) that they can improve things, can make a contribution to development and prosperity.  It is the responsibility of all citizens to keep themselves informed, to consider all the ideas and proposals being discussed, and the performance of elected councilors, and then to participate in elections. They have a voice and should use it.

Civil society: They are in fact part of what is coming to be referred to as “civil society”, the body of intelligent and well-informed citizens who take an active interest in public affairs at many levels, who these days can readily communicate with each other and who by making their voices and opinions heard can make a great contribution to the health and welfare of the community.

With today’s communications we find ourselves citizens of a city, town or village, citizens of a country, Pacific citizens, and citizens of the world. Overlapping responsibilities, all to be taken seriously.

By Roger Peren, Board member, Centre for Citizenship Education.

Updated May 2010