Open Letter : The state of politics and role of parliamentarians

Politics has become a ‘dirty’ word nowadays. Once upon a time, politicians would enter politics because they wanted to make a difference. They worked together to make changes in society and to enrich and improve the lives of all individuals in the country.

In the free world, the mission of a democratically elected government is to deliver on policies which formed the basis of the mandate they were voted in on and to serve the people of the country well and make it a better place to live and work irrespective of colour, creed or religion. The focus and role of its leader being that of one who has the responsibility, charisma, capability and compassion to move the nation forward; building a sense of nationhood so that no village, town, community or individual is left behind or forgotten. In doing so, the country develops, faster and becomes an attractive place to live, work, and do business. People feel safe, proud and confident to bring up their families and to provide their children with the best education and environment to flourish and prosper so that they can become citizens of the world and compete as equals.

To fulfil this mission, it requires a leader and his associates not only to have the conviction but also a steadfast and passionate resolve to serve and serve with humility and without expectation. A leader who can be a role model and demonstrate the strong and effective qualities I refer to below in this article and from which I feel the politicians of today have alienated themselves. In recent times there has been a total disconnect between politicians and voters. The public has become uninterested in politics, disillusioned with what the future will bring and above all have utter mistrust in public servants. They say and promise one thing and do the opposite. They don’t speak the truth. Politicians have forgotten how to conduct themselves in public life. They have forgotten how to act with respect and uphold the very highest standards that are expected of them.

The quality of the debates we see and hear in the media throughout political campaigns has become personal and is no longer about policies and improving lives and the status of the country. The focus is not about important issues, such as, healthcare, education, poverty, fighting crimes and the environment that affect us all.

We have seen so many examples around the world where there is bullying and harassment; breach of collective responsibility; misuse of taxpayer money and conflicts of interest in office in order to further one’s own self-interest. It is no longer about ‘what you can do for your country’ and leave a good legacy for future generations to follow and build upon anymore ‘but what your country can do for you.’ Greed and self-interest have clouded our minds and impaired our judgement in terms of doing what is right and good for the country and for humanity.

As alluded to above, public servants are expected to maintain the highest standards of behaviour at all times and to behave without any impropriety or dishonesty. They should behave professionally in all their dealings and treat all those with whom they come into contact with consideration and respect, including colleagues and other parliamentarians they have to work with in their day to day activities. When they take the oath of office, these are the principles they pledge to uphold.  To do their utmost and work to the best of their ability for the country. Instead, we are seeing the opposite – a petty battle of personalities rather than of ideas, false accusations, lies, harassment, intimidation and other inappropriate or discriminatory behaviour – the antithesis of the standard of behaviour required in public office.

In politics today, there is a dearth of integrity. There is nothing, it seems, that cannot be bought. Holders of public office must avoid placing themselves under any obligation to people or organisations that might try inappropriately to influence their work or behaviour. They should not act or take decisions in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends. They must declare and resolve any interests and relationships; if not adhered to, these conflicts of interest can have serious consequences which can be damaging not only to their personal reputation but the reputation of the whole party they represent. It brings the entire machinery of government into question and disrepute and renders it a laughing stock on the global political stage.

Politicians are in a very unique and privileged position – a position that could bring tremendous, positive change. But it is very rare to find a politician who will forgo his or her own self-interest and rise above the pointless squabbles of partisanship for the interest of the country and the poor in society. Today, we see disunity, bickering, and infighting – a compulsive need to blame one’s predecessor rather than being bold and looking forward with a vision. United in their endeavour, politicians can be a force for good thereby improving the lives and prosperity of everyone in the country. However, that requires parliamentarians to exercise some degree of objectivity in their approach and dealings always. As public office holders they must act and take decisions impartially, fairly and on merit, using the best evidence and without discrimination, bias or external influence. They should be frank and receptive to new ideas.

Politicians should also be accountable for their actions or inactions and submit themselves to whatever necessary scrutiny that is required under the rule of law. And what of the judiciary? The judiciary should be uncompromising, impartial and free from political influence in order to carry out its obligations to the public and the country. Institutions should not be in name only. They should be free from vested interests and have the power to act and uphold the values on which they were founded.

Transparency and openness should be the mantra of all politicians. They should be careful and responsible in how they share information with the public. They should not propagate false information which can create fear and resentment in the minds of people for political gain. Information they share should be accurate, genuine and based on facts.  We have seen several examples across the world regarding misinformation and fake-news and what it can create — family breakdown, tensions amongst neighbours and in some instances civil disorder. Politicians should exhibit impeccable behaviour and be role models and lead by example. They should be the ones who actively promote and robustly support the principles I refer to above and be willing to challenge poor behaviour and not to reward failures wherever they occur.

It is time for us to call out mediocrity and incompetence whenever we see them and not to reward and defend them. As responsible citizens, we must take charge of our lives and insist on more responsible and principled leadership.

Being voted into office is a privilege; an opportunity for one to unify, to lead and change the country for the better for all its citizens, not just the privileged few.

I’d like to wish all parliamentarians well in their endeavours and invite them to be the change that voters so long for in politics today.


Oudesh Bhurtun