Governance and Nation building
“Do you agree that good governance is key to successful nation building?”
I did this GP essay for the 2008 NYJC Prelims exactly one month ago. And I got 35/50 for it! Content=20/30, Language=15/20. Exactly the same mark breakdown I got for my previous mid year cyberspace exam piece. The reason I’m posting this up is not because of the marks per se, but the effort I put in during the exam that I am so proud of myself!
A summary for my GP results is here on my main blog.
During the course of converting this essay to a soft copy, I have rephrased certain sentence structures. The integrity and ideas I written in this essay has remained largely intact.
(About 1080 words) Comments at the bottom.
“The government is best which governs least” This phrase kickstarted American philosopher Sir Henry David Thoreau’s 1849 essay entitled “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience”. Although this essay is not about rightfully disobeying the government, it neatly sums up the role of a government in his societal view. The traditional ideal of a good government in any society is to lead the country by making critical decisions which affects the country politically, economically and to safeguard the country’s interest in times of crisis. It also has the responsibility of providing certain public services to its citizens and to protect the welfare of those in the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder. With such a role, it may appear that a good government is absolutely necessary to ensure that the country continues to prosper. Yet in this modern age, we see a gradual shift in responsibility from the state to newly empowered non-governmental organisations and individuals in ensuring that the country grows both in economic terms and the maturity of its citizens.
A good government with its noblest of intentions, cannot create and uphold policies which are absolutely perfect. It has to seek the advice and guidance of organisations which deal directly with the people and the economy to make the most informed decision. This enables the government to craft a policy that maximises the benefits to society with the minimalist of problems. An example is the Federal Reserve in the United States. Although its chairman Ben Bernanke regularly reports to Congress, its day-to-day operations as a Central Bank and de-facto regulator of the economy is out of the jurisdiction of the US government. It plays the role of the middleman between the government and the economy. No matter how the good the government intends itself to be, no government is specialised enough to handle the intricacies of today’s societies. Especially with democratically-elected governments, the life of a politician in office is usually uncertain. To run the country and effectively build the economy, the Federal Reserve has to be always around, employing fixed people which are skilled in this particular area. The constancy of these third-party organisations ensure that they would have the best knowledge at hand in improving the status of the nation.
Despite having a good government at the core if a nation, there has to be a series of checks and balances in place to ensure that the government remains clean. The media, also known as the Fourth Estate of government usually serves this role. In times of crisis and national emergencies, the media is utilised by the government to communicate its messages to the populace. With the powerful influence of the media, a government and its officials are forced to think twice before they put their personal interests above the nation. The media is the key to ensure that the population receives up-to-date information on the happenings of the nation and the decision-making process of the government. This check-and-balance was most spectacularly demonstrated during the Watergate Scandal in 1972. Members from the US Republican Party broke into the offices of the Democratic Party to steal certain audio tapes. Despite later receiving information of this incident, the Republican President Richard Nixon ignored it and even conspired to cover it up. The media chanced upon the entire happenings and printed it for the world to see. After mounting investigations, Nixon resigned a few days later becoming the first US president ever to do so. As we can see, the role model of a good democratic governance by the US portrayed to the world can sometimes be tarnished. A powerful media is the main cornerstone to allay the fears of the population over the current state of governance.
A good government may also tend to over-regulate in the name of protecting the welfare of the people. Laws of censorship and even regulating social behaviors like littering and chewing gum consumption are implemented to “protect the people from themselves”. Through the lenses of the government, these policies serve to ensure that its citizens are encouraged to adopt habits which are deemed mature. All these are done to supposedly build a nation of civility. A perfect example of this over-governance is Singapore which has the above laws enshrined in the Penal Code. To Western and even regional observers, these polices are extremely trivial although they do agree Singapore’s model of good governance is a notable one to emulate. The problem with such a “nanny” state is that it breeds complacency and the innovative spirit of the people are likely to be stifled in the long term. Citizens will be less inclined to push the boundaries of knowledge acquisition and political expression. The original aim of the “good” Singapore government to build a nation of highly-civilised people devoid of sins has failed miserably to a large extent.
Yet on the flip side, I do not deny the benefits of having a good government. One indicator of the quality of governance is the level of corruption. The annual corruption index released by the United Nations regularly places Singapore and Switzerland at the top of the chart. These economies have consistently shown themselves to be economic powerhouses at their own right despite their size. It is the trust that Swiss and numerous multi-national companions place into the hands of the clean Swiss government that enables it to have among the world’s most developed banking system and economy. Taiwan on the other hand, occupying a much lower position on the index, has seen its economy grind to a halt for most of the past decade. The relentless never ending bickering by its politicians and even recent allegations of embezzlement by its former President Chen Shui Bian does no justice to the country. Its politicians spend more time engaging in verbal (and sometimes even in physical) warfare than proposing constructive policies which are synonymous with that of a good government. This is a perfect illustration of how a good government is a key factor in building a nation.
In conclusion, a good government is necessary, but it should not be viewed as the sole indicator in predicting the future prospects of the country. The good government which dedicates out its non-core functions and sets reasonable laws should be lauded as the best model for emulation.
Marker’s comments: Good intro! Excellent general knowledge, fluently discussed.
Other than the congruency in marks with the midyear, I also find that my essay tends to be less relevant at the beginning and improves at the end. This is evident by the dismal number of ticks in the second and third paragraphs with the number increasing as I approach the end.
All the questions in the prelims was difficult. As with most of my GP essays before, I choose a question if I feel I have a firm grasp of the required points. In this case, I had no inspiration for all the questions! The reason I chose it was because I happened to be able to start the essay with an interesting quote which I was not even sure related to the question. Fortunately, the marker gave me credit for it!
When I started on my first point on third-part organisations, I initially had no idea what example to use to back this up. I stopped at the sentence “minimalist of problems” for about 5 minutes thinking of what suitable example to use. With no inspiration on the radar, I just whacked the Federal Reserve in and twisted it to fit my point. There is nothing untrue with the facts I raised, its just that in reality, the Fed is much closer to the US government than I intend to reveal. It is not a good example but it fits. Till now, I can’t think of any although I am aware that examples of these do exist.
My original aim for bringing in the media argument was to prove its importance as another key to nation building. Upon reading this once more, I felt I did not show how this would improve the nation. In fact, the Watergate scandal I raised only showed the press “dragging” down the status of nation, casting the American population into doubts about the integrity of their government. A highly negative example which I somehow twisted again to support the point. (Without surprise, the marker did not tick this example which showed its slight irrelevance.)
Paragraph 4 is largely ok. I just could not resist taking a swipe at our current government policies. No ticks for the last sentence though.
Paragraph 5 is the shortest after the conclusion but with the most number of ticks. Its not really hard to see why.
Overall, not bad in my eyes. But can be improved if I swap the examples for better ones. I somehow seem to feel that my essays are always heavy on facts and less on personal opinions and expression. Guess thats from the way I think. State the facts first, and explain my points off the facts.