Another Scandal, Wait Don't Turn the Page
If you are like me, you are now suffering from a severe case of scandal fatigue. The symptoms of this ailment are apathy, disinterest and defeatist pessimism and they seem to be widespread in the Czech Republic today.
Although I do not live in the Czech Republic, I am a typical example of this popular affliction. When I see a new political scandal in the Czech press today, my first reaction is to roll my eyes and turn the page. That's not news, I say to myself, that is too commonplace to be considered news. When is it all going to end? Who's next? They're all a bunch of crooks in any case. I am suffering from serious scandal fatigue, and I am certainly not alone.
Some days, it almost seems to be a competition over which party is most corrupt. There are accusations and counter-accusations, and revelations of financial impropriety pile up higher and higher every day. I think there is a widespread impression that the scandals touch every politician and every party. There seem to be so many stories that I imagine most people have lost count of who did what, when and with whom.
Unfortunately, when countries go through these periodic bouts of rapid revelation, there are so many details that few can keep track, and people turn off to public life in general. Citizens simply loose faith in the system as a whole. When this happens, however, the lesson of the scandals is lost, and they are thus destined to be repeated.
For all the accusations and scandals, there is sadly little discussion of how to stop these things happening again in the future. But it seems to me that this is precisely the time when people need to act. While these scandals are fresh in everyone's heads, people need to escape their apathy by focusing less on today's accusations and focusing more on tomorrow's prevention.
Here are three ideas that could help in this regard:
First, there needs to be a simple limit on individual contributions to political parties. The maximum contribution should be relatively low - I'd say half the average monthly wage is a good benchmark. Contributions should only come from private individuals not organisations or firms because only private individuals vote. Only registered voters should be allowed to donate money to political parties.
Second, and more importantly, the contributions system has got to be completely transparent: the party books have to be open for all to see. I would suggest that some independent regulatory body be charged with registering all party contributions. By channelling the contributions of all parties through this central agency, the details would be available to everyone. This agency could post the contributions on the Internet and update the lists daily. This can be a voluntary system, that is parties would not be forced to join this system, but a party's refusal to participate would generally create the suspicion that it was trying to hide something. I believe that such an organisation could even be self-financing if it were to take a minimal percentage of the funds which pass through it.
Third, the government itself has got to be much more transparent with its financial books. The people have a right to know where their taxes go and the decisions their government makes. A wide-ranging freedom of information law could secure this. Of course, this doesn't mean that every citizen will want to spend days in government archives, but journalists should be able to act as society's watchdog and keep an eye on these things for them.
Politicians will protest that these measures are too strict. Well, they would wouldn't they? They don't want to see their secret sources of funding dry up over night. Every society seems to face party financing scandals these days, and scandal fatigue is a problem in every democracy, but people in the Czech Republic need to act while today's lessons are fresh in everyone's head.
Apathy is a symptom not the cure for the illness of scandal fatigue.