Checks and Balances in the Civil Society

I am not here today to talk about checks and balances on bank accounts but moreover about the checks and balances in the Civil Society. If someone would ask me what does checks and balances mean then I would simply say: it’s the creation and existence of structures and guidelines to make our actions work and stay on the right course. Now what do we mean by the word Civil Society?
The word Civil refers to citizens, it is about people, groups of people creating communities, organizations, all working, living and coming together to form what we call – Civil Society.
There are also definitions that provided me guidance for our discussion today and for this I chose the definition of the 21 st Century Lexicon defining Civil Society as being – the aggregate of non-governmental organizations and institutions that manifest the interest and the will of the citizens. The accent here lies on individuals being part of organizations which are independent of Government.
There are two fundamental rights that allow us to become non politically involved in what is ongoing in our society and those rights are the Freedom of Speech and the Freedom of Association.
Non political organizations and institutions are vital to a good democracy, these non political organizations and institutions are the ones creating social capital which is the multitude of social contacts and minds that can stimulate actions of individuals and groups in organizations.
Checks and balances are created when these individuals, these groups, these organizations and Institutions all express their rights to define the public GOOD, to determine the policies by which they wish to seek that GOOD and to reform or replace whatever is not serving the GOOD. It means that we have people and organizations as well as institutions that can work together for the common goal being THE GOOD that we want for our communities and the society as a whole.
Each citizen and each organization or institution should be guided by an ideology as well as objectives or targets to be achieved for the general good of our society. By using their fundamental rights of free speech and association they are able to express themselves and draw attention to issues, causes and needs for the good of our society to stay on the right course.
Identifying issues, organizing structures and then motivating people to get involved to deal with issues through organizations, is already an action of checks and balances and when these individuals and organizations are recognized by the authorities and by the Society that is another positive result for the continuation of checks and balances.
Who are these individuals, who are these organizations and or Institutions that are actors in creating checks and balances ?
We have non -political individuals, these are persons expressing themselves in many ways in public through the media or during private meetings or discussions on topics, incidents, policies, decisions etc.. These can be also be actors or singers comedians, authors, poets, song writers, free lance journalists bringing situations and issues in their special way to the attention of our society.
We also have non political organizations that take part in formulating policies and opinions.( No no don’t worry I am not going to mention names.)
These organizations are the many Foundations and Associations we have in St.Maarten being active in specific sectors of our society, such as social care, health care, medical professions, environmental protection, history, archeology, monuments, Schools and Education, Sports activities, Cultural activities, Arts, music, literature , theater, publishing , Poverty, Churches or religious organizations, business associations, economic and financial institutions, youth care, Senior citizens, neighborhoods and community groups, trade unions, School Boards, student organizations, animal protection, etc etc I say etc. as there are so many types of organizations doing good work in our country.
All of these organizations at some point in time will be directly or indirectly dealing with the society in general to report serious issues and concerns which needed attention and actions. By expressing their concerns to government or to the public in general and informing us of the work and actions they are taking, they are in fact adding value to the checks and balances system from within the society. In fact many of these associations and foundations are being used to execute some of the government’s tasks and needless to mention the influence these organizations can have when being called upon to provide their advice on the preparation and execution of government policies. So often we hear about a foundation or association or individual reacting strongly against a measure, or event. Some people may then say “ Aha here he or she or they come again “ but by repeating the issue and the related concerns they will eventually get the attention of a greater audience and this can have some good effects on restoring the balance for the good to prevail. When groups of associations and foundations all come together to jointly voice their concerns and formulate an action or policy plan, then THAT is a strong contribution to checks and balances.
The society would want to know that an organization can be trusted and for that reason all organizations such as associations and foundations must make sure to comply with the principles of corporate governance , have a good Secretariat and communication policy, establish a code of good conduct to provide guidance to the Board of directors, the members and the volunteers.
A political party is a political organization but it is also an association with a board and members and they have a right express their opinion and to discuss the reactions on issues. I believe that those elected to represent a party in parliament or in government should not be the only ones to be dealing and deciding on programs and policies. The political party as an organization and supported by the members, should become more involved with discussions on topics such as ideology, policies, programs and codes of conducts.
We are very fortunate to have in our society, other types of organizations and individuals who together with modern technology are now forming a great institution and producer of checks and balances in our society and we often refer to it as being the MEDIA.
The Media is comprised of all organizations and individuals being journalists and media workers who assisted by modern technology and systems, conduct interviews, investigations, receive news from press releases or by attending press conferences and prepare their own research. They then publish or broadcast comments and background information on issues, on people and organizations as well as on special events incidents or actions. In fact the media is and becomes involved with almost everything in the civil society.
This production and spreading of information, comments and opinions on issues or events is very important to keep the civil society not only informed but this also stimulates reactions again contributing value to checks and balances.
The internet and telephone technology has made the gathering and distribution of news so much easier and faster. All you need is one person with a phone which is the camera, the recorder, the word processor and this connected to the internet gets the news out in seconds.
The broadcast or spreading of opinions and news is done by four major partners of the Media.: via the written press which are the daily newspapers, magazines, news letter and handouts, then the Radio, followed by Television and then the Social media.
Our island has 2 Morning papers, being locally edited and printed 6 days in the week to provide news and pictorials on what is ongoing in our society, throughout the region and the rest of the world.
How do newspapers contribute to the checks and balances? They report on the matters that harm the Good in the Society but also mention the good and happy things occurring around us. Through the Daily Editorials they voice their opinion on reactions, on incidents, on decisions and policies of Government, Business activity and on moral or ethical standards. Newspapers also publish Letters to the Editor, reactions of people, comments from individuals and organizations. All this contributes to the process of forming an opinion to trigger actions as an added value to checks and balances. The newspapers are very popular in St.Maarten, lots of attention to social activities, outs and about, events and interviews about people and organizations active in our communities. They provide information on public notices, public procurements, auctions, advertisements on job offers, and advertisement for the services and businesses.
News and opinions are also broadcasted and spread by the Radio, with their news programs providing the background information and sometimes comments. They inform us of breaking news, incidents and events. The talk shows and call-in programs of several producers cover a variety of topics or ongoing hot issues allowing people and organizations to call in and voice their views and concerns. Radio also has specific programs in foreign language for foreign residents to get these persons and organizations also involved. Lets not forget the music programs they provide night and day which also has its own way of providing a balance.
The television is another great contributor to the checks and balances by the Civil Society not only for providing the local news but also for the talk-shows produced by several hosts. TV also provides a network of International news and events occurring in many foreign countries with comments and background information on issues that are or can become related to our Civil Society.
The local Talk and call-in shows on the radio and on TV stations remain important for the voicing of opinions on many topics with the hosts bringing in individuals or members of organizations to provide background information or answers to the questions asked. The tone of expressing opinions may be loud at times but they are useful to separate the good from the wrong and so contribute to the checks and balances.
Finally, the latest partner of the Media which is called the uncontrollable Social Media now being used to mobilize groups, opinions, comments, gatherings you name it. Through the fine technology of the internet, apps, face time, twitter, video conferences, Google, websites, Face book and Blogs, we can now obtain all types of news and opinions on topics originating from different sources sent out in a rapid successive and uncontrolled manner through the society.
Many news items gathered cannot be fully published without obtaining some confirmation from the person, the organization or the institution and without the confirmation this news starts to lead its own life. All political as well as non political organizations and businesses should have in place a communication policy that allows them to quickly respond by gathering and presenting the right facts and information to the media. There is a lot of hearsay going around and it is important to separate facts from fiction in order to have our Civil Society reacting in a constructive and responsible manner thereby enhancing our image abroad.
In closing I want to remind you that the theme of this symposium is the value of checks and balances and I consider this value to be all the results obtained from the expression of opinions, of actions taken by the people and organizations to improve the policy making, the transparency decisions, thereby improving good governance and the quality of life in country St. Maarten.
Checks and balances must be forthcoming from our inner self, knowing how to separate the good from the wrong and always remember that it is all about the citizens, the organizations, with people, for the people and that means for all of us.
Thank you for your attention and look forward to questions or comments during the panel discussion.