Of Deregulation, Public Value and National Interest
Corona Virus Pandemic, ultimately will flatten out and normalcy will return to our public life. But we will still have to deal with the enduring challenges that confront many third world or developing countries that their governments are being challenged to be more innovative and responsive in meeting the public needs in terms of affordability, accessibility and efficiency of services provided for the citizenry to enjoy quality life.
This is because Government direct provision of certain public goods and services is seen to be almost becoming an anathema due to apparent corruption, compromises and bureaucratic bottlenecks in the system or the needless muscle flexing among agencies and departments involved in the delivery process. This also is often because of resulting delay and poor quality of wat is offered the intended beneficiaries even when they are willing to pay, sometimes the lack of equity and inaccessibility in many cases.
Similarly, some public goods provision is therefore best left in the hands of the Private Sector Providers if they are not of very strategic significance, if the citizenry must be economically empowered or if the unnecessary bottlenecks must be removed. In these scenarios, the end user is always at the mercy of either the corrupt and supercilious public official or the exploitative and insensitive private sector provider.
From public water supply, electricity, transportation, market stalls, health, education to infrastructure for conveniences, entertainment and sports, there is the reality that government cannot have its hands in all the pies. In an age that Big Government is being discouraged because of bloated expenditure without result or impact, what should be the ideal size of the government? What must it be involved in? What must it leave? In leaving any sector to private providers, what must be the ground rules? These are the issues related to market deregulation that prompt and commercialization privatization of public goods and services.
However, champions of market deregulation mostly think not necessarily of citizens interest but in terms opportunities for profit maximization, in terms of players freedom of entry and exit into the market, in terms of absence of restrictions on pricing of goods and services provided emphasizing market forces or demand and supply as the ultimate arbiter and in terms of non-involvement of government pay standards for workers or the labour. When we factor these opportunistic considerations and the government caves in to apostles of deregulation, the market goes haywire.
Public Transportation, telecommunications and electricity supply are areas often cited that the government is less suited to be providing directly. But then, the government has overriding public interest to protect in many ways. That is, while the government may not be the sole provider of such services , it must ensure that whatever the private sector providers offer meet every criteria of affordability, accessibility, quality and efficiency. This is where regulation comes in.
But beyond regulation, government must continue to make long term investment in critical infrastructure and maintain them. Any serious or public interest-based or interested government cannot afford to succumb to champions of deregulation, because this is the definition of abdication. At all times, the concern of the government must be public value, which is never measured by the bottom line or financial gain. Public value is a utilitarian principle of delivering the greatest good to the greatest number of people. To me, this is also a democratic principle.
Pitch this against deregulation, it would seem apostles of market determinism are nothing more than mercantilists with huge or enough resources to buy or control and command strategic sectors of the national economy. Indirectly, they target the national jugular and ultimately hijack the state power, rendering the government powerless.
A closer look at champions of deregulation in the economies of developing countries reveal something. They mostly front for transnational or multinational corporations perpetuating the neo-colonial agenda of economic exploitation. They are not really interested in our best interest. They are merely interested in our population as a fertile market to milk our citizens and repatriate profit massively. Whatever they may give in that process as CSR usually amount to tokenism.
Yes, Big Government is anachronistic and lean, nimble government is a desirability. But what we actually need in managing the African and Third World economies are strong, transformational governments that understand world Dynamics and cannot be stampeded into buying unfavourable policies from international system that enrich a few and indirectly transfers power to fronts for foreigners. Such governments, indeed, public or national interest-based, must be ready to confront these so-called powers and chart their own course of economic emancipation, prosperity and development.
They must never give in to champions of total deregulation, although they must find a middle path of transferring economic command to their own citizens in the consciousness of partnership for development and not an abdication of responsibility in favour of fronts for foreign interests and powers. In this case, regulation cannot be wished away in our public life, even if market deregulation becomes a necessity or reality.