Crisis of confidence
By Salama A Salama
The campaign to immunise school children against swine flu is one example of the crisis of confidence between the government and the public. Many parents remained sceptical until the last moment about the wisdom of giving the vaccine to their children.
The government, with its mighty media, failed to dispel rumours that circulated about the side effects of the vaccine and the allegation that it may cause polio and autism. Even when former education minister Yosri El-Gamal took the vaccine in front of the cameras, the rumours persisted.
One reason for the widespread scepticism is that the government remained undecided for a long time on whether to use the vaccine or rely on Tamiflu, the medicine used to treat patients. As a result, the public couldn't trust the government's ability to provide them with an adequate quantity of vaccines.
This wasn't the first instance of the public losing confidence in the government. Recently, the chief of the Central Accounting Authority, Gawdat El-Malt, said that there is a crisis of confidence between the government and citizens. The simple fact is that when citizens interact with the government, they often end up hurt, deceived and disillusioned.
Often, ministers and governors make promises that they fail to keep and the media launches campaigns that have no basis in reality and that enhance public mistrust.
Take, for example, the cases of the real estate tax and the wall on Gaza's borders.
The real estate tax took everyone by surprise. At a time when the public is suffering from the economic crisis and rising prices it was said that the real estate tax aims to plug the deficit in the state's budget. It was originally claimed that the tax would be confined to luxury and secondary homes. Later on, it transpired that it applies to all types of real estate, including regular dwellings.
The finance minister offered many arguments to defend the tax. But when the law went to the People's Assembly, many legal experts called it unconstitutional. This further weakened the public's trust in the government. It would have been better for the government to wait until it had the legal aspects thoroughly examined. But it preferred to act hastily and ended up looking lame.
Even before the real estate tax came along, the public was sceptical about the public bonds that the government suggested. Many citizens felt that the government wants to privatise the remaining part of the public sector through this method, so that a handful of private investors would get rich at the expense of the rest of the nation. The government had to cancel the project eventually, having further eroded the trust of the public.
It is sad to see the ruling party come up with so many half-cooked ideas only to see them rebuffed and discarded. And I was particularly horrified to see the former housing minister tried for corruption so many years after the fact. Why did it take four or five years to find out about his misdeeds? Isn't this just another reason for the public to doubt the government's probity?
Then there is the wall on Gaza's borders. To start with, news of the wall came from the Israeli press, not the Egyptian. The government responded by claiming that there was no wall, only "engineering installations". What exactly is the difference? No one knows.
You would think that before closing down the smuggling tunnels the government would commit itself to providing Gaza with all the food and medicine it needs. This would have been the right way to go about this business. This would have made us trust the government for once, but it wasn't to be.