Protecting the public interest via public scrutiny in Macedonia
British Embassy provides support in Macedonia for safeguarding the public interest and its importance for society development.
Our ambassador Charles Garrett was among the key speakers at the conference devoted to safeguarding the public interest which was held in Skopje recently. In delivering his remarks, the ambassador said:
Почитувани соработници, претставници на медиумите, драги гости, добро утро на сите. Mirmëngjez gjithve.
Ви благодарам за поканата да се обратам денес на конференцијата на која ќе се дебатира за „Деконструирање на концептот на јавен интерес во Република Македонија: (зло)употреба во име на граѓаните.
Конференцијата е дел од активностите кои се спроведуваат во рамки на проектот „Изразување на јавниот интерес: зголемување на моќта на медиумите и граѓаните во штитењето на јавните политики во Македонија“.
Секогаш ми е задоволство кога имам можност да се обратам на активности кои се дел нашата програмска поддршка за Македонија, затоа што ние работиме со многу различни сектори од македонското општество. Особено е битно што денес зборуваме за темата на јавниот интерес, со оглед на политичката ситуација во која се наоѓа Македонија, и дебатата за интересот на обичниот граѓанин и одговорноста на политичките лидери.
I recently contributed a blog for the launch of the digital citizenship initiative ‘Res Publica. In it, I focused on a phrase often used by the UK Civil Service. That phrase is ‘Speak truth unto power.’
The courage to speak the truth to powerful people is in the blood of all good civil servants, even if they know that it will complicate their lives. The best politicians, on the other hand, learn to cherish civil service advice which points out the flaws in their arguments. The same is true of anyone with the power to affect the lives of others, whether they work in the public interest or not.
But defining the public interest is not easy. “The Public” by definition means everyone living in a country. And different members of the public often want different things and often have different priorities.
It’s much easier to see what’s not in the public’s interest, in particular where government is concerned. Misuse of tax revenue, which is after all the public’s money, is high on the list. Corruption, bad spending decisions, inefficiency. These are obvious examples. Less obvious perhaps is lack of transparency in government. Governments which don’t let the public see how their tax money is spent, are not working in the public interest. Governments which are secretive about their decision-making, are not working in the public interest.
What this boils down to is that governments are there to serve the people. Everyone in government from the most junior official right up to the Prime Minister and the President is paid with money that comes from the people. They are being paid to do a job for the people. Which means they have a responsibility to do that job as wisely, as efficiently, as effectively as possible. And therein lies an important part of the public interest.
The best way to protect the public interest is public scrutiny. It is for the public to take an interest in what is being done in their name and to use their influence. Through public scrutiny voters can get the information they need to make informed choices about the kind of society they want to live in and about whom they want to lead them.
We recognise the importance of public scrutiny and the need to understand what is and is not in the public interests. That’s why this project is getting British support. It aims to produce a comprehensive, comparative analysis of public interest in Macedonia and the EU. To identify how the public interest is regulated in the national and European legislative systems. And to understand how the citizens of Macedonia perceive the public interest.
We may rightly hold politicians responsible for their decisions. But the public have a responsibility too. Their role is to take an interest in what is being done in their name and to make informed and coherent demands of their politicians. That isn’t always easy. But a vibrant debate on the public interest is an essential ingredient of a successful democracy.
We hope that through this project more people from across Macedonian society will feel empowered to join the debate and thus help politicians make decisions that are in their interests.
So let me take this chance to wish you fruitful debate at today’s conference. And to the Institute for Communication Studies I wish every success with this important project. Ви посакувам успешна работа. Ju dëshiroj punë të mbarë.
Thank you. Ви благодарам. Faliminderit.
The project Voicing the Public Interest is implemented by the Institute for Communication Studies in the period of June 2015-June 2016 with the support of the British Embassy in Skopje.