Thursday, January 05, 2006
Issues of trust dominated 2005. The year opened with millions of Boxing Day Tsunami victims expressing distrust in the initial outpouring of promises of aid from both foreigners and their own governments.
For example, residents of Aceh province, bitterly struggling with the Indonesian army, at first mistrusted everyone. Conservative Aceh Muslims recoiled at thousands of military personnel both foreign and Indonesian arriving shortly after the disaster. The appearance of non-Muslim, non-Indonesian outsiders sparked initial xenophobia and even attacks on aid workers, including one from Hong Kong.
But the wrecking of infrastructure was so complete that there was no choice but to accept outside help. Aceh survivors and other Indonesians learned to trust one another as well as outsiders' good intentions, both in terms of aid and as mediators in the long-running conflict between the province and Jakarta.
With the Indonesian army now reducing its numbers in Aceh after rebel arms surrenders and a negotiated settlement, prospects for peace appear bright.
Sri Lanka, the second worst tsunami-devastated nation, saw trust go in the opposite direction. Government corruption and military responses in Tamil areas destroyed the trust that had begun to bloom after years of Norwegian-led negotiations. So much did trust diminish that Tamils largely boycotted elections held at year's end, handing the presidency to an anti-Tamil hardliner who vowed to settle things by force.
Trust and distrust continued to dominate events throughout the year.
Mid-year the world looked on in dismay as the most powerful country on Earth seemed unable or unwilling to rescue thousands of increasingly desperate refugees stranded by the failure of New Orleans levees. They were not the only thing to fail New Orleanians' trust.
Elaborate evacuation plans and procedures failed. Civil society, city government, and the police failed. State-level government assistance failed. The largest government reorganization - resulting in the Homeland Security Bureau, made after the failures of September 11, 2001, and meant to guarantee rapid, comprehensive response to feared mass-casualty terrorist attacks - failed to respond effectively to the most accurately and fully predicted disaster on record.
Government at all levels failed in terms of zoning, building codes and enforcement, insurance requirements, flood prevention, disaster planning and execution, and recovery operations. Thousands across Florida, Mississippi, and Louisiana were bankrupted, made homeless and displaced by predictable natural disasters and preventable damage.
If these blows to Americans' trust in government were not enough, the year also witnessed their vaunted beliefs in limited government, rule of law, freedom, and the rights of individuals all trampled by the most indiscriminate, most widespread surveillance of all forms of communication ever conducted by any government.
Corruption investigations will further test American's trust this year. The issue of trust will likely dominate the 2006 elections.
Locally, trust was also an issue all year.
In January 2005, few could believe Beijing would trust a devout Catholic and Knight of the British realm as chief executive. Fewer could imagine Beijing would trust democrats like Martin Lee and "Long-hair" Leung enough to let them enter the mainland. None believed a pro-democracy lawyer had any chance replacing Elsie Leung as Secretary for Justice or that any democrat would sit on Exco for years to come.
No one trusted Tung Chee-hwa to propose constitutional reforms that even incrementally moved toward democracy in 2007 and 2008.
Donald Tsang began to rebuild trust by doing all these things. But when he called for just enough trust from just enough democrats to pass what most people considered modest but nevertheless real steps forward in our governance, trust failed.
Beijing demanded trust that a timetable for full democracy might be forthcoming after 2008. Tsang demanded trust in his intentions and trust that his package was the best obtainable. Reform failed because no one - Beijing, Tsang, the Liberal Party, the DAB, big business, or democrats - really trusted the people.
Beijing fears majority rule and Hong Kong's democratic example. Big business fears "mob rule" and uncontrolled entitlements. Liberals and the DAB fear fully competitive elections. Tsang fears Beijing, big business and directly elected Legco members. Democrats, far from trusting the public, feared if Tsang's reforms passed the majority might then fail to continue pressing for faster and full democratization.
Last year taught us we cannot be too trusting or too distrusting. But locally, we need more, not less trust for reform to succeed, as it must for governance to improve and accountability to increase. A new attempt at constitutional reform must be made in 2006 with more trust from everyone, in everyone.