Monday, October 10, 2011
Steve Baron: Governments & Governance - Where is the power?
The question for New Zealanders to consider though — is the government (and therefore New Zealanders) handing over power to an unknown group of outsiders who then control our destinies? Is there cause for concern or is this just the way the world is going and we simply need to jump on for the ride as this international governance is simply a new process or new method of governing?
There now appears to be a growing disparity in power between governments and governance. Governments appear to becoming weaker and international governance much stronger than ever before. Governance is the act of governing but this is not necessarily the act of the government of a country, such as New Zealand.
International agreements, laws and conventions are growing in stature and often influence governments who sign up to them. They often take precedence over domestic laws. As prominent New Zealand journalist, Colin James, once said, “In a globalised world international treaties and rule-making bodies increasingly shape domestic law and constrain domestic legislation and administration”.
There are however, many who question the effectiveness of these international organisations. Even six months after the Asian tsunami disaster in 2004, many countries had not fully paid the money they had pledged to the United Nations (UN). The USA had paid 43 per cent, Canada 37 per cent and Australia 20 per cent.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank also have their critics. Joseph Stiglitz, a renowned economist, Nobel Laureate, Chairman of Bill Clinton's Council of Economic Advisor's and World Bank Chief Economist stated, “The IMF prescribed outmoded, inappropriate, if 'standard' solutions, without considering the effect on the people in the countries told to follow these policies”.
Once the New Zealand government signs up to these international agreements, laws and conventions, it is then obligated to adhere to any subsequent changes that are made in these agreements. This consequently places significant power in the hands of these international authorities such as the UN, the IMF, the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the World Health Organization (WHO) or the World Bank, and citizens are effectively powerless to stop these decisions.
Free trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) are a concern to some New Zealanders. TPPWatch is a group of concerned unions, groups and individuals who have organised themselves to oppose this free trade agreement. This group has taken out advertisements in major newspapers highlighting their concerns and arguing the TPPA is a threat to New Zealand's democracy.
For example, if New Zealand were to sign up to a free trade agreement with the USA, this may put pressure on the New Zealand government to remove the power Pharmac (New Zealand's pharmaceutical management agency) possesses to control the distribution and importation of medication to New Zealand. Some might argue this would be a good thing, however the Pharmac scheme has also brought many advantages via buying power to New Zealanders.
Should citizens have the final say as to whether or not New Zealand becomes aligned with any international agreements, laws and conventions?
Switzerland is an interesting example in this area. For a long time, the Swiss people refused to agree to become a member of the UN and still today, refuse to be members of the European Union (EU). The difference with Switzerland is that before the government can sign up to such agreements, the country must agree to the decision in a nationwide referendum. Switzerland voted against joining the EU in December 1992 but has still developed bilateral agreements to maintain competitiveness. In March 2001, the Swiss people again refused the chance to start accession negotiations with the EU. It was not until 2002, and after an intense and controversial debate, that the Swiss people finally agreed to becoming a full member of the UN in a referendum.
Perhaps even, these international agreements, laws and conventions offer us a decentralisation of power and are possibly a real benefit to New Zealanders? Perhaps we should even embrace them as they may set new standards that are above what our own government might be prepared to implement?
One advantage may be that this international governance involves a complex group of people and organisations which do not limit themselves by ideological political beliefs or agendas which are indoctrinated in New Zealand party politics? Unlike Switzerland, to date there seems to be very little public demand for citizens to have the final say in such decisions. It will be interesting to see if this desire grows. It must be said that the desire for direct democracy around the world seems to be growing.
at 8:57 AM