Check the Czechs

No Eligibility Without Responsibility


"No taxation without representation" is one of those slogans that made history. No one is sure who first used it but it summed up the anger and frustration felt by British colonists in the Thirteen Colonies -- later the United States of America -- between 1763 and 1775 over the fact that the British Parliament taxed imports and exports to and from the New World.

Britons in North America considered it an illegal act that violated their rights as Englishmen, since the English Bill of Rights of 1689 had forbidden the imposition of taxes without the consent of Parliament, where the colonists had no representation. The dispute lasted many years and reached its climax in 1773 at the famous Boston Tea Party where the Americans rejected the remaining tax on tea imports and Boston Harbor was filled with tea leaves. A reconciliation took place in 1775 when Britain passed a law ending taxation for any colony that satisfactorily provided for the imperial defense -- and the principle of no taxation without representation became an essential part of the British constitution.

The slogan has been heard here and there more recently -- for example, in one of Bill Clinton's campaigns -- and today it's one of the basic principles of representative democracies, since the rule is utterly logical: You want my money? Well, I want my voice to be heard.

Thinking of the old slogan, and observing the current Czech political landscape, a parallel to that famous line crosses my mind. It's "no eligibility without responsibility." This would apply to candidates for public office, especially directly elected politicians, who would have to show that they know their obligations to the public. In other words, a candidate who doesn't understand the responsibilities that come with the job shouldn't be eligible to run for election.

For it is an undeniable fact that many -- too many -- politicians sacrifice responsibility first if it helps increase their popularity with the electorate. The Czech state has a hole in its budget bigger than the Grand Canyon and the economy has taken a downward turn yet the majority of elected representatives keep on promising people extravagant social benefits, be it an extra 13th pension payment for the retired, higher maternity benefits or carrots for railway employees that, at the end of the day, add up to billions. The same politicians are a) unable to say who is going to foot the bill and b) don't seem to care too much about the consequences of their promises. After all, it's not their money they're asking for but state money, right?

So the big question is, how would you test their understanding of their responsibilities? Forget not stealing and not accepting bribes -- that's obvious. But how about refusing to take up a populist agenda just to win few extra points?

Here are some specific conditions for any candidate for public office:

• No participation in charity lotteries

• No promises of money that doesn't exist

• Yes to necessary reforms, even if it means you become utterly unpopular and are out of office at the next election

• Yes to resigning when your wife is caught buying a fake Louis Vuitton bag made by child laborers and smuggled into the country illegally

The list could be much longer. The important thing is that all prospective holders of public office would have to sign up to it, in black and white, and if they crossed one of the lines listed above, they'd either be deleted from the party list or would have to step down immediately.

Naïve? Maybe. But the time is ripe for "no eligibility without responsibility" and the smell of floating tealeaves, seawater and gunpowder is in the air...

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