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On human flourishing: Why public interest is fundamental for a new era of optimism

BUNGE session is already in full swing here in Dodoma and as I interact with MPs, I realise that the nation building agenda is no longer a new notion. From what I hear, almost every legislator seems to be keen to ensure that national unity is fostered, our peace maintained, and a countrywide conscious sense of being proudly Tanzanian is promoted. This is good news.

Even though there is still, as it is expected and should be, an interesting political divide, yet still as already alluded , there are matters of public interest that seem to unite them. By way of example, I am encouraged by their undoubted desire for open justice, definite longing for public health and safety and an unquestionable plea for national security. Surely, we should cherish and relish these developments.

I want to wish them every success in their noble business and I pray and hope that they would all know that their goal is to be useful and not impressive. And this spirit is good for the nation especially now that a new era of optimism continues to emerge since JPM assumed power just over three years ago. Promisingly his tone remains simple and clear, yet firm and fixed - let us enhance the welfare of our people and the nation at large.

Interestingly, at the current Bunge session, the words-“kwa maslahi ya umma” meaning “for public interest” have become prominent and noticeable. I want to believe that, this does not only feature in the form of the tone of their speeches, but symbolizes the fact that all are committed to the wellbeing of their country, and hopefully they would also want to be open to the continent and the world too. I presume.

Unfortunately, this concept is arguably the least defined and least understood. It may be a concept well known but most parliamentarians, but there is no guarantee that other public officials know this concept well. Other commentators have suggested that only a few would have a clear idea what public interest actually means. I thing they are right.

It is therefore a tricky situation here. As we worry about many public officials being not conversant with the term public interest, it is this group of citizens who have an overarching obligation to act in the public interest. They have a massive responsibility.

In fact they are required and must perform their official functions and duties, and exercise any discretionary powers, in ways that promote the public interest that is applicable to their official functions. So, not to know what public interest is all about can be dangerous simply because acting in the public interest is fundamental to a representative democratic system of government and to good public administration.

This said however, I am also aware of the fact that in practice public interest is particularly complex and multifaceted. But the complexity of the concept does not justify any attempt to snub and ignore it. It is its shear importance which calls for special attention to be paid to it.

What matters is for citizens and most importantly public officials to understand what the public is and what are its interests. The public, being important as it should be, is a space where people who shares symbols and values with diverse origins, histories, languages, cultures and religions come together within the boundaries of a sovereign state with a unified constitutional and legal dispensation to seek the welfare of their society hence public interest.

And one of the qualities of public interest practices is the desire to be transparent and committed to the communities one serves. And in the age of optimism like this and hope for the future, interests would range from matters of increased economic certainty, sound corporate governance, government and its public officials acting in the public interest, efforts to create an environment which would help citizens contribute to their development including matters surrounding speaking out on public interest issues.

The issue of speaking out is, in my view, contrary to what we witness today in most African countries where partisan political interests seem to be gaining momentum especially in the context of avoidance of political and government embarrassment. This culture is unhealthy and does not support public interest.

So any action, decision or policy should be geared into serving the public interest. One would expect that public officials would always seek to identify which approach best serves the advancement of the interest or welfare of the public, society and the nation at large.

And one of the best ways to protect public interest could be to approach it from an ethical point of view. At this juncture and from my moral inclination, I am of the opinion that perhaps more than in any other sphere of human activity, governance and political life are always guided and evaluated by some ethical doctrines.

The principles and norms that govern and justify public officials’ actions. I believe, before anyone begins to explore what it is to protect public interest, he or she should first of all be committed to uphold and defend a particular ethical approach to the matter.

In fact it is from moral uprightness where the principle of transparency, an obvious principle, if not a fundamental duty in a democracy springs. It is in fact rubbish to claim that you are acting for the public interest without knowing or upholding to the fact that in any democracy, people not only have rights, but they also have obligations.

So, public interest stands as a fundamental value for a new era of optimism in our country. What we shall need as a nation is to make every effort to suitably interpret it, so that it provides a meaningful criterion for evaluating our journey towards industrialization. This we need because it will help us find ways of improving and strengthening ourselves in various areas.

And though we hinted earlier that public interest is arguably the least defined and least understood concept, yet its basics remains clear and important. This is why people like Isaac Burrow stood for it and therefore once said, for the public interest and benefit of human society it is requisite that the highest obligations possible should be laid upon the consciences of men.

And Edmund Burke said it well, public interest requires doing today those things that men of intelligence and good will would wish, five or ten years hence, had been done. In conclusion, let me borrow Stephen Hawking’s words and say; I want to encourage public interest in space. I have never let my condition stop me. You only live once. Cheers!

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Author: Dr ALFRED SEBAHENE

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