Considering the recently-concluded mass vaccination of children under the age of 15 years across the country, it has become clear that there is a decline in government trust. Several persons took to social media to voice concern about the program, making speculations about the vaccines and motive.
In almost all WhatsApp groups I belong to, the question of why people were very wary of the initiative was asked. We don’t really know why, but this perception can be ascribed to an increase in mistrust around government institutions. The ministry of Health has come under accusations of not doing enough to curb or address the raising concern of illicit businesses in select hospitals.
As government develops initiatives to steer Uganda into middle-income status, the hurdle that lies ahead is not only knowing what policies and programs to choose, but also how to implement the select policies or programs. Yet, capacity to implement depends critically on trust.
Without trust in the government or its institutions, support for policies or programs becomes difficult to mobilize, particularly in cases where short-term sacrifices are needed to make long-term gains. The raising decline in trust serves to underscore its essential role as a key ingredient in successful policymaking.
When levels of trust decline, we can end up with lower rates of compliance with regulations. The ability to cultivate trust is a big investment in the social well-being of communities.
This is because trust is both an input to the process of policymaking, and an outcome of any successful policy, since it influences the attitudes and decisions of people in relation to social wellbeing. Consider an example of a village where someone wants to build a well. If this person is not trusted, the inhabitants would not see the well as such a good idea. If the well is built, they could even destroy it or vandalize it, without considering the benefits.
As a result, trust in government by people is key for efficient and effective policymaking. It should, therefore, take a central role in promoting economic growth while encouraging social cohesion.
Today, maintaining trust is complicated by a diverse and fast flow of information across the country through social networks and the internet. This is further complicated if people have suspicions of the policymaking process and perceive the distribution of costs and benefits as unfair. In our context, some of our policies might have come across as moneymaking initiatives for a select few.
Trust in government shows a confidence of people in its actions. However, this is very subjective as it would depend on the person’s preferences or understanding; what is considered right and fair by one person may not be considered so by another.
As people become more educated, their expectations of government performance rise. Yet, it is very clear that people’s expectations are key to their trust in government. Currently, I would argue that people are starting to lose a level of political trust in the government and some of its institutions. Thus, the aspect of vaccines raising concerns could be just an indicator of a growing problem.
A vital aspect of government trust is the personal experience with service delivery. Persons who have experienced a good service delivery will often have different views compared to those who have experienced a bad service delivery.
The government has made tremendous strides in ensuring positive service delivery across all sectors throughout the years. However, there exists a gap between delivery and growing expectations of the people.
The government, therefore, should be concerned about minimizing this gap, since trust is a core foundation upon which political systems are sustained. This is because trust affects the ability to govern and enables people to act without having to resort to coercion.
Trust in government is a multi-dimensional issue driven by a mix of social, political and economic interactions. However, most of the drivers are interlinked and complementary in their relation to people’s perception of the government. To address this growing trust concern, our government needs to be more transparent, more inclusive, more efficient and, above all, more receptive.
The author is a PhD fellow at the University of Kansas.