Last week I heard a story about a small group of residents who were at a meeting with their local Mayor, the CEO of the Council and a senior Council Officer. The meeting had been requested by the residents due to some concerns they wanted to bring to the attention of the Council. Part way through the meeting the CEO berated the residents for having the audacity to request such a meeting and, basically, waste the time of important people who had greater issues to deal with than their concern. I imagine at that point the meeting concluded.
This anecdote illustrates how often government no longer views itself as a servant of the public and answerable to the community. It illustrates the result of government adopting a ne liberal position and operating in a philosophical framework of big business. When operating in this way government attempts to change the relationship residents and community members have with the government. It demonstrates a power shift in the relationship where I am no longer an active citizen demanding my government is responsive to my concerns. In this position I cease being a citizen and become a consumer, client or customer. My role is to pay my rates and taxes and accept the level of services provided. This is a much more passive role.
When government operates in this manner it is much more than making a semantic change in my title but a substantive change in my relationship with government and the role I have in the democratic process. To put it bluntly becoming a consumer, client and customer results in my right as an active citizen being restricted to the poll booth every three or four years. It also detracts from the accountability of both bureaucrats and politicians to the community, as reflected in the approach of the CEO in this example.
In many ways it is the result of government adopting a neo liberal framework and operating as a large business, a monopoly in many situations. When it views itself as a business it ceases from being a provider of essential physical infrastructure and social services to being the provider of a product to its customers.
We can only change the situation by refusing to be just a customer, client and consumer and demanding accountability to the actions of government.