Dealing with perceptions is always tricky. They can be justified or less so, fair or unfair: but perceptions influence our judgments and behaviour. To determine if perceptions are true may require time, resources or information that may not be readily accessible. In many situations, more than difficult to establish hard facts, perceptions will be the main pillars upon which we build our decisions. For many, perceptions are, in fact, the only available truth.
In government, the effects of perception issues are compounded because they are intertwined with credibility – and together they shape expectations about the actions and consequences of government actions. As many students of political matters soon realise, credibility is at the heart of government effectiveness. Very well thought out and designed policies may easily flounder if the intended targets do not believe in the effective power, ability or commitment of the authorities to carry them out.
It is pointless to declare sound principles and strong determination where the common mean and woman sees (or perceives) weak rationale, conflicting approaches or half-hearted commitments. Consequently, how authorities state their understanding and opinions on this or that issue, how they react to or comment on this or that event is seldom, if ever, irrelevant. They help to build the perception people develop about the real intentions and values of the authorities and, consequently, the way people will deal or adapt to them.
All these considerations come to mind in a week when several small bits of news, mostly or apparently unrelated, seem to share a common denominator. They convey the perception that the implementation of the law, in general – and specific laws, in particular – may be less thorough that we are usually assured. Further, that the guarantees often made concerning the respect for the rule of law are not fully congruent with the way the administration actually approaches or implements it.
The extraordinary rendition of people to the Mainland without due legal process has come again to the fore, brought up by the recent events in Hong Kong. Did the authorities grab the opportunity to reaffirm their strong commitment to the laws and their respect for the decisions of the courts? That is not the perception one gets from statements on the issue. Hiring non-resident workers is an agony for many companies, especially smaller companies. Control and screening are said to be rigorous. Then we find out that gamblers can apparently ‘buy’ blue-cards that allow them to come anytime to place a few bets. Others news suggest that some participants in public sports competitions may be working illegally. Did anyone come to the fore to explain how that was possible and guarantee that a rigorous investigation would be carried out? It is not apparent.
Other examples could be picked up from these last days’ news, but these suffice for the argument. Some may say it is mainly a matter of communication – maybe so. Others may perceive there is something else – and will take note.