BY WES HAYES and
If there’s one thing Republicans and Democrats can agree on, it’s that those in public office must have honesty and integrity and that they need to be held to a higher standard because they are holders of the public trust.
But there’s more. Those who are privileged to serve their fellow citizens also have the obligation to do so in an honorable and selfless manner that encourages confidence in government.
Unfortunately, the confidence in government is extremely low today.
In the recent Winthrop poll from early April, only 11.1 percent of registered South Carolina voters approved of the way Congress is doing its job and just 37.9 percent had a favorable opinion of the General Assembly’s performance.
Now is the time — for the Democrats and Republicans we elect — to earn back the public’s trust. The only real way to do that is with greater transparency so we can see what’s going on and more accountability so we can make better decisions about what government is doing.
Fundamental to effective government is having confidence in those who govern.
It’s all about integrity and trustworthiness. And it’s about how they behave and conduct themselves in public office.
We’re not talking about differing political ideologies. We’re talking about ethics, something that is neither Republican nor Democratic, right nor left, up nor down nor sideways.
It’s about doing things in good conscience and keeping faith with those you serve.
Simply put, South Carolinians expect to be represented at the Statehouse and in city halls without influence or bias. That’s why we have ethics laws — to attempt to clarify what we require of our public officials.
But the guidelines we have today are hardly adequate if they fall short of their objective or can be easily circumvented. State and local governments spend a lot of money and have great influence on how everyone conducts business and ordinary daily life.
Therefore, we should be informed and very concerned about the activities of those who seek to influence government at all echelons, including municipal governments, regional commissions, and school districts.
Close scrutiny of the public decision-making process is a fundamental right as well as a duty in our society.
Shining the light on all levels of government and within public agencies will allow the community’s trust to be regained. To do any less violates the core principles of justice and fairness upon which our country was built.
The South Carolina General Assembly is currently working to overhaul the state ethics law.
It’s long overdue. Legislators can’t let up now or allow others to stall this effort with a political agenda.
Comprehensive disclosure of sources of personal compensation is crucial in exposing serious conflicts of interest.
Equally important is the independence of the state Ethics Commission.
It also must have sufficient resources to conduct adequate investigations and make recommendations to the General Assembly or Attorney General, as warranted. And it should be done this year so we can begin to regain the public trust immediately.
Stronger ethics laws, ethical leaders, and a strong oversight by the news media and an engaged public who hold their public officials accountable are key to rebuilding our state government.
Together, we can effect real change, but those who are holding this effort up must start by putting politics aside and putting the interest of the people of South Carolina first.
State Sen. Robert W. “Wes” Hayes is a Republican representing York County. State Sen. Vincent A. Sheheen is a Democrat representing Kershaw, Chesterfield and Lancaster counties.
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