When I was a young student and teacher in development studies Norway and Sweden a generation ago, it was part of our education to be critical. True, there was a lot to be critical about in all fields, and indeed in my main field of study, notably education in Africa and Asia. We were critical to what the governments in the newly independent countries did. We were also critical to what the colonial rulers had done, but there wasn’t much we could do to change history. We were positive to development aid, and in hindsight, much more than we should have been. The private sector operators, NGOs and companies, were not yet quite part of the equation, but we were certainly sceptical to the private sector, and we wanted the local and multinational companies to be strictly regulated by the government. I believe we were right, but the Western capitalists and right-wing ideologists, those who feared the thinkers with roots in Marxism, won the ‘battle about the souls’. They are to be blamed for much of today’s problems in the developing countries. Yet, today, the dominant thought is that they are the saviours, who can help the poor countries to prosperity, even against the state, which they want to remain weak.

Although there was corruption, we didn’t quite want to see that, and we still believed that the government would do what was right for the majority of the people, not only the tiny upper class. In Africa, the middle class was just about to emerge, mostly based on education achievements, and with it an explosion of tax avoidance and corruption. Some of the books we cherished were ‘Things Fall Apart’ (1958) and ‘No longer at Ease” (1960) by the towering Nigerian novelist and professor, Chinua Achebe (1930-2013). We began to realise that cultural, social, class and economic problems would grow in the young states in Africa and Asia. But we still hoped that the state would be on the people’s side, at least in the left-leaning, socialist or social-democratic countries. Alas, neither ideology nor religion, with high moral standards, could hinder that, those who had the string to the purse would steal from it, yes, in magnitudes of unbelievable proportions. The government scholarship officer in ‘No Longer at Ease’, who was originally an idealist, but succumbed to bribes and dishonest extra income, was just a forerunner for what would come later.

This was at a time when we, in my home country Norway, just began to ‘open up’ the issues about fringe benefits and perks in high posts, mainly in the private sector. There wasn’t much corruption, and we didn’t quite feel the need for decision-makers being scrutinised from outside. One of the typical statements by the long-time Norwegian Prime Minister in the 1950s and early 1960s when announcing decisions, was, “some of us have talked with each other”, and henceforth, they had made decisions. In those days, we almost took for granted that the leaders decided what was best for all. This followed a unity government after the end of World War II in 1945, when all parties agreed to put aside their slight differences, well, sometimes major differences, too. Can you imagine that kind of loyalty and trust today?

Was it good? Yes and no. I believe an active opposition and critical media are essential parts of a democracy and that a parliament doesn’t really work without an active and critical scrutiny of the opposition. Everyone in power must know that they can and will be checked in their cards, and that they cannot expect blind loyalty, not even from their own party members and sympathisers.

In Norway, it still took some decades before we opened up the many little secrecy habits. Even today, I believe the civil service and indeed the private sector, have quite some mileage to go before they can claim they are as democratic as they should be. Most decisions in the civil service are made by the senior staff, often with little debate beforehand. In a time when experts and technocrats lay the premise, but they are not neutral, and debate and openness is needed so that decisions can become as good and ethical as possible.

True, most government letters and other documents are open to the media. Personnel matters are usually exempt, but otherwise, little is kept secret, well, excluding security and defense matters. In such fields, the media and other watchdogs argue for more openness, which is important in a time when we sometimes relapse back to old habits. Somehow, I find Hillary Clinton’s email ‘scandal’ absurd; the media shouldn’t claim that she was careless with restricted material; rather the media should question why the material was kept away from the public’s insight. I hope the media in future will turn their investigation to that, rather than criticising that some ‘important secrets’ have been made public.

In future, we all know that very little of what we say and do, as private citizens and as public servants and politicians, will be kept secret. Today, we spend too much time gossiping about issues that are not anybody’s business, except for the persons concerned themselves. We need better ethical rules about decent and fair behaviour. We also need to become better in protecting those who want to speak too much about themselves. The latter has become an important topic in literature in many countries in recent years, where novels are partly facts and fiction from the writer’s own life.

Now then, am I tiptoeing around the ‘Panama leaks’? Yes, maybe. But I don’t only talk about those high-level and high-profile issues, with top people and institutions involved – in Norway (mostly the private sector), Iceland, Pakistan, and probably in every country around the globe. Those scandals could only happen because we have had an international system which has protected the rich and powerful. It is about time that the United Nations and other international organisations find new and better rules, so the class-world we live in cannot just do as they please, pay as little tax as they like, and declare the fortune they want. When millionaires and billionaires don’t pay income tax for a decade or two, and that is within the law, such as in Donald Trump’s case in USA, then the system is obviously wrong. It was designed by and for those who have, not the have-nots.

What is the bottom line in my article today? It is just that you and I have a responsibility for what we do, and how we shape the world in governing bodies. Yes, we can criticise others, we can talk about Chinua Achebe’s scholarship officer, about the Trumps amongst us, and about own self-righteousness.

Dear reader, may I wish you a great Thanksgiving, marked in USA, Japan and many other countries at the end of the autumn month of November, when the harvest is in house and the winter can be welcomed – when we get more time for prayer, repentance, reflection, even reading poetry and prose. It is a time to give thanks to God and fellow human beings. After all, we all have much to be grateful for – and in the end, life is a gift – as is faith!