Physician, heal thyself – public distrusts government

As the world lurches between the agglutinated pause for Xmas/New Year/Trump, and the next pause for Chinese (sorry, Lunar) New Year, some grim sense emanates from Edelman, whose 2017 Trust Barometer has just been published.

If you are in government, or a business leader – especially in pharmaceutical or food industries – the coming holiday will not provide respite, for the survey makes tough reading. It is clear that trust in those who run our nanny-states is at an all-time low and that more and more ‘ordinary’ people both believe the system is broken and have lost trust in authorities to fix it.

Real people in half the 28 countries surveyed “have lost faith in the system”. In Australia, 59 percent believe the system is not working while a further 30 percent are uncertain. So a mere 11 percent of Aussies appear to have faith in the system. In Malaysia, the numbers are 52-37, leaving the same 11 percent of ‘believers’. Across all 28 countries the average of believers is only slightly higher at 15 percent.

Business takes a lot of the blame. Just 37 percent of people across the 28 countries (which include China and the US) rate company CEOs as “very credible”, with Australia on 26 percent and Malaysia on 40 percent. But governments cop it even worse – a mere 29 percent believe government officials are credible (the individual country assessments are not yet to hand). Perhaps surprisingly, the country that holds its CEOs in least regard is Japan, on just 18 percent.

There is a dichotomy, though: despite appearing not to trust their officials, people want more regulation. Worldwide, 82 percent want the pharmaceutical industry to be subject to “more regulations”; 70 percent “agree that policymakers should tax foods that negatively impact health” and 53 percent “do not agree that financial market reforms have increased economic stability”.

Media take a major hit too. All forms of media are less trusted than previously and even social media’s followers trust them less (a 3 point decline from 2016 to just 41 percent).

And in terms of credibility in the public space, people are now just as likely to trust “a person like yourself” or an academic expert as they are a technical expert (all 60 percent trusted) but very unlikely to trust a government official or regulator (29 percent, down 6 over the year).

The report summarises: “There is a lack of belief in leaders, who damage the stature of their institutions. We now observe a huge divide between the modest trust in institutions of business and government and a pitifully low level of confidence in their leaders. Over two-thirds of the general population do not have confidence that current leaders can address their country’s challenges.”

A New Year resolution, perhaps, for regulators in public health throughout the Asia-Pacific region: start acting in the interests of the communities to which you are responsible, before they turf you out. Corruption featured large in the report too, so public servants taking money from multinationals to subvert scientifically proven programs – harm reduction is the obvious example – should perhaps prepare to change their ways.

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