The Deterioration of Trust: Understanding the Relationship between Local Elected Officials and Citizens

2023-05-22 19:11:00

Until recently, local elected representatives were those in whom the majority of citizens still placed a great deal of trust. The Union of Towns and Municipalities of Wallonia (UVCW) observes that this trend is decreasing. And this one does not come out of nowhere: it comes from a broad consultation of mayors, alderman (e) s and president (e) s of CPAS carried out by the polling institute Dedicated. The relationship between local elected officials and citizens has deteriorated for four years, it is said on the side of the UVCW. The elected “attribute it to the pressure of social networks, to the personal interest of the citizen, to the increasing level of requirement towards local politics and to the need to have an immediate response”, explains the president of the Union, Maxime Daye (MR), who is also mayor of Braine-le-Comte (Hainaut). And that comes with drifts”deplorable”. “More or less violent conflicts are attested by our agents who are victims of insults, verbal and physical threats, fake news, cyberbullying, acts of violence…”

And if we add to this the feeling of many local representatives of fulfilling too many missions which come with heavy responsibilities, without necessarily having the status in phase with these missions, the picture is very bleak.

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Fewer lists in the next election?

Several figures are to be pinpointed in the survey commissioned by the UVCW. We learn, for example, that for 75% of respondents, the local mandate will no longer lead to a sustainable vocation in the future. And the ballot which is announced in October 2024 will pose real problems for the constitution of the lists. “With a risk of seeing fewer lists than before in certain municipalities”, believes Jean-Paul Bastin (Les Engagés), vice-president of the Union of towns and municipalities of Wallonia and mayor of Malmedy. Especially since among those who today hold an executive position within a municipal college, only 61% think they will stand in the next elections; 22% of local elected officials surveyed by Dedicated are thinking of not standing again and 17% say they are still undecided. The UVCW thus explains that one agent in ten wants to leave politics altogether. We also learn that during their mandate, 55% of elected officials considered resigning. Note however that if many elected officials feel under pressure, many of them still see positive points in their functions. Let’s mention the closeness with the citizens, the pride of occupying such a mandate or the meaning brought to their lives through these missions in the service of the citizens.

Administrative heaviness

Relations with higher authorities (federal and Walloon region) also seem to weigh on the morale of local elected representatives. “What is missing is better information, financial support, respect and consideration, as well as autonomy and less responsibility”, points out President Maxime Daye. The UVCW also calls on Wallonia to stop financially helping the municipalities via constant calls for projects which generate an administrative burden that a good number of small municipalities are not able to assume properly, for lack of personnel.

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They prefer a drawing right mechanism. On the question of personnel, local elected officials are worried. “It is difficult to attract talent, we cannot provide them with the salary they are asking for and benefits such as a cell phone or a computer”insists Jean-Michel Javaux (Ecolo), vice-president of the UVCW and mayor of Amay.

One can also imagine that the proliferation of press articles relating to matters affecting the political world does not help matters. “There is the feeling of all rotten”explains Maxime Daye.

The UVCW proposes a series of solutions to change things, including an appeal to local elected officials to no longer allow the slightest threat or insult to pass and to report them to justice. They also ask for a regulation of social networks or even a revaluation of the status of municipal representative.

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