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You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone


Have you ever thought about the phrase ‘peace and security’ with reference to the major responsibility of a government towards its people? I had never really considered the two as separate concepts, much in the way that I hear ‘bells and whistles’ or ‘dog and pony’ or ‘nickel and dime’ as a single phrase rather than separate entities.

I was confronted with the reality of this responsibility, or rather responsibilities, when I was acting as an Advisor to a Cabinet Office Committee on program reforms in 1999 in a central African country. My work was carried out under World Bank funding, primarily to assist the government in developing monitoring and evaluation processes to enable the Cabinet to manage national and international program funds more efficiently and effectively. The overall purpose of the work was to begin to develop processes to ensure that funds flowed to effective programs and that no incremental funds flowed to ineffective programs.

If this sounds very grandiose, it was when the Cabinet committee discussed the overall funding and distribution mechanisms – but it wasn’t when individual members began confronting their own program issues.

For instance, senior members of the security forces and judiciary would discuss with each other in sidebar meetings, how to safely transport the daily group of ‘accused’ murderers and other felons, from the prison to the court. The issues being, that their one prison bus (in the capital city itself) frequently broke down, holding up the court proceedings; or the bus was often attacked to free prisoners, the police being insufficiently well-armed or without adequate communications to respond in time.

Or, when discussions centred on how to respond to emergencies in the far corners of the country, with inadequately trained responders and a lack of the necessary equipment.

Or, more importantly, did more funds for these contingencies mean less funds for hospitals and doctors, affecting health security.

Prosaic, yes. Unimportant, no. In other words, as peace reigned outside the borders, security became the dominant government issue inside the borders.

It was then I began to confront the separation of peace and security in my own mind.

The country was at peace in terms of international relationships. But internally it was not secure. Not in the sense of armed militias or insurgencies, but in the sense of the government being unable to guarantee the safety of individual citizens.

While safely ensconced in Canada, it is easy to forget the security half of the ‘peace and security’ phrase.

But, imagine if you were afraid to book a holiday in Halifax or Calgary because of frequent civil unrest; because there were insufficient police officers; because security officials’ response time took forever due to lack of good communications with Ottawa; because the government lacked the equipment to protect you.

Yes, the government has a major responsibility in peace and security, but our own citizen’s responsibility in our community is just as important. So, as in marriage, whilst peace may be a dominant partner, security is an equal contributor to the harmony of the relationship.

And the partners in security are actually the government and its individual citizens.

We Canadians should celebrate achieving such harmonious relationships both inside and outside our borders.

“You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone…”


By: Harry Monaghan

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