Like looking up and spitting no?
survive as long as they enjoy public trust. That, of course, is
in democratic societies where political pluralism exists and essential
democratic norms are observed so that the public is not robbed of
its rights. Politicians in whom the public have lost faith are often
sent on extended, and sometimes permanent, vacations. The more percipient
thankfully change their vocation before that.
Here in Britain
the public is fast losing its trust in Prime Minister Tony Blair's
"New Labour" government. Last Tuesday a public opinion
poll conducted on behalf of The Guardian newspaper revealed the
depths to which the Blair government had sunk in the public mind.
True the poll
was taken while a judicial inquiry connected with the suicide of
a British expert on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) had
just ended its first week. He became embroiled in a running dispute
between the Blair government and the BBC which claimed that the
administration had exaggerated the danger of Saddam's weapon's programme
in order to justify the invasion of Iraq.
Here was a classic
case of the government and the media in an eyeball to eyeball confrontation
and each determined not to blink first. If public trust is critical
for political survival, then so is it for the media. Media that
lacks credibility has no public standing and will not be taken seriously.
As last week's
opinion poll showed clearly the public is losing faith both in the
Blair government and the BBC, the public broadcaster. Only 6 % of
the voters trust the government more than the BBC to tell the truth,
34% placing their faith in the broadcaster.
But this cannot
come as consolation for the BBC because 52% trust neither. In short,
more than half the electorate has no trust in either its government
or its best- known public broadcaster- a telling comment that should
be etched in the minds of all politicians and media.
It means that
those who do not act fairly and objectively in dealing with the
public and public issues will eventually forfeit the confidence
and trust of the people however much one's self-importance might
both politicians and the media will have positions on various issues.
But having such views cannot and must not lead to the withholding
of facts, the selective use of facts or the convenient ignoring
credo of the media should be like that of the respected newspaper
the New York Times-"facts are sacred, comment is free"-
if they are to win public credibility and acceptance. Without that
they would merely be howling in the wind.
The kind of shenanigans that has lost the Blair government so much
popular support should be nothing new to Sri Lankans who have over
the decades learnt to live with government chicanery and the conveniently
short memories of politicians to whom yesterday is history and the
day before antiquity.
Two weeks ago
an Argentine diplomat specialising in human rights was appointed
Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers of
the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. That post could have
been filled by a Sri Lankan had the government not acted in an unprincipled
last year Dr. Jayawickrama's name was submitted to the UN Commission
on Human Rights by the Foreign Ministry through our envoy to the
UN in Geneva, to fill a vacancy due to occur in August this year.
Ambassador Prasad Kariyawasam, a vice-chairman of the Commission,
lobbied for the Sri Lankan nominee and ensured that he would be
the consensus candidate and so other countries refrained from proposing
any of their own.
some cabinet ministers woke from their Rip van Winkle-like slumber
and in May proposed that Mr. Desmond Fernando, a former president
of the International Bar Association, be the Sri Lanka nominee.
It was asserted
that Jayawickrama's name was submitted without cabinet approval
and his name should be withdrawn in favour of Fernando. Others who
got into the act at this stage argued that the Bar Association had
not been consulted prior to making the nomination. Desmond Fernando
was supported by the Bar Association and the IBA.
How did recent governments act in this regard? Did the present government
decide that it would submit such nominations for cabinet approval.
If not was it going to follow previous practice. These surely are
relevant questions to ask without thrashing about like fish out
I know both
Desmond Fernando and Nihal Jayawickrama. This has nothing to do
with personalities. Rather it is about unprincipled thinking and
behaviour that cost Sri Lanka the post. I can recite name after
name of persons who were nominated to various positions on international
bodies without their names ever being approved by the cabinet. Was
the nomination of H.W.Jayewardene to the International Commission
of Jurists (ICJ) by the 1977 UNP government have cabinet approval?
Was the nomination
of the same H.W.Jayewardene twice to the International Commission
of Jurists approved by the cabinet? Was the Bar Association consulted
on any of these occasions? And if it was not, did the Bar Association
publicly protest at its exclusion? In 1994 Chandrika Kumaratunga
nominated lawyer Raja Gunasekera (with Deepika Udagama as alternative)
to the Human Rights sub-Commission.
approval sought and the Bar Association consulted? In the same year
Radhika Coomaraswamy was nominated to the post of Special Rapporteur
on violence against women? Did the cabinet approve it and was any
women's organisation consulted? And what of Senake Bandaranayake
Was the UN Association
of Sri Lanka or the Arts Council consulted? Some ministers need
to be reminded how diplomatic appointments were made during the
17 years of UNP rule. Some were given diplomatic appointments because
their mothers were relatives or friends of very important people.
In fact one woman was appointed to a post in London because she
wanted to educate her son in the UK.
I wonder who
would have dared ask Junius Richard Jayewardene to cancel these
appointments because they had no cabinet approval. Where was this
Bar Association, now so keen on human rights, when trade unionist
Michael Emmanuel Fernando who had a legitimate grievance was sentenced
for contempt of court for protesting against the chief justice hearing
a case in which he himself was a respondent?