Like looking up and spitting no?
Politicians 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 say otherwise.

Admittedly 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 of them.

Likewise the 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 fashion.

In September 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.

Sri Lanka's 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.

Then suddenly 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 of water.

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.

Was cabinet 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 to UNESCO?

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?

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