If you can’t COPE, quit

Friday, 1 September 2017 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

I’m turning the page today. Which is to say: I’m trashing ‘realpolitik’ – which was rubbish in the main anyway – and throwing down the gauntlet.

Time to get real… in ‘politics’ – government, journalists, the whole jing-bang – as they say.

Sorry if you’ve been at your wit’s end, as much as I have. Over the shortcomings of good government, as much as critical engagement by civil society. Expecting a new political culture to emerge from a milieu where ‘the usual suspects’ occupied the House – as always – but simply sat in a slightly different configuration was – and is – unrealistic. Not that the closet we call a Cabinet is bursting at the seams with fresh blood and clean new thinking either (with some exceptions perhaps). Do you think, courteous peruser of this newspaper in pursuit of a quick fix in politics and a pithy sharp column to capture its spirit, that we’ve been undiscerning – and duped? I’ll take just one example of procedural delays today. 

Not to illustrate that there are legislative “law’s delays”. Or that “the law is an ass” as far as many lawmakers are concerned. But to point out that far too many lawbreakers than is at all good for a functioning democracy rest in the ranks of the Legislature itself. And it seems that the very Parliamentary oversight mechanism which is tasked with investigating and rooting out corruption – wherever it may find it in public enterprises – is bursting at the seams with its findings. While the State departments tasked with acting on the findings as regards waste, mismanagement, bureaucracy, or worse, is hamstrung by a lack of political will. Well that is exactly what we thought this administration had – the political will – to critically engage corruption. However it’s looking increasingly like it has exactly the opposite – a politically motivated won’t – for the old familiar reasons.

There has been a veritable barrelful of excuses as to why COPE can’t cope. These have ranged from the abundance of cases covering virtually every ministry to the alleged political motivation (or lack of it) in the AG’s Dept. Those who barter these excuses for lack of concrete action being taken against the miscreants appear to have simply bought themselves and their cabals more time. 

Time, maybe more than money, is a precious commodity for corrupt mandarins who are in it to serve themselves and their political masters. There are also other benefits which accrue by virtue of not prosecuting senior bureaucrats and belligerent service chiefs among other bothersome scoundrels indictable by dint of COPE’s findings. These range from securing the Government’s majority and thereby the coalition’s shelf life to returning favours to one’s fellow rogues. Who hunt with other hounds while in government and run with the hare while in opposition. Those excuses reasons justifications just underline the undeniable fact that we suffer not from the lack of a new political culture. But the abysmal continuity of the old political culture under another description and dispensation.

Just take the test below – set for you and I and other civic-minded civilians including Cabinet ministers and costermonger MPs – to run a reality check on how our democracy can’t COPE… And if so, how – and why – Government must quit… And you and I can stop grumbling. And getting the governance we risked life and limb for. 

Mid Term Paper

A.    Essays.

1.“History is not what happened. It is what you can remember.” Explore with relation to the Coalition Government’s campaign-trail promise to engage with and eliminate corruption. (For e.g. Why do we not remember any of all that now? Do you think they meant it? Even if not, could or should we not hold them to a mandate given in good faith? Can you remember anything except the cost of living and other encumbrances?)

B.     Short Answers.

1. Briefly admit that COPE is superfluous at present. And is not so much a gift as an addition to an embarrassment of riches that have a ‘C’ in them somewhere – CID, CIABOC, CCU, etc. – when it comes to combating the big-C crime: Corruption. (Hint: say, “YES” – full marks for your confession!) 

2.    Reassure the general public that the AG’s Dept. is not biased, partisan, or partial in any way by presenting your favourite loyalist’s file to them on a platter. (A simple “YES, I WILL DO SO.’ will suffice. Half-marks if you hesitate, mid-sentence?)

C.     MCQ.

1.COPE will pursue Justice in theory – but not put actual villains, once discovered, behind bars because:

a.Politics is the art of the possible – and how to do politics if artifice is not?

b.Justice delayed is Justice denied.

c.Everyone in the House is a villain in one way or another.

d.All of the above.

2.The Committee to Offer Procedural Excuses in bringing brigands to book…


b.I can’t COPE!

c.Who can COPE?

d.A ‘COPE ê kadé’ could do better. 

3.The only MP I’d trust to do justice on COPE is:

a.RW or WR.

b. WW or MR.

c. EW.

d.Eww… None of the Above (N/A = Not Able/Not Applicable).

The acid test is not just for Government, or those who play politics with it – such as craven academics/professionals or cowardly civil society. It is for the panoply of ordinary people – like you and I – who pay our elected representatives more than the courtesy of electing them to govern in our stead and on our behalf. 

That plethora of ills which bedevil Parliament – lack of knowledge, skills, commitment; too much self-interest and little or no selflessness in service – have too long been lamented over. With precious little being done by way of realistic reforms to rectify the sickly syndrome of lawless legislators. 

Those brazenly corrupt or corpulently bureaucratic members of the Judiciary have been left alone too long for fear or legal reprisals for us to pass the opportunity – through the JSC perhaps – to subject them post-haste to a jury of their peers. Those bureaucratic bunglers – or worse – in State departments appear to have been given a new lease of life in the absence of the National Audit Bill being debated. 

There may never come a time when CJs, JPs, MPs, PMs, are told by the public to “go and put a jump” in to the lake. However it is worth exploring what reforms public engagement – and public interest litigation – with these two branches of government (Judiciary and Legislature) can be brought about. With renewed interest in public litigation against crooked or corrupt governors and the ramifications of their substandard performance paid for by taxpayers.

There is – last but by no means least – the matter of coping with the extent of corruption that has been brought to Parliament’s (and the public’s) attention by and through COPE. The sheer scope of the exposés is sufficient to bring a guilty blush to most parliamentarians’ faces and prompt them to slink away in shame before the public’s displeasure. That they won’t – and that the executive, which governs the process doesn’t dare to, because it can’t risk shooting its generals – is enough to bring a flush of furious rage to your countenance and mine.

Is fury enough? Do we let it fizzle out in the folly of our cocktail circuits and in the futility of our coffee klatsches? Or must we beg – plead – threaten – importune – sue – Government to do something about it? Or go? If yes, good! If no, not so good… but why not? The acid test is for us, too. We must put our money where our mouth is. Else, we are no better than the buffoons who put their mouth (plans, policies, programmes) where their money (precepts, practices) dare not go. 

(A senior journalist, the writer was once Chief Sub of The Sunday Leader, 1994-8, and is ex- LMD: Editor, 2004-8. He has made a career out of asking questions and not waiting for answers.)

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