Friday 30 December 2016

Gajalakshmi Paramasivam
30 December   2016

Transparency OR Accountability

As I edited a write up on Government’s  performance in 2016 and read the phrase ‘Transparency & Accountability’ the thought from my insight into Public Service said ‘the two are contradictory requirements’.   Under the vertical hierarchical system – we had Confidentiality as a key requirement of Good Governance. Then Accountability as a whole unit to the next higher level was required – so our performance could be ‘judged’ as per that report.  But where we are transparent – users of our services have to do up their own reports and hence Objectively measurable outcomes need to be produced in confirmation of Transparency.

When our son came from Melbourne to Sydney for Christmas holidays – one of his first tasks was to tidy up the kitchen bench-top. All three of our children do that and I like it. But the challenge happens when it came to where things are stored. My children do not know in detail where I keep what. They tend to go by their own memory of the past when they lived as part of this household and tidied up as part of their responsibility. This is coupled with their own expectations of how the home ought to ‘look’.  Our son for example said that the medication I took had been placed in the cupboard above the cooktop – whereas I have the new habit of keeping them on the bench top now that my memory is not very strong in such matters. When the outcome of my work is transparent – I tend to see and remember. My son put it away as per our old system but Accounted to me that it was up in the cupboard. If he had moved the medication to an open space equally visible as the bench top I had them on – he would not have needed to be Accountable. Since taking the medication is an important task in my daily routine these days, I am likely to bring them out to be transparent – after our son and his family go back to Melbourne. But right now, I make the special effort to remember to take my medication.

Thinking about this while reading the above mentioned report – I concluded that it was wrong of us to expect Accountability AND Transparency from the Government during a particular period. Under the old system of Governance, the right to rule was inherited by the Royal family. Under Democracy, the right to rule is by the Objectively measurable outcomes produced at a particular point in time, by the voters living in common at a defined place. That ‘common living’ is therefore the key to producing sustainable Government through a democratic process. The less Accountable we need to be within that space the more Transparent we need to  become to develop and maintain good governance. The more transparent we are at process level – as within one religion – the more harmonious we are as fellow travelers towards self-governance. The less transparent we are at process level – the greater the separation needed to produce our own outcomes in private.

With this in mind, together with the need I felt to respond to the Australian Government’s invitation to submit a policy paper towards guiding Australia’s International engagement,
I read the Colombo Telegraph article under the title ‘Article 16(1) – Repeal It Or Continue To Render Muslim Women & Girls As Unequal Citizens’.

Article 16 (1) of the Sri Lankan Constitution states :
16. (1) All existing written law and unwritten law shall be valid and operative notwithstanding any inconsistency with the preceding provisions of this Chapter.

Article 14 (1) ( e) within this chapter provides as follows:

Every citizen is entitled to the freedom, either by himself or in association with others, and either in public or in private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice or teaching;

This is in essence the contradiction I see between Article 9 which upholds Buddhism as the foremost religion and other Equal Opportunity provisions in the Constitution, including the above stated Article 14 (1) (e ) and Article 10 of the same Chapter which provides as follows:

‘Every person is entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including the freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice.’

The authors of the above article - Hyshyama Hamin and Hasanah Cegu Isadeen - state in this regard:

In light of the constitutional reforms process, the study also led to the inquiry about whether or not as a result of our religious affiliation and gender – we and our sisters in faith were equal before the law, as others. The answer, as we found out is a resounding ‘no’, and the reasons are many.
Not only are Sri Lankan Muslim women subject to personal laws that deny us equality in an integral aspect of our lives – marriage and family, but there are also no constitutional guarantees and safeguards of our fundamental rights of equality and non-discrimination in these very aspects

A law – whether it is religious law and/or secular law – becomes a lie – when it is abused to manifest unjust outcomes. If for example, majority Muslim women in Sri Lanka, have accepted lesser status than their male counterparts within family and community and limited themselves to lower level thinking and ‘process’ work rather than reflecting ‘Royal Order of the mind’ – gender equality as per Democratic principles could be hijacked by a few educated women for selfish reasons based on intellectual advancement. Unless majority Muslim women  claim independently that they have suffered due to being allocated minority status within family and/or community – and present their case through the law-makers in their area – there is no political right to change the law – in this instance Article 16 (1) which overrides the principles of Equal Opportunity. Equal Opportunity is a combination of Equal status on the outside and Truth inside. Truth is a completed experience through which we identify with our own Divinity – our own personal god/conscience.

The parallel of Muslim Law for Tamils of Northern Sri Lanka is the law of Thesawalamai. In the Testamentary case before Courts in relation to our family – there are two important questions being raised:

(1)   Whether a daughter  is entitled to override the law of Thesawalamai according to which family Administration is the foremost responsibility of  sons.
(2)   Whether a daughter who has received dowry is entitled to any  share in the Commonwealth
As per the fundamentals of the Thesawalamai law the work of the women is of lower status than the work of the men. The woman’s work is more supportive and less visible. As per Hinduism – the balance is through the status of woman being described as Energy. Today for example, Ganesh, a Lankan Diaspora leader in Australia, forwarded reference to a Tamil presentation of the value of  the Vedic  plate in the Hindu temple altar – representing Energy which comes directly to the devotee. It represents the Hidden Power – the Root Cause.

Given that we are all Sovereign – if all of us identified with each other’s total power – our apparent status would be Equal. But where we are driven by the seen and the heard – a man earning money is attributed higher status than a woman who is largely a home-maker and earns no money. Thesawalamai balances this to confirm Equality of woman – by giving dowry to the daughter when she marries. This dowry is usually of higher value than equal share of the commonwealth. The residual after paying dowry is shared equally by sons and this is of lesser value and in some instances is of negative value due to borrowings by parents to have their daughters married.

It is to balance the apparent inequality that women are given higher share of the commonwealth – as dowry. If women seek Equal share in status – then they must take Equal responsibility for parental liabilities also. Then their surnames need to remain unchanged after marriage indicating the net worth of their common family status.

The Japanese Prime Minister visiting Pearl Harbor nor President Obama vising Hiroshima – said ‘sorry’. The cannot right the wrongs but could share in the pain of victims any time. What happened back then was due to the forces that prevailed at that time at those places. The unsettled rights and wrongs become assets and liabilities and when the two come together the total picture is invoked. That’s like the horoscope. One cannot change the horoscope but one can read the horoscopes and ensure that we do not produce another balance sheet that reflects loss of ownership and therefore the dissolution of the institution / nation itself.

Similarly – Muslim women’s status of yesterday cannot be disintegrated through current measures. Indeed if Muslim women developed higher minds by being the motivating forces of their men – then the internal binding strength of that community would be stronger than that of families where there is very little internal Energy due to both genders working and enjoying high status in society. In Royal families – the mind of the spouse with lesser apparent status would  be of high  order.

Muslim women wearing the purdah in public confirm the need for Article 16 (1) of the Sri Lankan Constitution. To the extent they are genuine, they would continue to ‘settle’ internally and help their men show only One outcome. Hence the need for Confidentiality followed by Accountability. 

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