25 November 2012

Floundering without integrity and ethics

There are two processes before us.  In one, a set of judges whose career advancement is tied to decisions taken by a body presided over by a particular individual, deliberates on the constitutionality of a second and simultaneous process that seeks to oust that very same individual.  In the second case, a set of people also sit in judgment over the conduct of that individual.  The majority of this group share membership in a political party with another set of people who have petitioned for the individual’s ouster. 
It is all legal, subject of course to interpretation of relevant constitutional articles, an exercise, as pointed above is as marked by ‘interest conflict’ as the one being determined on.  The political battle will be fought with both rule-sword and interpretive-sword.  Other arms and ammunition cannot be discounted here, for history is replete with many examples of out-of-court settlement, so to speak, where the settlers don’t necessarily cover themselves with glory. 

As things stand, though, personality, error, ego and expedience have taken center stage, where the players strut around as public-interest litigators and are egged on by cheering squads who have their own agenda. 
The one thing that is clear in all this is that somewhere down the light a few characters left the stage or rather they were robbed of scripted line and pause.  It is an indictment of our society that we haven’t noticed their exits, absences or silence.  Ethics has left the building.  Integrity has quit.  Their clothes have been robbed by the other players who prance around as though they’ve got the garments, undergarments, skin, bone, flesh and organs as well, heart included! 

It cannot be by accident that Justice C.G. Weeramantry in this year’s Lalith Athulathmudali Memorial Lecture chose to speak on Judicial Ethics (experts of his speech can be found elsewhere in this edition of ‘The Nation’).  One of just 5 individuals to be honored with the title Sri Lankabhimanaya (Pride of Sri Lanka), he is in fact someone who deserves a global title on the same lines, few would disagree.  A patriot in the finest sense of the word, Justice Weeramantry’s choice here needs to be read as a serious and tender exposition with malice to none that is acutely aware of the aforementioned processes.  
It is not just about the judiciary.  He speaks of all the key institutions of the state, the way they relate to one another and how and why they need to be independent of one another, subject to the irreducible non-negotiable: integrity.  That’s not something you can legislate for; it is not something you can script in.  It is a choice made by the particular individual. 

Words (read as laws) are important and necessary but not sufficient, he reminds us: ‘strong  words in a constitution regarding judicial independence can very easily be undermined in practice, unless all members of the executive and the public act in the spirit of this constitutional provision’. 

This ‘independence’, he cautions, must be tempered with a conscious effort by judges ‘to rise to the highest levels of rectitude necessary to discharge the hallowed duty that rests on them of delivering justice, pure and unadulterated, to those who come before them’.  That ‘rectitude’ has been observed, sadly, in the breach. 
‘Observed in the breach’ is, equally sadly, not the preserve of the judiciary.  The current machinations by movers and shakers in these critical spheres of the state scream for constitutional amendment.  And yet, such tweaking can only take us so far. 

The doors must not only be opened for the re-entry of integrity and ethics, but it should be ensured that these entities preside over everything that happens. 
We are a long way from that and that is because all of us, as individuals and collectives, booted them out of the building.  Easy to throw out, hard to recall.