Foreign news

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron's delivers a speech on prisoner rehabilitation and the criminal justice system in London on October 22, 2012. (AFP PHOTO/POOL/ Chris Harris)

In Poland, a government minister turned in her resignation letter because of a bad decision. Earlier this month, the Polish national football team’s World Cup qualifier against England was washed out earlier this month because the stadium where the match was to be held was inundated by a massive, unexpected downpour.

Joanna Mucha, the minister of sports, was not directly responsible for the decision to leave the stadium’s retractable roof open, but she did her duty and turned in her resignation to the president of Poland.

This week’s news in the United Kingdom continued in a similar vein.

Government minister Andrew Mitchell tendered his resignation, but a political scandal has been brewing because he took so long to do it, thus damaging the standing of Prime Minister David Cameron.

The offense that finally led to Mitchell’s departure was an encounter with a policeman, during which the minister reportedly used the insult “pleb,” an accusation which he denies. Mitchell did admit to swearing at the officer of the law during the altercation, and thus had to go.

Also in the U.K., a police chief was obliged to step down from his post, because he faces an investigation over his role in the worst-even stadium disaster in the country’s history. The incident in question, however, took place in 1989, and is being looked into only now by an independent panel after the efforts of families of the victims, who have been demanding a full accounting. Again, he was not found guilty of wrongdoing, but said the scandal was proving to be a “distraction” from his performing his duties.

People in Lebanon and this part of the world might have difficulty comprehending the above news items due to the presence of several puzzling elements, such as “resignation of a government official,” “independent panel of investigation,” and “deciding that someone should be held responsible.”

In this region, the notion of accountability is trampled upon every single day, and when public officials do pay the price for mistakes, they are usually taking the fall for people who are higher up, and not lower down in the bureaucratic hierarchy. If a senior official is involved in something irregular, one can expect that low-level types will end up as the sacrificial lamb.

The lack of transparency and accountability has been absent so long that few people might have hope of ever seeing them applied across the board in any Arab country.

The issue goes beyond the mechanism of free elections, when a public can issue judgments on performance. It also involves a sound, independent judiciary, since not all public posts are filled through elections.

In case after depressing case, officials in this part of the world believe that they are above reproach, and should never be held accountable for their actions.

The Arab uprisings of the last two years have given some people hope that finally, the notion and practice of accountability will be strengthened, since things can’t get any worse than they currently are. In blunter terms, someone must be responsible for the pitiful state of affairs in many Arab states, whether it involves politics, the economy or society.

But real change will only result after a regular system of free elections becomes the norm, and after judicial and bureaucratic reform actually comes to pass.

Until then, the news that a public official is stepping down because of wrongdoing or the appearance of wrongdoing, or because of the failure to live up to his or her commitments, will inevitably be part of the “foreign” segment of the day’s news.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 25, 2012, on page 7.




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