By Mass L. Usuf –
Politics, law and morals are intertwined. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa powered his political campaign, as is commonly known, based purely on racial and religious policies. In a country which has a multi ethnic, multi racial and multi religious social structure, it is morally unethical to appeal to the sensitivities of a dominant citizenry overshadowing the interests of the rest. The President of a country is the President to all the citizens of that country, including those who do not vote for him. To align to one side only manifests partiality as was clearly evident in the President’s inauguration speech.
This brings us to the One Country One Law Task Force (OCOL). This column is not going to detail anything about its Chairman, Venerable Gnanasara Thero who is notorious for his alleged violence prone disposition, aggression, misdemeanor, infringement of the law and, of course, his criminal background which are all public knowledge. Even other Venerable Sanghas, who are keen in protecting the Sasana, have censured Venerable Gnanasara Thero for his disrespectful behaviour.
What is a Task Force?
A Google search will reveal that it is a group of people who come together from diverse branches, positions, and points of view to facilitate the development of ideas, create new opportunities, answer questions, or solve a problem. All of these entail greater responsibilities for investigation, analysis, planning and research.
Well, then, how is the membership of a Task Force of such great importance constituted? It should comprise of intellectuals, social scientists, representative religious dignitaries, professionals in both local and international laws, experts in the personal laws etc. Compared to this high standard, the appointments that have been made clearly demonstrates otherwise.
Rejection By The Public
The general public have outrightly expressed their disappointment and displeasure at the appointment of Venerable Gnanasara Thero as the Chairman. One is inclined towards endorsing such reprobation as reasonable given the disgusting track record and the partisan mentality of the Chairman. In addition, it has been observed that the larger majority of the Muslim community also have rejected this appointment. In this background, it is doubtful if its recommendations will carry any moral legitimacy.
What Is Public Consultation?
This is a process whereby the public provides their views and feedback on a proposal to consider in decision-making. Partly, the reason for this is because the decision-makers are not necessarily the sole experts on the issues under consideration. Contextually, public would mean, among others, the Muslim community at large, Muslim organisations and, all others, who would directly or indirectly be affected by the OCOL proposal.
For this purpose, the public should have confidence, trust and honor on the members of the Task Force especially, its Chairman. Unfortunately, there has not been the anticipated effective public consultation except for whatever representations made by a handful of people. The Muslim community feels that such people do not represent the views and desires of the greater Muslim community but, to a great extent “One sided”. In some instances, social media has it that disgruntled individuals with personal agenda, have been coaxed into making submissions to the Task Force.
It is sad that those individuals and interest group advocates, who are better aware and knowledgeable and, considerably more experienced than the public officials in the Task Force have kept away. Regrettably, there is an issue of credibility.
OECD – Credibility and Legitimacy
In this environment, the average Muslim questions how credible can the report of the Task Force be? When there is a blatant deficiency in promoting integration and cohesion within the community, what is it that this Task Force going to achieve? A project of this nature should ensure that it binds the inter and intra community together rather than contribute to widen the differences which will only further divide people.
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has strongly approved six propositions to be adopted by a Task Force for Public Consultations. The most relevant of this six is the following:
Credibility and Legitimacy — public consultation can improve the credibility and legitimacy of governmental action, win the support of the groups involved in the decision process and increase acceptance by those affected.
It is important that the public have confidence in the integrity of the process. It extols the virtue of extensive participation through which the Task Force makes its recommendations. There is a legitimate expectation of the Muslim community that they will be consulted in a reasonable, fair and just manner on matters affecting their rights and practices under the Muslim personal law.
Objective Centered Delivery
The deliberations and vigorous exchange of perspectives within the Task Force members will contribute to the final outcome based on their research, scholarship and experience. Further, the collaboration of academics, practice-based specialists and religious jurists for analysis, evaluation, limitations, strengths etc. would be considered a vital component of any finality. Critical thinking has to be directed towards the reception and practical applicability of any recommendations made by the Task Force in protecting existing religious, cultural, traditional customs and practices which have taken root within the society from time immemorial.
The average public and, the Muslims as a community are not confident that this Task Force can deliver such a high-level objective centered report inter alia, unbiased, systematically reviewed, intellectually and rationally evidenced.
Best practice guidelines
In the process of establishing a task force, it is necessary to ensure:
1) Members do not have any conflict of interest related to the subject matter. The appointment of the present Chairman is a blatant violation of this.
2) Members are non-partisan. A person who has an interest on the subject matter should respectfully recuse himself from this appointment.
3) Members must disclose all information regarding their interest, involvement, intervention in the matters relating to the subject.
4) Members must have exposure to conflict management; and generally, manage the consultation process and its output.
Some of the qualitative characteristics are:
1) Members must remain objective at all times.
2) They should not be influenced by the emotions of the moment.
3) They should play a non-partisan role.
4) They should not over-identify with those coming to make submissions.
5) Should identify relevant stakeholders and assess their legitimate demands.
6) Should ensure that the process of their reviews and findings are balanced, independent and objective.
As an important preliminary step, scoping the tasked subject matter must be done to help identify more accurately the full range of potential impact of the assignment in hand. This is where vested interests that could potentially influence decision making becomes apparent. If the public lose confidence, the exercise then transforms into a sham public consultation.
Arguably, therefore, whatever findings or recommendations that this OCOL Task force may come up with, will also be questionable for its credibility.
*The writer can be reached via email: email@example.com