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     Volume 11 |Issue 38| September 28, 2012 |


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Of Apology and Accountability

Shah Husain Imam

If demanding an apology rather than offering one was more in tune with our culture in the past, a reversal of the order is being noticed lately. Tendering apologies has gained some currency keeping pace with gaffes or impulsive acts by people in high places.

Some homespun examples. Finance Minister AMA Muhith expressed regret in parliament after having pooh-poohed the Tk 4,000 crore swindle in the Sonali Bank. Obaidul Quader apologised for slapping a railway worker. These are about the only two instances we can remember, although one would have expected more public apologies by people in authority to have either preceded or followed them.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina asked to be forgiven by the people for any mistakes she might have committed during her previous term in office during her campaign to win votes in the 2008 election. Her appeal was to give her another chance. Now that she has gotten another opportunity, all she says to the people is: if you think I have done something for you then reelect me. She has not admitted to any failings this time around, although there has been considerable blundering on her part.

Begum Khaleda Zia, for her part, admitted to the mistake of letting former President Iajuddin be chief adviser to the caretaker government, which led to the 1/11 events. She basically laments not choosing retired chief justice Amin Uddin Ahmed to the immediately retiring Justice KM Hasan who had declined to be the chief adviser. Justice Ahmed who was next in line was set aside on the 'wrong advice' that he was biased towards the AL. She now argues that if Latifur Rahman, who was reputed to be inclined towards the AL, had delivered an election in which BNP won, by the same token, Justice Ahmed should have been accepted for the chief adviser's post.

Beyond this, the opposition leader is remorseless of the follies during her tenure in power.

Overseas, we have plenty of examples of apologies and resignations tendered on moral grounds. Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown made a comment, unmindful of a hidden tape-recorder in a car, which landed him in trouble with an elderly lady. His remark was considered rude by her and people of her age; so he had to publicly apologise for the gaffe.

But Mit Romney, US Republican candidate for presidency, wouldn't apologise for his unguarded comment about writing off 47 percent of the electorate who would vote for Obama out of gratitude for his health insurance policy cover.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has apologised before parliament for the double injustice done to football fans in the 1989 FA Cup semifinal in Hillsborough, Sheffield between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. Ninety-six young club fans died in a stampede as a result of police failure; but it was the victims who were blamed for their own deaths rather than the police. Young police officers' versions were changed by their seniors who blamed the mayhem on the drunkenness of the youngsters.

In Britain, clubs hire police for security which can mean a wide range of duties: segregating fans of one club from those of another, seating them in different galleries and keeping them completely disengaged during the proceedings of the match. Then they are led out through different exits, put into designated transports and not even allowing them to sit in the same pub after the match. The police are supposed to oversee the whole period of high tensions till the passions subside completely.

A thoroughgoing public inquiry has revealed the shocking police negligence of duty after 23 years since the Hillsborough catastrophe. The British Minister owed it to the parents and relatives of the victims to apologise and compensate for the loss of their near and dear ones.

So sensitive are the British about rule of law and fair play that a senior Crown Court Judge Peter Bowers is in trouble for a remark he made to a burglar who landed in court for the third time as an accused in a burglary case. Judge Bowers merely asked in court, “How could you do it when burglary takes courage and bravery?” Immediately, public reactions were sharp and vehement and the matter was sent to the judicial complaints commission. A British soldier picked on the words, 'courage' and 'bravery' and equated these with the Taliban -- the inimitable British sense of humour playing out!

Politicians and MPs were less serious, and a wee bit more respectful of a judge's privilege. Perhaps the judge would be retired with full pension benefits, again a sense of British fair play in prospect.

The writer is Associate Editor, The Daily Star.


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