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Selective transparency could damage credibility

Show of unity: protesters prepare to march in Charlotte over the fatal police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott (Photograph by Jeff Siner/The Charlotte Observer/AP)

In many areas of public life, and that includes the political arena, there is always a question of operating with transparency to avoid losing credibility with various segments of the community when there is a perception that important information could be withheld.

Political groups in democratic settings worldwide draw criticism often for handling transparency as though it was nitroglycerin. In other words, too many politicians make the mistake of being selective when it comes to transparency, and when something is revealed that they would rather be kept in the shadows by an alert free press, which has the task of keeping truth in the public domain, credibility could undergo a meltdown. That is a nightmare for any government.

This is why all governments need to keep a sharp eye on how they conduct the affairs of the public, with meticulous focus on transparency, no matter how complex an issue may be. It is not a question of whether a government is doing something wrong. The important factor is whether some people feel short-changed when it comes to being totally informed on a contentious matter. Governments do have a tough job in striking a balance between providing proper information, while being careful in ensuring that nothing is released before being fully checked out.

However, that is a responsibility that every government placed in high office by the people must accept, along with having to be openly accountable when mistakes are made — and that will happen even under the best of circumstances.

Recently, in the United States, a police department in North Carolina was bitterly criticised for a lack of transparency in dealing with the shooting of a black male, which was caught on camera, including one operated by the victim’s wife. Massive demonstrations followed, with some businesses vandalised and looted.

The police chief said footage of the incident would not be released unless it was clear that taking that step would not hinder a proper investigation. He also pointed out that the footage left many questions unanswered, and that a full investigation was under way to determine exactly what happened. He eventually consented to release a portion of police footage, but stated that the rest would be released when it was appropriate.

This led many observers to accuse the police chief of being selective in his version of transparency. Many top political leaders in the country also felt full transparency would be releasing all footage captured to prove nothing was being withheld to protect officers involved.

This incident is cited to show how even a hint of selective transparency in dealing with the public carries credibility risk. Our political history in Bermuda through the years has had its high moments, but there have been times, irrespective of which political party was in office, that, in some matters, transparency was like the heavy early-morning dew.

Some may take the view that in the political arena that is to be expected. Let us hope that our politicians on both sides will rise to a standard where transparency in serving the people of this beautiful island will be held as their highest priority.

We cannot rewrite the past, but with a more positive approach, we should be able to make the future even brighter.