Saturday, January 28, 2006

Truth nothing but truth

T WAS a very interesting observation by US Senator John McCain that members of the US Congress should take a page from Britain's parliamentary book to inject some life into their political system.
Most notable in McCain's comments in an interview with the Times of London on Friday was that the US Congress should consider an American version of Prime Minister's Question Time.
British democracy, the oldest in the world, is rich not only in traditions but also in checks and balances on the government. There is indeed a lot that world democracies have adopted from Britain. Living up to the norms and code of conduct practised by the British parliament has given new life to most of them. After all, it is all a question of government's accountability to the people through their elected representatives.
That is the central pillar of democracy and Britain could indeed be proud that it had spawned a system of governance and monitoring that have withstood the test of time.
That is not to say that British democracy has always lived up to the expectations attached to it by its founding principles. Many recent surveys on public opinion have come up with the finding that many Britons have lost faith in their parliament and they event want amendments to the rules of the game, particularly after the Blair government hitched itself to the American war wagon and went to Iraq.
Nonetheless, in Britain, we have seen prime ministers and ministers squirming under uncomfortable and probing questions during the PMQs. More often than not, their answers open up avenues for the media to pursue and come up with surprising revelations and tear the veil away from facts that the government might have wanted to hide from the public. It is also an opportunity for the people — wherever proceedings are televised — to get a first-hand view of how answers are offered and to make their own assessment of how their representatives and ministers handle themselves under pressure. That is only one aspect of democratic life.
The most sacred rule, as indeed is the case is with all democracies around the world, is that lying to the elected representatives of the people is unpardonable under any circumstances. The executive authority have no leeway there; it has to come clean with truth and nothing but truth under questioning in parliament.
Imagine, a US president, say like George W Bush, and top administration officials being put through a similar experience in the US Congress.
Of course, the differences in parliamentary proceedings between Britain and the US are too wide, but the concept of governments being held accountable for their actions is universal.
What would indeed be interesting to watch is whether Senator McCain would actually follow up on is observations and gather like-minded members of congress around him for a concerted campaign in Washington introduce PQs in the American legislature — President's Question Time.