I write this travelling on a train back from London. In fact, I am travelling home to the South West of the UK via a circuitous route round some delightful southern stations and train lines because, believe it or not, the rail company that services Chippenham (where WDCS UK is based) charges over one hundred pounds to travel the 100 odd miles into London and the 100 miles back. Going south and making a few changes (through some beautiful countryside by the way) is just £26 today. It’s a little longer, but you usually can get a seat and, today, I have even got a table and can work and write.
But whilst I often complain about our overpriced railways in the UK, I simply illustrated it on this occasion because it gives me the time to write this for the WDCS blog. I wanted to pick up on something Lindsay wrote a few weeks back about the role of the ngos, government and conservation.
Someone recently suggested to me something about the IWC that got me thinking - and then got me worried. The person, who shall remain nameless, suggested that the IWC would be a better place if countries were allowed to get on with their decisions in private, and that non-governmental organisations should possibly not be allowed access (or at least limited in their access) to the civil servants that were involved in whaling negotiations. The argument (espoused previously by some pro-whaling interests) goes something like, ‘the civil servants will get on with the job much better if left alone and not hassled by the ngos’.
I am not sure if the individual extends this analysis to other areas such as journalism, when considering who should be excluded, but doesn’t the concept of accountability and transparency go to the heart of the issue here?
We have unelected civil servants (some of whom I think are very good by the way) who are accountable to elected officials, but can operate with quite some freedom at these meetings of the IWC. So should they be allowed to operate away from the prying eyes of the public? Because that’s what excluding such scrutiny means, - away from the eyes of the public those who wish to decide in secret should be allowed to ‘trade’ issues. The US Government for instance is always thrown into turmoil when it’s attempting to get IWC approval for its indigenous people’s hunt of Bowhead. The US tends to ‘wobble’ in its opposition to commercial whaling at such times and ends up being under enormous pressure to offer the commercial whalers concessions if they do not oppose the quota. The pro-whalers, of course, know this game and use the opportunity to their advantage.
Well call me old fashioned, but I happen to be a democrat in, I hope, the purest sense (and non-political sense) of the word, and I believe that the role of NGOs is to act as an expression of will of a part of the population (those with an interest in the subject at hand) to ensure that governments and unelected civil servants are doing what the public want. Before any one says NGOs are unelected, that’s true, but we are ‘elected’ every time someone decides to trust us with the resources to do the job we do.
So to propose that NGOs should be excluded (as I say, something pro-whaling interests have often suggested) cuts to the heart of how democracy works. NGOs not only help governments with the raw and processed information they require to decide their positions in a complex environment, but also NGOs act as the force for accountability that all officialdom should be held to. I believe that different people can have a duality of views about an issue, but please don’t tell me that conservation is served by secrecy and closed room deals. Its not democracy in action and it certainly is not what drives any pursuit of truth.