The cover-up culture needs to end
Author: Zoe Stavri
Published on Sep 13, 2012
Sometimes it takes months for the truth to come out. Sometimes it takes decades. The families of the Hillsborough victims may finally have some resolution after a report yesterday refuted the official account, laying blame for the disaster at the feet of the police and emergency services, and exposing a cover-up by the police.
This pattern repeats itself again and again: someone in a position of power makes a mistake or does something objectionable, and they use their power and their contacts to try and prevent us from finding out what is really going on. It was 20 years before the government finally agreed to set up an independent panel to uncover the truth about Hillsborough.
Within the government itself, scandalous behaviour is kept hidden from the public eye. Expenses claims only came to light long after they had happened and the money was already gone. The damage is already done in the latest lobbying scandal, where the climate change minister Greg Barker and his adviser, energy consultant Miriam Maes, granted privileged access to Maes’s clients and held meetings behind closed doors. Barker himself appeared to be aware of how to hide information from the public eye, saying in one email that they should discuss the issues face to face.
With an opaque veil of secrecy, how can we scrutinise those in power and hold them to account? It is not good enough that sometimes the truth may come out long after the fact: by then, there is very little we can do other than sigh and resolve to trust the government, the police and the authorities less.
We must demand greater transparency, and that those in charge rescind their ability to control information flow through redactions and selective suggestions that this is “not in the public interest”.They will not take this well: Tony Blair famously said in his autobiography that the Freedom of Information Act was one of his biggest regrets. While some may argue against transparency, saying it erodes trust in public institutions, in fact it is the cover-ups, the discovery that we have been lied to, that tend to cause us to lose trust.
Transparency alone will not be sufficient, but it is a necessary first step for bringing about further reforms. Even if it comes at a price of trust in our public institutions, we have a right to know what those in power are doing, and they have a duty to make sure that we can hold them to account. Then we may be able to bring about positive change, based on the knowledge we have.