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Why no transparency?

Ken Russell


 "Transparency" is one of those reasonably familiar words given special currency in the modern world where hidden agendas and ulterior motives are the stuff on which political scandals feed.

My own middle–aged dictionary illustrates the point.   "Transparency" as a noun is defined twice – first as the "state of being transparent",  and second as a "positive photograph on a transparent base, usually mounted in a frame,  or between glass plates."   I am indeed old enough to remember those slide evenings,  some enthralling and others awfully boring,  in which we relived the 'pleasure' of our friends' holidays.   Those slides were more correctly known as "transparencies."

But a more up-to-date dictionary would undoubtedly add a whole new meaning to the word.   Just as photography has undergone a revolution or two,  so the noun "transparency" and the adjective "transparent" have taken on a meaning and a quality that most everyone says is desirable,  but all too often in today's processes appear singularly lacking.

Take the case of Ahmed Zaoui,  the Algerian refugee whose status has been the subject of a year–long dispute.   Most of us are not naive when it comes to immigration issues.   We know there are people out there trying to beat the system,  people with dishonest motives trying to enter New Zealand illegally,  and not everything Mr Zaoui did prior to arriving at Auckland Airport, seeking asylum,  was as it should have been.   But the man was desperate and he feared for his life if returned to Algeria.   That much is well established.

It is what Ahmed Zaoui has suffered since he arrived here that beggars belief.   Were his case to be the norm,  our reputation as a fair,  tolerant country with honest,  transparent processes,  would be shot to ribbons.   He has been in prison since arrival,  most of that time in solitary confinement.   One of his interrogations lasted 7 hrs,  a huge breach of UN human rights conventions.   His case has been thoroughly investigated by the Refugee Appeals Authority and cleared.   In their eyes he is a legitimate refugee.   Zaoui himself is a Moslem but he has been interviewed by Church authorities,  and his case investigated.   He checks out.   So why is this man still languishing in prison?   Because there is a file on him,  received from a secret security source,  that cannot be revealed,  even to Zaoui himself,  or his lawyers.   And the Minister of Immigration defends the integrity of that file,  and the process that victimises Mr Zaoui.

Meanwhile opinions are hardening,  and the case for or against the man's refugee status has become a political football.   For me,  people matter most,  and this man has been treated miserably.   The process that keeps him in jail is so clearly lacking in transparency,  and the very people supposed to ensure it continue to deny him that benefit.   Mr Zaoui deserves it.   His anxious family deserves it.   The New Zealand public should demand it.

Not surprisingly,  Church interests have been active on Mr Zaoui's behalf,  which is as it should be.   The Church of all institutions should be most transparent,  and its processes the cleanest when subject to public scrutiny.   Secrecy and the Gospel are totally at cross purposes.

Yet consider again the case of Deborah Gordon,  the lesbian Wellington woman cleared by the Judicial Committee of the Presbyterian Church to apply for ministry training.   The decision when it came was widely hailed as one for openness and justice.   Frankly,  any other decision would have been a denial of Deborah's rights under the NZ Human Rights Act.

Now Ms Gordon has been advised that she has failed in the assessment process and cannot proceed to training.   Why not?   She has not been told.

Was she assessed on a level playing field with other candidates?   Was she rejected,  despite the findings of the Judicial Committee,  on the grounds of her sexuality?   Did the assessment committee consider that despite her many gifts,  her acceptance and subsequent presence in training among other students in Dunedin,  would split the Church?   Again,  Deborah does not know.   And where is the transparency?

For my part I suspect the silence.   I believe she is yet another victim of the recourse to silence by which State and Church alike keep their dark secrets hidden.   The Church is shamed by this subterfuge,  and cannot speak to the nation with anything like credibility.


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