Friday, 11 October 2013

COMMITTEE MATTERS : OPENNESS v. SECRECY...... ( Article by Professor Hu Chi Ku Chi )

Openness and transparency are in my opinion two virtues which all club committees should strive to embody in both their work and decision making. Publishing minutes is all too often a token gesture that committees are obliged to make, failing to satisfy those who demand to know more. Such half-hearted gestures are a cop out. Minutes are no more than highly summarised and sanitised versions of what takes place at meetings, revealing only half-truths , one-sided perspectives, and non-incriminating facts about what is really going on behind the scenes. Minutes never include the reasons why decisions were made, or what the full ramifications and implications of those decisions might be.
The real benefit of openness  and transparency is that committee members become completely accountable for their actions and decisions. If they have been selected to represent the members, and to act as their servants, then the members are entitled to know about what is happening....and why. Committees have a primary duty to ensure the long term survival of the club, and this requires decisions to reflect that rationale. Members want to see a club that is thriving and successful , which means in effect that decisions should aim to achieve that goal.
Whenever secrecy raises its ugly head, there is good reason for one to be suspicious and concerned. Have committee members something to hide ? Are they fearful of revealing the truth about themselves,  or the true extent of the problems which could be engulfing the club ? When there is an absence of information , then rumours and malicious gossip abound. Ordinary members will question the motives and intentions of those determined to keep them in the dark. Has secrecy become an ill-chosen tactic,  purely designed to thwart those who are keen to expose the committee's failings and shortcomings ?
Although there are circumstances , in the interests of confidentiality, not to name names,  or cause undue panic and alarm, there is no justifiable argument to censor the truth in publicised material.  The reality is this : when hard truths are suppressed , the culture within the club changes towards the standard hierarchical one.  And should this occur then only those with the privilege of power end up acquiring the privilege of knowledge. The natural tendency is always for committee members to secretly look after their own , not to mention their most trusted supporters.  Not surprisingly, secrecy usually goes hand-in-hand with the twin evils of nepotism and despotism.
Secrecy therefore develops a culture where access to the deeper truth requires a higher status. Moreover, the privileged few soon come to believe they have the right to know, and therefore as the custodians of knowledge they are best placed to determine what others ought to know, or should be entitled to know. As a consequence, those outside the inner circle end up with limited rights of access, such as the minutes of meetings, posted notices and AGM reports. The perceptions now held are as follows : information should  be classified as a valuable asset, which should never be allowed to fall into the wrong hands, and if critics and adversaries get access to it , then the committee's power base ( and its reputation ) will be seriously under threat.
However, it is my contention that more benefits come from openness and transparency than secrecy. Members will feel reassured and valued for being included in the process , where they can have a say at the critical time , such as when tricky issues come up before a committee. Members have a right to attend and listen in on meetings, along with a right to be fully informed about the reasons behind difficult and controversial decisions. In such instances decisions  which might otherwise appear absurd or bad are more likely to be accepted as reasonable and sensible, especially when detailed explanations are given as to why those decisions had to be made. Indeed, when ever decisions are made with the long term interests of the club and/or the membership in mind, there is very little opportunity for the resident critics to voice their complaints.     

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