“One of the operating principles of authorities is that the possibility of error is simply not taken into account . . . So Sordini couldn’t inquire in other departments, besides those departments wouldn’t have answered, since they would have noticed right away that he was investigating the possibility of an error.”
From ‘The Castle’ (Das Schloss) by Franz Kafka (1926).
Here is a synopsis of the novel from Wikipedia:
“In it a protagonist known only as K. arrives in a village and struggles to gain access to the mysterious authorities who govern it from a castle. Dark and at times surreal, The Castle is often understood to be about alienation, unresponsive bureaucracy, the frustration of trying to conduct business with non-transparent, seemingly arbitrary controlling systems, and the futile pursuit of an unobtainable goal.”
Readers who have been following the saga of the Lizard canary show standard may have noticed its Kafkaesque qualities (1). There are more to come.
I am not going to repeat the story of the infamous decision taken by the OMJ at Cervia in 2016; you can read about it in Parts 1 and 2. I will take up the story from the time a formal appeal was lodged by COM-UK at the World Show in Almeria in January 2017.
The appeal is a well-considered document, backed up with extensive evidence and international support. It demonstrates that the decision taken at the Cervia meeting was fundamentally flawed because of:
- the lack of notice (the agenda was issued just one day before the meeting);
- the failure to consult with national organisations and specialist societies (normally a two year process);
- the misrepresentation of the proposal as a minor adjustment to the allocation of points, when it was actually a major alteration to the show standard;
- the over-turning of the fundamental principle that the show standard cannot be altered without the approval of the ‘country of origin’;
- the intervention by Carlos Ramôa, the President of COM, who encouraged the meeting to dismiss COM-UK’s veto and approve the proposal on a majority vote.
The subject of the appeal was not raised at the OMJ meeting held at the World Show in Almeria. Instead, the matter was referred to its technical committee, and in April 2017 Roberto Rossi, President of OMJ, wrote to COM-UK. It was a whitewash. He ignored the points raised in the appeal documents and simply accepted the Portuguese version (that nothing had changed apart from the score sheet) without question. He added that there was a moratorium of four years before a new rule could be changed. His only concession to hearing an appeal was that “if the majority is favourable, it is possible to discuss it in depth and eventually revert the changes”. Note the word ‘eventually’. He invited COM-UK to prepare its case for submission to the next OMJ meeting in September 2018, perhaps forgetting that it had been in OMJ’s possession for almost three months.
An exchange of e-mails between Mr. Rossi and Chris Smith, President of COM-UK, followed. The latter pointed out that the decision at Cervia was invalid, and requested a formal response from COM. Mr. Rossi ignored these points, but reiterated the primacy of the four-year rule and reminded Chris that the vote had been passed by majority vote. The implication was clear: the Portuguese proposal was a ‘done deal’; COM-UK could complain, but it would take at least four years to do anything about it.
The correspondence from Mr. Rossi is bluster and has no legal standing: there is no four-year rule in the published OMJ constitution; nor is there provision for a majority vote on changes to the show standard (2). Furthermore, under Article 22 of the COM constitution, an unresolved dispute between OMJ and a member nation is the responsibility of the steering committee of COM. In other words, Mr. Rossi had no authority to adjudicate in a dispute between OMJ and COM-UK.
In translation: “A dispute between the Executive Committee of the OMJ and a member country falls within the competence of the Steering Committee of COM when it has not been possible for the parties to resolve it.”
Inexplicably, COM-UK did not take the matter further. It could have reminded COM of its own Statuts et Règlements (Satutes and Regulations) and insisted that COM should fulfill its duties under Article 22. Instead, it appears to have resigned itself to resubmitting the appeal at the next OMJ meeting in 2018. COM’s tactic of prevarication had succeeded.
Fortunately, the campaign was taken up by other countries. In July it emerged that FOI (effectively COM-Italia) had called for the Cervia decision to be rescinded, thanks to lobbying from the LCCI (the Italian equivalent of the LCA) and a critical article published in Italia Ornitologica written by Angelo Citro. Italy is a major force in COM, and this was a significant development.
Then came news from Spain that the Technical Committee for Type Canaries of the Federación Ornitológica de Andalucía (by far the largest and most influential of the various Spanish federations) was making the strongest of cases for Spain to retain the UK standard for the Lizard Canary. Furthermore it transpired that COM-España was unaware that COM-UK had submitted an appeal. It begs the question: how many other countries have been kept in the dark?
True to its ‘unresponsive bureaucracy‘ instincts, COM refused to acknowledge that anything was amiss:
- COM has not acknowledged receipt of the appeal.
- COM has not made any attempt to resolve the dispute.
- COM has not reported the appeal in Les Nouvelles (The News), COM’s biannual newsletter.
Why is COM so reluctant to do the right thing? Is it the fact that its President was a party to the dispute, thanks to his intervention at the Cervia meeting (3)? Was COM embarrassed that it would have to investigate the actions of the President, and find them wanting?
Carlos Ramôa has had an ambivalent relationship with the principle that a show standard cannot be changed without the consent of the ‘country of origin‘ (commonly known as the ‘veto’). In 2013, when he was Assistant General Secretary, he was clearly in favour of upholding this principle. Here is an extract from Les Nouvelles Nr 014 concerning a proposal to change the Irish Fancy show standard:
Three years later, as President of COM, his position had changed. At the meeting in Cervia, he intervened in the discussion on the proposed Lizard standard and sanctioned a majority vote. It was recorded in the minutes of the meeting thus:
He also defended his actions in a statement he gave to Cage & Aviary Birds, published on 4 January 2017 (4). Here is the relevant extract:
More recently, he seems to have been keen to avoid the issue. He was questioned about the disputed Lizard standard while attending a meeting with COM-España. He is reported to have replied that “the Cervia vote had not been ratified in Almeria and therefore there was no case for appeal”. He also added that “everything would be clarified” in the next edition of Les Nouvelles.
This is an astonishing, if convenient, piece of sophistry. He effectively side-stepped the issue, and would now have us believe that nothing of any consequence happened.
Anyone taking this statement at face value, and hoping that COM was backing off, will be disappointed. There is no statement in the August edition of Les Nouvelles that ‘clarifies everything’, but look closely and you will find that a new score sheet for the Lizard canary has been inserted discreetly into the document; the one passed by majority vote at Cervia.
It is a bizarre and nonsensical ploy. If the Cervia vote had not been ratified, then the new score sheet should not have been published in Les Nouvelles. If the Cervia vote had been ratified, as Les Nouvelles implies, then the appeal was valid and should have been dealt with by COM. Whichever version is closer to the truth, it has not been communicated to COM-UK. The appeal is in limbo.
Why would COM wish to frustrate the appeal? Surely COM is a democratic organisation with the interests of bird keepers at heart?
The answer depends on your definition of a democratic organisation. Some senior executives of COM/OMJ clearly believe that it should be based on the principle of a majority vote. A veto over the show standard is seen as giving the country of origin an unfair advantage that stands in the way of progress. There are also arguments in favour of the four-year rule. The problem facing the advocates of these policies is that neither of them has been enacted.
The obvious solution is to amend the OMJ constitution. It would appear that the process is under way (5), but it will require formal approval by the member countries. Many of them have at least one national breed, and they will be understandably keen to protect their heritage. Whether they would be willing to give up their right to a veto is by no means certain. Perhaps that is why some of the executive officers have adopted a different tactic for the Lizard canary.
There is nothing democratic about it. It is a power game: pick on a minor breed from one of the weaker member countries (6); ambush the meeting; allow no consultation; ignore the constitution and invoke phantom rules to achieve the desired result. The COM-UK appeal has been treated with similar disdain. Its validity cannot be acknowledged without admitting that some of COM’s senior executives failed to uphold its own constitution. Instead, COM presses on as though nothing is amiss.
COM’s treatment of the Lizard show standard has become Kafkaesque: its application of the rules is arbitrary; its conduct is evasive; and in Kafka’s words, ‘the possibility of error is simply not taken into account’.
If COM succeeds, it will have set a precedent, and other varieties will surely face the same fate.
For those readers unfamiliar with the acronyms, here is a guide:
COM = Confederation Ornithologique Mondiale (the world organisation for bird keepers).
OMJ = Ordre Mondial des Juges (the judges’ union, a sub-division of COM).
COM-UK = the UK arm of COM.
- ‘Kafkaesque’ has entered the English lexicon. It means ‘relating to, or suggestive of Franz Kafka or his writings; especially having a nightmarishly complex, bizarre, or illogical quality’. Source: Merriam Webster dictionary.
- The webpage containing the OMJ constitution was taken down from the COM website earlier this year ‘for updating by the COM and OMJ committees’, but fortunately I have a copy of the document that was in force at the time of the Cervia meeting. I can find no mention of the four-year rule, or of a majority vote.
- See Part 2 for details of Carlos Ramôa’s intervention.
- You can see Carlos Ramôa’s statement to Cage and Aviary Birds here. Editor Rob Innes is to be congratulated for eliciting a rare public statement on the dispute from Mr. Ramôa.
- See footnote 2.
- The UK can claim to be the ‘nation of origin’ of nine breeds of canary, but it is a minor player in COM’s affairs. At the World Show in 2016 for example, UK exhibitors entered 145 birds in Section E (posture canaries) out of a total of 5497.