Practicality In Code Of Ethics For MPs Questioned
by Ashanthi Warunasuriya
- Code of ethics adopted after studying expert opinions
- Code of ethics could be used as a guideline for Parliamentarians
- MPs would be expected to carry out their tasks efficiently
Parliament recently adopted a code of ethics for Members of Parliament. Speaker Karu Jayasuriya said the code was adopted after studying the opinions of both local and foreign experts and following the practices of legislature in developed countries.
He said that the code has been brought about to increase the level of excellence of MPs so that the public could have more faith and trust in their representatives. Under the code of ethics new provisions will be introduced for MPs regarding their duties towards both the Parliament and their electorates. The responsibilities of the MPs have been categorised as the voters and the general public. Hence the MPs would be expected to carry out their tasks efficiently .
“We have received a notebook with ethics. We already possess our own traditions and ethics in our Parliament. They have been given legal effect by Standing Orders. This new code of ethics could be used as a guideline for Parliamentarians as to how to carry out their duties as public representatives. This is not a legal section. Anyway we would approve of providing a proper code of ethics to ensure the good conduct of the MPs.
It is undoubtedly going to add more value to the profession. We must all behave as role models in society. However, we would think that more change could be achieved by moving for legal sanctions. It is more effective to impose the code of ethics as a guideline in line with the existing values of society,” opposition Parliamentarian Vasudeva Nanayakkara said
Expressing his party’s views on the issues, JVP Parliamentarian Bimal Rathnayake said that during the 100 days the new government was in office, Parliament was vested with the responsibility of composing a code of ethics for the MPs. He said that after studying various other legislative institutions in the world the Parliament committee tasked with drafting the code handed over its recommendations to Parliament. “Nothing was done on the subject for a long time. However one and a half years later a code has been presented to the Parliament on ethics. We too would accept the fact that it is good to have a code of ethics in Parliament. It is a sign of a healthy democracy, but on the other hand we have no confidence in the two main parties that they would uphold these codes as they are always violating the existing ethics in the Parliament by protecting corrupt people. But we still think that the code of ethics must be given the due recognition,” he said. UNP MP Mujibar Rahman said it is a good move to have a code of ethics for the MPs to use as a guideline.
“It would be a novel thing to give legal effect to such a code of ethics. We already have some of these ethics under standing orders in the Parliament. But it is better to broaden this scope,” he said.
Minister for Public Administration and Management Ranjith Madduma Bandara said “It’s good to have a strong code of ethics for the MPs. It has become a timely issue in our Parliament. This proposed Act may improve the quality of our MPs.”
Under the code of ethics several specific responsibilities that are expected of MPs have been introduced. Among them is the due respect towards the constitution, unitary status and the territorial integrity, protecting the interests of the voters as well as the general public, upholding equality in the society, giving prominence for the betterment of the society when executing the responsibilities of the office, prevention of misusing state property, unity in Parliament and maintaining discipline.
The composition being centered on the voters and the general public can be identified as a significant factor in the new code of ethics. The notion of transparency has been discussed at length in the bill. It has insisted upon the fact that the MP should be a role model to the society. Hence various provisions have been included to promote leadership by example. The new code also expects that the MPs should behave in the Parliament according to their conscience. However, the issue remains as to how practical these new provisions added into the code of ethics are going to be in Parliament. For example, it is doubtful as to whether the provisions on efficiency would have any effect as most of the MPs are seen sound asleep during Parliamentary debates.
The code of ethics has also focused on areas such as publishing Parliamentary documents and other information. It has insisted on following a defined procedure when releasing such information out of the Parliament. It has been tied to the use of public property as well. Apart from that the code has introduced new ethics regarding proper attendance to Parliament sessions, behaviour during Parliamentary debates and other gatherings and maintaining proper courtesy. It has focused on promoting a proper dress code to Parliament and on regulating the use of language that is suitable for the institution. Since physical violence has become a common occurrence in the Parliament in recent times, the code has imposed strict rules against such unacceptable conduct. The main reason for introducing such a code of ethics to the highest legal authority in the country is the sad reason that it has lost its prestige due to the unacceptable conduct of its members. Over the past years the Speakers in the Parliament have suffered immensely as they have been unable to ensure order in the Parliament. Many had argued that the lack of proper rules was the reason for the lawlessness in the Parliament. Hence the code of ethics if given proper legal effect could work as a deterrent for the MPs from misbehaving in the Parliament.
The code of ethics has also dealt with the procedural issues in the Parliament. Under the provisions of investigating complaints and enactments, broad powers have been given to the general public to lodge a complaint against an MP regarding his or her conduct. It would be sponsored by an MP and would then be produced before a committee. The code has introduced new procedures in investigating such allegations and issuing decrees. Criminal offenses could even be handed over to the police. Since Parliament enjoys judicial authority over its affairs, the final decision still vests with the Parliament. Violations of these ethics shall not be taken lightly by Parliament, under the provisions of the new code. The committee recommendations on these violations will include advising, issuing warnings, banning the MPs from attending specific sessions and even referring the matter to the Supreme Court. There is no doubt about the fact that there should be order at any place. Any action taken to ensure such order must be approved. However, it is unfortunate to see a prestigious institution in the country creating a ‘book of rules’ to educate its members as small children.