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Is the Code of Conduct enough?

Comments / 674 Views / Thursday, 10 August 2017 00:01

Speaker Karu Jayasuriya on Wednesday was given the final draft of the proposed Code of Conduct for parliamentarians, which aims to bring stronger ethics to the House. It has become even more relevant given the recent events linking prominent politicians to controversial corporate personalities. 

Parliament is to adopt a new Code of Conduct for MPs and a revised set of Standing Orders shortly, making it obligatory for all parliamentarians to disclose information on their business relationships and financial interests including those of close family members.

The final draft of the Code of Conduct for MPs will be presented in Parliament this week, the Government news portal reported. As per the draft Code of Conduct, every member should immediately after a general election disclose to Parliament all relevant interests that a reasonable person might think could give rise to the perception of influencing behaviour between duties and responsibilities and the personal interests of such a member such as assets relating to land and property, shareholdings and gifts.

This will include any items received or donated by an MP that are also required to be disclosed under this provision. The provision also applies to the parents, spouse and children of the member concerned. The proposed Code of Conduct also prevents any member from voting in a division on a question relating to a matter other than public policy in which he has a financial interest. 

The provisions sound encouraging but the Code of Conduct is not law such as the Assets and Liabilities Act, only disciplinary action could be taken at an instance of any incorrect or false information given to the register. 

However, the register will be available for inspection by any member on a request made to the Secretary-General. The provisions of the Right to Information Act No. 12 of 2016 apply to publication of any information contained in the register. This means that media and civil society once again have to lobby for accountability from parliamentarians rather than systems being reformed to automatically promote good governance. This is discouraging indeed.  

Corruption and politics are considered by many to merely represent two sides of the same coin in the moral and ethical wasteland that is Sri Lankan politics. The pervasive nature of this belief, which cuts across the total spectrum of Sri Lankan society, is the direct result of decades of rampant political corruption perpetrated by members from all major political parties at one time or another.

It is in this context that the public must now look at the newest move to usher in a higher calibre of politician. Parliamentarians routinely fail to even be polite to each other during debates much less uphold principles of good governance. Efforts to clean up the political sphere and reduce corruption have been hamstrung by legal constraints, a lack of resources and efforts by party leaders to shield their own space by protecting loyalists. The buck-passing is not likely to stop and the public are fast losing faith in the change that promised so much.

The allegations against former Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake have only added to this burden. Parliament is charged with passing legislation and they cannot sidestep this duty when it concerns them. The Code of Conduct may be a good start but it is time the public demanded systems that deliver real results.  

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