Sanitising Jamaican politics beginning with the ParliamentSunday, May 02, 2021
WHETHER they like it or not, those who serve the people of Jamaica in the Senate and House of Representatives have a sacred responsibility to conduct themselves in and out of Parliament to the very highest standards.
The Jamaican Parliament, like most others, has some kind of code of ethics and Standing Orders governing the conduct of members while they are inside the Parliament. And there is usually some kind of ethics committee before which members can be brought for breaches. If not, the Speaker has wide latitude and discretion to enforce order and good conduct.
There are two factors which influence the outcome of indiscretion and infringements of acceptable standards of conduct.
First and foremost is politics, ie the political party with the majority in Parliament can protect its members regardless of how reprehensible the nature of their conduct. We recall that in the United States, the Democratic Party was able to block the impeachment of President Bill Clinton and the Republican Party in the Senate was able to block the removal of President Donald Trump in spite of two impeachments in the House.
The second factor is public opinion which, unfortunately, often condones any kind of behaviour whether fraud, nepotism, corruption, overt adultery or spousal abuse – even of a physical kind.
The breakdown of order in the House over the George Wright affair suggests that the following are critical:
First, a more comprehensive code of conduct governing parliamentary behaviour with sanctions including loss of privileges such as speaking, loss of voting rights and loss of remuneration. There are obviously legal and constitutional issues to be worked out.
There are also issues relating to defamation, criminal charges which are not proven and resolved, as well as misleading the House. Existing rules must be enforced with sanctions, example for not adhering to the requirements for financial disclosure.
The Speaker of the House did not have her best day in handling allegations that George Wright of her governing party assaulted a woman in public. He has not denied it and the woman in question has not exonerated him.
If Mr Wright is innocent he should be willing to say so. It is that situation that has caused such outrage among the public. By being an MP, he has a higher standard to meet than keeping his silence.
The basis for Mr Wright's leave of absence is a matter of public entitlement in keeping with transparency, accountability and good governance. The Speaker is duty-bound to disclose this.
Second, a Bill establishing impeachment procedures of members of the House must be passed into law as a matter of urgency. The Opposition Leader Mr Mark Golding is pursuing that matter and hopefully that will survive the party political whip.
Third, the conduct of MPs outside of the Parliament must be subject to a strict and comprehensive code of conduct covering not only criminal offences but moral and ethical conduct including bankruptcy, breaches of government procurement, and non-payment of taxes.
Just think how this would sanitise our Parliament and transform our politics.
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