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Thursday, February 29, 2024

Draft Code of Conduct for MPs :Assault, Harassment, Intimidation Taboo 

MPs are barred from assaulting, harassing or intimidating another person under the draft Code of Conduct prepared by Parliament.

The draft given to all MPs yesterday in three languages says that MPs shall act in a manner that is respectful of their fellow MPs and citizens including parliamentary staff with dignity and courtesy, without diminishing the dignity of the Parliamentary institution.

Speaker Karu Jayasuriya yesterday announcing that copies of draft Code of Conduct for MPs had been placed on the tables of all MPs, asked the MPs to go through the draft and send their views thereon to the Office of the Secretary General of Parliament in writing within two weeks.

The Speaker said the Code of Conduct was available in all three languages. Commenting on the protests of Joint Opposition MPs in Parliament chamber on the previous day he stated that such incidents adversely affected the dignity of Parliamentarians.

The introduction of a Code of Conduct for MPs was an election pledge made by President Maithripala Sirisena and his government.

The Code comprises eight sections namely, purpose of the code, scope of the code, duties of MPs, general principles of conduct, rules of conduct, upholding the code, enforcement and making and updating the code.

MPs shall disclose sufficient information regarding their business relationships and financial interests including information about close family members. This would increase the public trust in MPs and confidence that they will act to advance the public interest rather than private interests.

The draft Code says:

“Members shall fulfill conscientiously the requirements of the House in respect of the registration of interests in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Each Member shall disclose to the Parliament all relevant interests that a reasonable person might think could give rise to the perception of influencing behaviour between the Member’s duties and responsibilities and his/her personal interests (e.g. land and property assets, share-holdings, gifts, foreign travel, symbolic rewards (e.g. honorary degree), sources of income, remunerated employment, directorships, liabilities, hospitality and affiliations). This applies to items received and could also apply to items donated or given. These shall be disclosed immediately following election and continuously updated within a reasonable period specified by Parliament.”

“A member shall not vote in a division on a question about a matter, other than public money (ie government policy, not identifying any particular person individually and immediately) in which he or she has a particular direct pecuniary interest.

“Whenever a Member has a personal or specific pecuniary interest (direct or indirect) in a matter being considered by Parliament or a committee thereof, he or she shall declare the nature of such interest notwithstanding any registration of his or her interests in the Register, and shall not participate in any debate taking place in the House or its committees before making such declaration.”

Under the principle of openness, the draft says: “MPs should be open to the public as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.”

Under the rules of conduct, draft says: “MPs shall act in good conscience; respect human rights and intrinsic dignity of all; act as to merit the trust and respect of citizens and community; give effect to the ideals of democratic government, abide by the letter and spirit of the constitution and uphold the separation of powers and the rule of law; hold themselves accountable for the conduct and duties for which they are responsible and exercise the privileges and discharge the duties of public offices diligently and with civility, dignity, care and honour.

“In upholding parliamentary democracy, every member of parliament has a responsibility to ensure that the executive government is accountable to Parliament.

“Every member shall attend every sitting of the House and meeting of the committees of which he or she is a member, in accordance with practice of the House, except with reasonable excuse or in the case of extended absence, if excused in accordance with the practice of the House.

“Any person or member can make a complaint relating to alleged unethical conduct of breach of the Code of Conduct by an MP or alleged incorrect information of a member’s interests. Provided that if a complaint if made by any person, it shall be forwarded by a Member.

“A complaint shall be made in writing and addressed to the Speaker, who may allow the Member to raise it at the appropriate time in the House. The Speaker, having gone through the motion may allow it to be referred to the Committee on Privileges and Ethics on a resolution moved and approved by Parliament, for examination, investigation and report.

“The complainant must declare the identity and submit supporting evidence, documentary or otherwise to substantiate the allegations.

“After investigation, the committee must present a report to the Speaker who must determine whether or not a breach has occurred and if a breach has occurred refer the report to the House for further proceedings in accordance with its rules.

“Where it has been found that a Member has indulged in unethical behaviour or that there is other misconduct or that the Member has contravened the Code, the committee may recommend the imposition of one or more of the following sanctions (a) censure (b) reprimand (c)suspension from the House for a specific period not exceeding the limits set by the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Act and (d) any other sanction the Supreme Court may prescribe on a matter that has been referred to the Supreme Court by Parliament under the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Act.”

By Saman Indrajith / The Island


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