Conduct of MPs warrants a Code of Conduct - Deputy Minister Ajith P Perera | Sunday Observer

Conduct of MPs warrants a Code of Conduct - Deputy Minister Ajith P Perera

Deputy Minister Ajit P. Perera. Pic: Lake House Media Library

Deputy Chief Government Whip and Deputy Power and Renewable Energy Minister, Ajith P. Perera said, a Code of Conduct for Parliamentarians as people’s representatives, is vital for the efficient functioning of Parliamentary democracy. In an interview with the Sunday Observer, the Deputy Minister said, Codes of Conduct for Parliamentarians have been introduced in many countries in the world. It envisages that the people’s representatives, irrespective of different political hues, conduct themselves in and out of Parliament in an exemplary manner. He emphasized that it is entirely a local endeavour and no foreign involvement in the process at all.

Highlights of the proposed Code of Conduct

The Code of Conduct shall apply to each Member including presiding members, the Prime Minister, the Leader of the House, the Leader of the Opposition, Whips of the Government and the Opposition, in all aspects of their public lives. However, it does not mean that the private and personal lives of such persons are regulated by this Code of Conduct.

The Code of Conduct shall be read with the provisions of the Parliament (Powers and Privileges) Act, No.5 of 1978 and the Standing Orders of Parliament.

Every Member shall uphold the law relating to fundamental rights and shall act in a nondiscriminatory manner in the exercise, performance and discharge of his powers, functions and duties concerning his constituents at all times.

The Members shall on all occasions act in accordance with the public trust entrusted with them and shall always behave with probity and integrity including the use by them of any public resources.

The Members shall in carrying out their duties relating to any public business, public appointments, awarding of contracts, recommending persons for any rewards or any other benefit, ensure that such things are made purely on merit.

Every Member shall be individually responsible to contribute to the effective and efficient functioning of Parliament.

Every Member shall in upholding Parliamentary Democracy be responsible to ensure that the Executive Government is accountable to Parliament.

The Members shall not undertake any activity which may cause damage to the reputation and integrity of Parliament or its Members or the country.

A Register called the “Register of Members’ Interests” shall be kept and maintained by the Secretary General of Parliament in such form and manner as may be determined by the Committee on Ethics and Privileges which shall be available for inspection by any Member on request made in that behalf to the Secretary General.

The Members shall disclose information relating to their business relationships and financial interests including information of close family members in order to increase the public trust in Members.

The Members shall use any public fund, property or facility only in the public interest as permitted by law. Such public fund, property or facility shall not be used in party political purposes unless specifically provided by law.

Every Member shall represent the interests of his constituents on an equitable basis and not on the basis of any personal or political affiliation or inducement.

Every Member shall attend every sitting of the House and every meeting of the Committees of which such Member is a member unless with the leave of Parliament or such Committee as the case may be.

Members shall exercise civility and use appropriate language in political discourse, especially, in Parliamentary debate.

Parliament shall consider the recommendations made by the Committee on Ethics and Privileges, and may impose sanctions on any Member where it deems necessary. 

Q: What was the need and purpose of introducing a Code of Conduct for MPs?

A: The conduct of Parliamentarians in and outside Parliament warranted the introduction of a Code of Conduct, which is a good practice in the modern democratic systems. Almost all countries have adopted a Code of Conduct for their Parliamentarians. That is why we also decided to do so.

Q: What is the idea behind the Register of Members’ Interests?

A: There are lots of allegations against lawmakers in Parliament, especially, people involved with the Executive. Not only in Sri Lanka, these allegations are common even in other democratic countries, such as, Japan, USA, UK , France and India. Therefore, declaring their interests will create an environment in which Members of Parliament cannot break the law, or earn an income by using their privileges and powers. This statement is not an asset declaration, but much broader. We have a law, Asset Declaration, where MPs have to declare their own assets and liabilities. But, in this case, he or she has to declare their interests in a much broader area, about their children and immediate family members that would have some burden on them, and create an environment where they may not take the law into their hands.

Q: Do you think the Code of Conduct for MPs, and the live television coverage, lead to better conduct on the part of the MPs?

A: Actually, they are two different aspects. The live telecast will expose the true conduct of MPs within Parliament. When we have a live telecast, the people will judge the conduct or performance of MPs. But, in the Code of Conduct, MPs have to follow specific rules and be informed of what to do and what not.

Q: If a Member is found guilty of unethical conduct by the Committee on Ethics and Privileges, what are the options available to take action against such a Member?

A: It depends on the kind of offence. Various offences would have diverse impacts on those who break laws or regulations, in the future. But, it doesn’t include criminal liability or expelling them from Parliament. We can’t simply expel Parliamentarians. It has to be decided by the Supreme Court on any other ground.

Q: Does the Code of Conduct cover spending for elections and party activities by MPs?

A: Not necessarily. This Code of Conduct would cover only the elected members’ conduct, and not election campaigns.

Q: It has been found that most MPs have sold their duty free vehicle permits and made huge profits. Does the new Code of Conduct cover instances like this which may not be illegal but are seen as unethical?

A: This Code of Conduct doesn’t cover such situations, either.

Q: The use of public funds for party activities, etc, is very common. What are the parameters specified by the Code of Conduct on such instances?

A: There are no parameters or provisions in the specific Code of Conduct for election campaigning or party activities. It is limited in extent, but important. It is for elected MPs, and would specifically cover the conduct of the individual MP within Parliament or any act related to Parliament.

Q: Do you think, depending on its success, the Code of Conduct could be extended to Provincial Councils and local bodies as well?

A: Normally, the others will follow suit. We hope so. But, we have to wait and watch the situation.

Q: In drafting the Code of Conduct have you looked at the codes of conduct in foreign countries, or is this entirely a local exercise?

A: This is entirely a local exercise, there is no foreign involvement in the process. We have capable people to draft such legislation and handle such situations.

Q: One of the biggest problems facing Parliament is the lack of attendance at Parliamentary sittings and Consultative meetings. How will the Code of Conduct help rectify this shortcoming?

A: The Code of Conduct doesn’t cover that kind of situation. But, it is an important issue. I think, we should expose them, or people should have access to the dates of attendance of MPs. Even in the Chamber and the Committees, people should know the exact number of MPs who attend. Parliament should publish these data so that the people will judge their performance. There are some MPs who don’t attend Parliament even a single day in a month. They simply attend one day for the whole of three months, as it is a mandatory requirement.

Q: The Media Ministry Secretary is reported to have said, he would not sign the agreement to provide 58 MPs with new vehicles who hold chairmanship in Divisional Coordinating Committees. What is the Government’s position on this?

A: I think the Media Ministry Secretary should know the limits of a public servant. The administration has to look into his conduct. He should get special permission from his Minister to have a press conference. Basically, he has violated the specific regulation.

We have to take disciplinary action against the Media Ministry Secretary. It is up to him to justify his position on signing the document. But, it is a violation of the public servants code of conduct, to have a press conference without the approval of the subject Minister. The relevant Minister should take disciplinary action against his Secretary.

Q: According to media reports, the Joint Opposition (JO) has said, news forecasting and social media websites including Facebook, were under threat by several Government bigwigs due to their dislike of these websites. Is there any truth in this ?

A: The Government will not make any decision on this issue. Ours is a free democratic society and we should not impose any prohibitive laws on the media.

It is the Government’s responsibility to educate media personnel about their responsibilities. The media should also act in a responsible manner but the Government should not impose any prohibitive laws or restrictions on journalists.

Q: The Joint Opposition has put forward 14 proposals if they are to extend support to the constitution making process. How do you look at this?

A: It is good, and is a democratic process. We appreciate it and would definitely consider these proposals in a positive manner. It is their right to put forward such proposals. It is a good sign of democracy and shows that anyone could contribute to the formulation of a new constitution.

We appreciate the JO’s positive steps. Definitely, the Constitutional Council will consider their views as well.