“Freedom is founded upon respect for moral, ethical and spiritual values and the rule of law.” (Code of Ethical Political Conduct, TT)
Tuesday, June 30, will be International Day of Parliamentarism; celebrating “parliaments and the ways in which parliamentary systems of government improve the day-to-day lives of people the world over. It is also an opportunity for parliaments to take stock, identify challenges, and ways to address them effectively.
“Strong parliaments are a cornerstone of democracy. They represent the voice of the people, pass laws, allocate funds to implement laws and policies, and hold governments to account. They work to make sure that policies benefit all people, especially the most vulnerable, by passing laws—for example—on violence against women and ensuring equal access to health care. Parliaments also link international and national agendas, ensuring that governments implement international treaties and agreements that they sign up to...” (UN).
As the UN states, robust parliaments can heal divisions in society “through dialogue and cooperation.” Let’s not bury our heads in the sand in T&T and accept that there are deep-rooted divisions in our society based on race/ethnicity. Thank God these divisions do not lead to major conflicts as is the case in some other countries. Nevertheless, unless we seek to heal these divisions and build a strong, inclusive democracy, divisions will continue to simmer beneath the surface.
As we move into the various political parties’ campaigns for the 2020 general election, let’s all commit to the principles and values outlined in the Code of Ethical Political Conduct which came into being in July 2014 and which was revised in June 2019. The Code has 4 clear objectives: to foster democracy through peaceful, free and fair elections; to promote respect for human rights; to encourage participation in the electoral process; and to promote an election process free from violence.
The Code can be accessed via the website of the Council for Responsible Political Behaviour: www.politicalethicstt.org. The Council, of which I am a Member, comprises 9 members and is Chaired by Political Scientist, Dr Bishnu Ragoonath. On 10 June the Council issued a Media Release informing the public that it “has begun its monitoring activities to evaluate all Political parties, candidates and their supporters in the adherence to the Code of Ethical Political Conduct.” Once again we will use moral suasion to encourage all those engaged in the election campaign, inter alia, to:
· Maintain the highest moral principles and ethical standards with respect to their conduct;
· Promote and enforcing respect, tolerance, harmony and peace amongst their supporters and the general public.
· Refrain from practices that promote divisiveness in the Society and commit to the removal of any structures (behavioural, cultural, social or organisational) which reinforce divisiveness.
· Confine their criticism of other Political Parties to policies and programmes, past record and work.
· Uphold the integrity of the electoral process.
· Ensure that their conduct is above reproach.
As the Media Release noted, “...within the recent past, before the start of its monitoring, there have already been some utterances which undermine” the above commitments that are outlined in the Code. Peaceful coexistence will be enhanced if social media, and the media in general, is not used for name-calling by politicians/supporters of any party against those of another party. Some Catholic Bishops have rightly said, “Although elections are not enough to enthrone good governance, they are an important stage in that project.”
As they compete for votes, surely Political Parties and their candidates who will be contesting seats can use their God-given talents/ingenuity to win support and motivate citizens to help them gain office without resorting to unbecoming behaviour? Any party wishing to truly represent the people in our country and seeking to advance their aspirations and defend their human rights, must be committed to the common good — that is, the good of ALL persons, regardless of their race, ethnicity, geographical origin, gender etc.
Reflect on Henry Clay’s words: “Government is a trust, and the officers of the government are trustees. And both the trust and the trustees are created for the benefit of the people.” When those campaigning knock on your door, be prepared with your list of questions to ask what action each one, if elected, would take to improve the quality of life in your community and in the country. Keep the campaign clean!