Watchdog for politicians
Friday, July 25 2014
A number of the country’s leading civil society organisations are proposing the establishment of a watchdog body to oversee the conduct of political parties and their candidates during elections.
The body to be known as the Council for Responsible Political Behaviour is defined in a code of ethical political conduct which has been developed by the organisations under Roman Catholic Archbishop, Joseph Harris, after several weeks of drafting. The code was handed over to all political parties in the country for their consideration yesterday.
Among the bodies involved in the constructing of the code were the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist and Presbyterian Churches, the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha, ASJA, the Inter Religious Organisation, the TT Chamber of Industry and Commerce, the Trinidad and Tobago Transparency Institute, the Network of Non Government Organisations, the Trinidad and Tobago Publishers and Broadcasters’ Association and the Communication Workers’ Union.
The watchdog body proposes to monitor the election campaign activities and conduct of parties and their candidates. It will also network with bodies involved in the monitoring of elections in Trinidad and Tobago and with regional and international bodies which place governance as an important objective.
The body also intends to actively engage different networks which can bring moral suasion to bear on the conduct of political parties. It will also conduct public education around the code that has been developed, and well as on issues that civil society would like politicians to address on the platform.
The bahaviour of political parties, coalitions and their candidates will also be rated by the body in accordance with the code and made public.
The code which was delivered to the political parties yesterday includes wide ranging clauses that commit the bodies, among other things to uphold the constitution of the country as it relates to the holding of elections, and to maintain the highest principles and ethical standards during the campaigns, the elections and the posit election periods.
The code also calls on parties to promote and enforce respect, tolerance, harmony and peace amongst their supporters and the general public during the same period, and to refrain from practices that promote divisiveness in the society. The code commits the parties to deliberately taking steps to publicly disassociate themselves from criminal elements and criminal activity, as well as confining their criticisms of their counterparts to the policies and programmes, past record and work.
In a section dealing with prohibited conduct, the code calls on the parties, coalitions and candidates to agree to not offer any inducement such as money, groceries or other benefits for persons to join or not join any party, to attend or not attend a public meeting, demonstration, march, rally and other public political event, on how to vote, or to refuse a nomination or withdraw as a candidate.
The code calls on parties to accept donations in cash or kind based on a “know your donor” principle, and recommends that due diligence measures should be undertaken by the parties so as to protect against “dirty money” contaminating the process. The Committee also wants parties and candidates to cause their accounts, including donations, to be audited by a qualified accountant and presented to the proposed Council for Responsible Political Conduct within 90 days after the holding of each election.
(See Page 27A)