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Parties pledge to behave

By JULIEN NEAVES Friday, September 5 2014

click on pic to zoom in
 Archbishop Joseph Harris and UNC acting chairman Khadija Ameen, left, look on as COP vice chairman Nicole Dyer-Griffith signs the Code of Ethical Pol...
Archbishop Joseph Harris and UNC acting chairman Khadija Ameen, left, look on as COP vice chairman Nicole Dyer-Griffith signs the Code of Ethical Pol...

IT may have taken the assistance of some divine intervention but yesterday representatives of rival political parties gathered to sign the Archbishop Joseph Harris-helmed Code of Ethical Political Conduct at Archbishop’s House, St Clair, Port-of-Spain yesterday.

And a suggestion was also made for a voluntary code on campaign finance in preparation for the 2015 general elections.

The code represents weeks of work by the Committee chaired by Roman Catholic Archbishop, the Most Reverend Joseph Harris, and a number of the country’s leading civil society organisations.

Signing yesterday were acting United National Congress (UNC) chairman Khadijah Ameen;

People’s National Movement (PNM) political leader Dr Keith Rowley, recently returned from abroad, and PNM chairman Franklin Khan; Congress of the People (COP) chairman Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan and vice chairman Nicole Dyer-Griffith; Independent Liberal Party (ILP) political leader Lyndira Oudit and chairman Jack Warner. The Movement for Social Justice (MSJ), represented yesterday by political leader David Abdulah, had previously signed the document.

Oudit described the signing as a “milestone event” but said she was “disappointed” and it was “very instructive” that the leaders of two parties — UNC leader and Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and COP leader Prakash Ramadhar — were absent for the signing. She noted this would have signaled “synchronisation”; Ameen chimed in that the two leaders also agreed to the code.

On the absence of Ramadhar, Seepersad-Bachan later told the media that yesterday was the weekly Cabinet meeting and she had requested to be away. She noted that at a COP interfaith service on tomorrow they intend to have Ramadhar sign the document.

On campaign financing, she noted how the COP receives funding, the party cannot go beyond a particular level and this was a disadvantage in previous elections.

“We were very happy and heartened to hear many of the players today agreeing that we can all agree to, on a voluntary basis on how we go forward on party financing,” she said.

She earlier told the gathering that the code was similar to what existed in the COP’s “People’s Charter”. She stressed that it was only the start of the process and as they develop the politics of the nation, the parties must stay away from using religion and slander and being divisive. She appealed to all parties to stand by the code.

“It is up to us to make it work,” she added.

Rowley described the code as a “big step forward” and noted the PNM general council unanimously supported it. He pointed out that it did not have the force of law but their conduct will be subject to the scrutiny of the population.

He also spoke on the need to update the “hopelessly antiquated” campaign finance legislation and pointed out that not only politicians “misbehave” during elections. He expressed hope that there will be the same type of national cooperation experienced with the code towards laws on campaign financing. He said without those laws they will be unable to control the general negatives in campaigns.

Abdulah suggested a voluntary agreement on campaign financing ahead of the 2015 general election. He noted this was central to a lot of the areas in the document. On the code he said it was not by words but by deeds to demonstrate their commitment and, while not legally enforceable, they will be judged in the court of public opinion.

Ameen noted that while there was no physical violence in local elections there is “verbal violence”. She appealed that all political leaders mind their behaviour, words and actions as they all send a message.

Archbishop Harris told the gathering yesterday that it was a historic moment and for the first time there had been a coming together to produce such a document for the good of the nation.

“If we can fulfill what is in the code our country would have taken a step forward,” he said.

He noted that they will also be meeting with representatives of Tobago parties.

Committee co-chairman Deryck Murray, chairman of the Trinidad and Tobago Transparency Institute, noted they were bringing people together from different persuasions who all want a strong and vibrant democracy. He said the committee found that getting people to sign the code was much easier than they had expected.

He explained that following the signing they now have to work out the mechanics by which they will regulate themselves. The next stage will be for all political parties to nominate a representative to the council to work out these mechanics and to monitor the code and behaviour. This will be done by September 26 as the Archbishop will be out of the country until September 22.

Murray also expressed concern that elections in other countries have spilled over into violence, hatred and racialism and noted that neither civil society nor political parties want that.

Also present yesterday were Anglican Bishop Right Reverend Claude Berkley, Federation of Independent Trade Unions and NGOs president Joseph Remy, Banking Insurance and General Workers Union president Vincent Cabrera, co-ordinator of the Network of NGOs for the Advancement of Women Hazel Brown.

In addition to the Catholic Church, the Committee included the Anglican, Methodist and Presbyterian churches, the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha, the Anjuman Sunnat ul Jamaat Association, the Trinidad and Tobago 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, the Communication Workers’ Union, and the Inter-Religious Organisation.

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