The Assembly seems bent on taking all the fun out of parliamentary proceedings in future.The draft Code of Conduct for Sri Lanka’s lawmakers, which was circulated among MPs in April will be adopted shortly, a senior Parliamentary official revealed last week.
This ostensibly means that parliamentarians will soon be barred from assaulting, harassing or intimidating others under the Code prepared by Parliament. Over the last three decades or so the proceedings in our Assembly have far exceeded the excitement and violence on prime time TV when telecast live.
Still many peace-loving citizens will laud the decision and say it has been a long time in coming. Few can deny the truism that the loudest and most indecent disorder in this nation has come from the politicians themselves and most of what they say has been limited to bitter mudslinging. There have been times when rude rhetoric has escalated into physical confrontation, as has been evidenced in the not too recent past.
In certain other instances we have seen both MPs and ministers, taking cover under the mantle of parliamentary privilege and outdoing themselves in disgorging offensive and racial comments. That they have done so in their own defence or in certain cases in the vindication of embattled colleagues is no excuse. Quite plainly, it is also a cowardly exercise.
Surely, the party leaders and whips should be largely held accountable for the deteriorating norms of conduct in the precincts of the legislature, which appear clearly to have descended to the lowest depths of depravity. The general discourse by several MPs and indeed some ministers has been getting ruder, cruder and lewder. Discretion has all but disappeared from the general parliamentary usage. Despite the obscene cacophony, which passes for parliamentary debate, being carried out to its illogical conclusion, there has been only a small reaction on the side of propriety.
However, the draft code of conduct reawakens the issue of what ought to be done if standards have been breached. The response so far has instead related to what could be done to stop it happening in the first place, which seem less urgent to most. If people ignore the rules already, new regulations are not likely to deter them.
Still the draft code clearly states: “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.”
Fortunately, for Britain, the mother of all parliaments has the mechanisms to deal with transgressions – if it has the political will to use them. The House of Commons has the undoubted rights to expel members for misconduct. This is an absolute authority which cannot be challenged in any court, as it derives from the twin concept of the High Court of Parliament being the most senior court in the land and of each House’s right to regulate its own affairs.
The local draft code also makes reference to civility and behaviour of MPs. At present, MPs are governed by Standing Orders of Parliament on how they should conduct themselves in the House, with specific guidelines for members speaking in Parliament and for members not speaking, but these are often ignored.The Code applies to all MPs including the Speaker and Prime Minister in all aspects of their public life, but the rules strangely in no way “seek to regulate what members do in their private and personal lives.”
What this nation needs most is comity. Comity means civility and courtesy, words that people lived by in those bygone days. But some of the best traditions of a noble institution have unequivocally been swept away by certain ill-bred louts, who have become part of our lawmaking process and who are supposed to be shaping a generation. When will they realize that Parliament is a place where a vast quantity of important and complicated business is performed under a glare of publicity by men and women whose occupation is to perform it?
For more than half a century since independence, our politicians have been serving the taxpayers, but particularly over the last three decades or so, also at their expense. They are dined, wined, chauffeured in style in super-luxury limos, enjoy foreign junkets, are provided armed protection and are lodged in splendor that few can imagine. In fact they have a penchant for conspicuous consumption that few of their countrymen can match.
And all this has emerged amid disclosures of corruption all around them, intensifying the evidence of economic plunder and the improper use of government funds for personal political purposes. The full extent of their pillage is yet to be ascertained. But this much is certain: The spoils run staggeringly into trillions.
What they fail to realize is that this is synonymous to the politics of personal destruction. Because essentially, attacking character or personal blemishes seems to not only affect their credibility but makes them seem ugly, narrow-minded, inferior and mean in the process.
And it does not serve to conceal their own shortcomings. The lesser the intellectual range, the lesser the analytical mind and the worse the language. Words serve ideas. Dirty words are just that, empty words without ideas. Parliament like journalism is a business of words, and every word in a real sense, reflects the mind of the person.
Party chiefs must have the ability, the will and the courage to reintroduce those sacred parliamentary norms and educate their members on the intricacies of parliamentary procedure and dignified conduct.
Most of it is a matter of visibility, almost of gamesmanship. Violators must be brought to heel for their lack of control to which all right-thinking people have acquired a considerable distaste.