Sat | Apr 20, 2019

Jaristotle's Jottings | Of codes and conduct unbecoming

Published:Thursday | February 7, 2019 | 12:13 AM
Ruel Reid

The recent call by Education Minister Ruel Reid regarding the formulation of a code of conduct for educators who are politically active is, in my opinion, a good idea, perhaps one of the few good ideas that he has put on the table since becoming a Cabinet minister.

It makes every sense to hold persons accountable at every level, certainly in politics, but more so when they also have a hand in the shaping of young minds and the influencing of values and attitudes.

The Staff Orders for the Public Service (Section 4.2.6.i) states that [public] officers are “expressly forbidden to engage in any type of partisan political activity in any elections at any level”.

What the dickens, therefore, is the problem here?

The rules need to be applied where the educators concerned are employed at government-administered schools. In the case of private schools, we expect that the respective boards and parent-teacher groups would express sufficient objection so as to eliminate the problem.

On a broader note, there is already a political code of conduct in existence, one that the two main political parties have endorsed but which, according to Political Ombudsman Donna Parchment Brown, is toothless and needs to become enacted into law.

The sanctions for violations are pitiful, with political representatives paying scant regard to the requirements thereof. The use of public funds for political purposes, the promotion of political tribalism, and the desecration of public spaces with political paraphernalia are just some of the commonplace violations which are unlikely to be contained under the current dispensation.

If the goodly minister is so concerned about the conduct of politicos, why not echo the ombudsman’s call for an all-encompassing overhaul rather than single out a minuscule group of the offending wolf pack?

HOCUS-POCUS

Accountability should start from the top, and Minister Reid knows this, but given his immersion into the wolf pack and his own aspirations to continue to run with the pack, his call is nothing but a smokescreen.

Speaking of smokescreens, what is the latest on the prime minister’s promised job letters prescribing key performance indicators for his ministers?

Well, here we go again with performance standards and codes for civil servants, which is not a bad thing, yet politicos remain free to rampage at will.

I think Minister Reid should concentrate his efforts on the real source of the problem of unacceptable political conduct, that being his fellow politicos who, by their continued disregard for decency and integrity, seemingly believe they are above the law.

Since we are on the topic of codes of conduct, there is another issue which needs to be given due consideration, and that is the scope of activities that may be undertaken by former and out-of-power politicians who have held certain government posts.

For instance, just think of the hocus-pocus that could arise where a former minister of national security, an attorney by profession who, having been privy to extremely sensitive information about particular lawbreakers, thereafter takes on such lawbreakers as clients. They could easily make a mockery of the justice system.

What codes of conduct or other prescriptions do we have in place to minimise the scope for such underhandedness? Nothing, more than likely.

ACROSS THE BOARD AND TOP DOWN

Going back to Minister Reid’s call, I think it has merit; however, there is a greater need to address the issue of conduct and accountability among politicians on a broader scale, starting from the top down.

Codes of conduct, as they currently exist, are not legal instruments: enforcement and sanctioning are farcical. Legislation is key. Until then, codes pertaining to specific minuscule groups are mere smokescreens, masking the bigger issues.

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