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2005-12-19 16:49:11

PLP Ethics Code Crumbling

Prime Minister's Ethics Code isn't worth the paper its printed on.

On a recent talk show PLP chairman Raynard Rigby declared that government had completed 85 per cent of its promised programme. However, last week on another radio show he made a conisiderable adjustment to this estimate. Now he believes about 50 to 60 per cent of government's programmes are done.

If Mr Rigby can't figure out what has been done, and what is yet to be done, the rest of us can be forgiven for being completely confused.

If the House of Assembly had been prorogued at least once during the past three years to give the country another Speech from the Throne, it would have been easier to measure how much government had accomplished from the first - and only - Throne Speech on May 22, 2002 to the present. If there had been prorogation a new parliament would have opened with a fresh Throne Speech for debate. It would have outlined what programmes had been completed, were still to be completed, and others planned before the next election. In other words there would have been a new agenda, one already having been completed. This procedure would have made it easier even for Mr Rigby to grasp. All of his guesstimates in the past few weeks could have been avoided.

Reading the Speech from the Throne at the opening of parliament on May 22, 2002, Governor-General Dame Ivy Dumont, now retired, declared that her new government was "committed to integrity in public life."

"To this end, my Government has adopted the strictest Code of Ethics for Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries in our nation's history. This new Code of Ethics will be enshrined in a formal communication to parliament at the first working session of the Honourable House of Assembly and will be disseminated to the general public.

"In addition to the new Code of Ethics, my Government will introduce a bill for an Integrity in Public Life Act to govern all parliamentarians, heads of Government Boards and senior civil servants. This legislation will be designated to induce higher levels of accountability and transparency, so as to discourage corruption and ethical inpropriety in public life."

What a lofty resolve - but, in the end when reduced to basics, it was just another case of words, words and more words. It was a shame that such a fine lady as Dame Ivy had to mouth the intent of a government that lacked the courage to carry through on a noble pledge.

Of course, Prime Minister Christie failed to meet his deadline to present the Code in the first working session of the House.

It wasn't until June 26, more than a month later, that the much anticipated "strict" Code was unveiled in the House.

With its introduction Mr Christie failed to "buttress" the Code with a Bill for an Integrity and Public Life Act as promised.

And so without being buttressed with penalties for a breach of the Code, the latter was as useless as the first Code introduced by the late Sir Lynden Pindling in 1967. That Code, which was also brought to the House in the form of a Communication, bedevilled the first prime minister throughout his 25-year administration. It was a Code that was more honoured in its breach than its observance - in fact it was never observed. It was obviously only introduced as window dressing, pushed through as sound politics by the remnants of British civil servants who were clearing their desks for a new government to manage its own affairs.

"If public confidence in the integrity of the political directorate of the Bahamas is to become a hallmark of our political culture," Mr Christie told the House, "it is of the first importance that the prime minister and other ministers of government observe - and be seen to observe - the highest standards of probity in public life.

"It will be readily appreciated from the Code of Ethics," he said, "that I have been faithful to my party's campaign pledge, as reiterated in the Speech from The Throne."

Only half way faithful to your pledge, Mr Prime Minister; not only was it late in coming, but without teeth to bite if breached, it's really not worth the paper it's written on.

Already one MP tore up the Code in the House, declaring it a "waste of time."

In his House presentation Mr Christie outlined the provisions that government ministers and others are expected to uphold.

"Expected" is the operative word here. But what happens if some don't live up to expectations? Where is that much talked of buttress - the Integrity of Public Life Act? If any part of some of the rumours that are now bubbling to the surface can be believed, the Code is crumbling and the "buttress" is urgently needed.

Source:  Editorial, The Tribune

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