10 June, 2023


What Happened To The ‘Code Of Ethics’ For Parliamentarians?

By Laksiri Fernando

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

The introduction of ‘Code of Ethics for Parliamentarians’ was an election promise given by the President at the presidential elections in January 2015. This is not yet fulfilled. It is obvious that the same ethics should apply also to the President. That is a lesson. Even if we understand the circumstances under which that promise could not be fulfilled, it should not be delayed any longer.

If a proper Code of Ethics was in place as promised, it would have been even possible to prevent what the young Hirunika Premachandra MP indulged in by ‘abducting’ a person in broad day light through her security personnel. It is claimed that she was doing so in order to ‘settle a marriage dispute,’ but obviously at her whim and without any legal authority.

The Failure

I have no intention of absolving her in any manner or minimizing what she did by breaking the law, and breaking the rule of law. But this is just an example of how a Code of Ethics could constrain, or attempt to constrain, the Members of Parliament in their misdemeanours before they become criminals. Similar ethics or more of discipline should prevail over MP’s or politician’s entourages or close cohorts. I don’t wish to use the term ‘bootleggers.’

Another example is again the young MP Chathura Senaratne’s violent behaviour at a police station threatening some persons even when they were under police custody. If his father cannot constrain him, then at least there should be a Code of Ethics to put him in good behaviour.

It is true that a Code of Ethics alone cannot correct MPs’ or Ministers’ misbehaviour. The Minsters obviously should have higher benchmarks. There should be a proper implementation mechanism and other measures and improvements. In almost all countries where there are ‘codes of ethics’ or ‘codes of conduct’ there are inside and/or outside monitoring and implementation mechanisms. In many countries, the required standards are codified as ‘Code of Conduct’ as the most of deviations are related to ‘conflict of interest’ and ‘misuse of privileges or entitlements.’ However, in the case of Sri Lanka, it is best that the standards are called ‘Code of Ethics’ as the most of the misdemeanours are related to more serous ‘ethical offenses’ such as ‘corruption, crime, alleged drug dealings, violence and nepotism.’ As I write this, the newest issue appears to be sexual harassment of women Members of Parliament by their senior most colleagues in various ways.

There are many criticisms almost daily made by the ‘Joint Opposition’ against the Government. But they are almost silent on the issue of the ‘Code of Ethics.’ If the ‘Joint Opposition’ is genuine in criticising the President or the Government for not fulfilling their promises, this is something that they should urgently ask or demand for and even they could contribute to its fulfilment! I am particularly directing this request to their main spokesperson, Dinesh Gunawardena MP, because amongst that lot, perhaps he has some credibility when it comes to at least some ethics, I believe.

The JVP is also at fault for the failure to bring a ‘Code of Ethics.’ It was a promise during the 100 days program and the JVP or its leader, Anura Kumara Dissanayake was tasked with submitting a draft on the subject to the National Executive Committee. But this draft never saw the light of the day. If they had drafted one, they should have published it. The JVP is also quite silent about the subject now. For what reason, it is not known.

The Purpose  

The purpose of any Code of Ethics is to outline ethical standards expected of anybody in official capacity. There are various professions and institutions that have come up with such ethical standards. Even in the business sector, these standards are common now.

It was traditionally believed that Parliaments as the highest institutions of people’s trust would maintain high ethical standards. Thus it was further assumed or taken for granted that parliamentarians would serve the public interest rather than personal, private or family ones. This was an old notion which has eroded almost all over the world. If there were written standards in the past, those were related to the order and conduct in debates or voting in Parliament. These are usually written down in Standing Orders of Parliaments.

There is so much of discussion on Standing Orders in Sri Lanka these days by some MPs or former Ministers even confusing Articles in the Constitution and Standing Orders in Parliament. Even on the questions of ‘speech and behaviour or order and decorum’ in Parliament, our Standing Orders 72 to 77 are quite woolly. Although the emphasis is given to the authority of the Speaker rather than on principles on most of these matters, there are some Standing Orders i.e. 77 (1) which leaves the matters almost in limbo. The Standing Orders in Parliament are not revised or revisited to my knowledge since 1993.

The following is what the Standing Order 77 (1) says:

Any member who has used objectionable words in debate which are improper or unparliamentary or has stated in debate anything in contravention of Standing Order No. 78 or Standing Order No. 84 (vi) or (viii) and has not explained or retraced [sic] the same, or offered apologies for the use thereof to the satisfaction of Parliament, or who has committed any breach of order not specified in these Orders may be proceeded against in any way Parliament thinks fit, and nothing in these Orders shall prevent Parliament from proceeding against any member for breaches of order specified in these Orders in any other manner than the manner specified in these Orders.

In a Parliament such as ours where common or total standards have deteriorated and there is a confusion about what are ‘objectionable words’ or what is ‘improper’ or ‘unparliamentary,’ such a Standing Order like 77 (1) is not fully operational. The Speakers have been so lenient throughout years to their misbehaving parliamentarians or colleagues. Parliament as a whole does not take any action because almost all are the same. In April last year a group of parliamentarians spent the night in the well of the Parliament in protest, allegedly drinking and singing, but no action could be taken.

In August 2000, the behaviour of some parliamentarians were quite unparliamentary when a draft bill for a new constitution was tabled, but no action was possible. It is in this context that the same drama could be re-enacted again by a different group of parliamentarians when the proposed New Constitution is proposed or even before. Some of the key politicians seems to be considering ‘politics as a game’ apart from a ‘venture for money making.’ They may be a minority but they rule the roost most of the time, whether in the government or in the opposition.

Questionable Political Culture

This is not an ailment among the parliamentarians alone, but among the politicians inside and outside in general. One example is what transpired at Sirasa “Satana” program on 9 January (Saturday). From the beginning, the submissions by the leader of the Democratic Party, Sarath Fonseka, appeared personal whatever the truth behind his allegations against the Minister of Justice. Then the Minister, Wijedasa Rajapaksa, intervened by telephone and insulted Fonseka by calling him a ‘mentally-retarded’ person in addition to accusing him for past corrupt practices. This was not the first time the Minister had uttered such disparaging name-calling against the Field Marshall.

The general public or the citizens faces a considerable difficulty in understanding who the crooks are, because of the way the accusations are levelled against each other in disparaging manner. The seriousness of the accusations also diminishes as a result, and even formal investigations could become hampered because of the situation.

There was a similar spat recently between the Minister of Ports and Shipping, Arjuna Ranatunga and the Deputy Speaker, Thilanga Sumathipala, also the Minister of Sports, Dayasiri Jayasekara, willingly getting embroiled. All these conflicts seem to be largely personal, exacerbated by the language they use, and the emotional way the debates or arguments are conducted. In a developed democracy, these type of confrontations hardly could be seen. There is a big question about the political culture that they uphold because of the nature of confrontations that they get involved. I am here not talking about Wimal Weerawansa or Udaya Gammanpila not to waste time.

This is in a way not dissimilar to the way the public debates are often conducted even in the social media or within the civil society to a large extent. This makes it extremely difficult to figure ‘what is to be done’ or ‘where to begin.’

A Possible Breakthrough

However, there should be some breakthrough. The vicious cycle should be broken somewhere. One entry point could be a Code of Ethics. An authority on the subject, David Beetham, has stated in “Parliament and Democracy in the Twenty-first Century: A Guide to Good Practice,” published in 2006:

“Where the mechanism of recall is an example of vertical accountability, a much more usual method for addressing potential misconduct on the part of parliamentarians is through a code of conduct which is enforced horizontally, by a specific commission acting on behalf of the public.” (p. 98).

I am not proposing the method of recall as it could be complicated and expensive to a country like Sri Lanka. However, a Code of Ethics is ‘sine qua non’ with a proper monitoring and implementing mechanism. Beetham’s “A Guide to Good Practice” is an Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) publication and interested parliamentarians and others can easily access the book completely free of charge, if they google under books.

There are several countries and several operational Codes of Conduct from which Sri Lanka could draw lessons or inspiration. Canada is one, and Australia is another. There are norms and standards developed by the Inter-Parliamentary Union as well as the Commonwealth Association. However, the gravity of the matter in Sri Lanka is much higher and extensive, spread out also to the Provincial Councils and Local Government institutions. I have already proposed an overall ‘Code of Ethics’ as a Schedule in the New Constitution. This should be pursued and some of the elements could be as follows. This is only a short draft as an example.

The Members of Parliament and Ministers,

  1. Should faithfully uphold the Constitution, laws and regulations.
  1. Should give utmost priority to public interest and refrain from all forms of nepotism, corruption and misdeeds.
  1. Should declare all assets and liabilities of oneself and family every year and refrain from engaging in any financial dealings directly or indirectly against the laws and regulations.
  1. Should be accountable to their constituents and have a duty to educate citizens on democracy, their rights and how they could participate in policy making processes.
  1. Should treat all constituents equally without any distinction as to ethnicity, religion, language, social status or class, gender, age, disability, political party or opinion or any other distinction. Nevertheless, special consideration should be accorded to the poor and the marginalized as affirmative action.
  1. Should respect all human rights of all citizens.
  1. Male members should particularly respect women Members of Parliament equally and respectfully.
  1. Should refrain from and denounce all forms of violence, threats and intimidation in Parliament, outside, in the constituency and in politics in general. Should discipline their staff, security and close supporters and be responsible for their actions accordingly.
  1. Refrain and denounce communalism, hate speech, instigation of any form of ethnic, religious or any other conflict directly or indirectly.
  1. Should attend Parliament regularly in full sessions and participate constructively in its deliberations.
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Latest comments

  • 6

    Dr. Laksiri Fernando

    RE:What Happened To The ‘Code Of Ethics’ For Parliamentarians?

    “The introduction of ‘Code of Ethics for Parliamentarians’ was an election promise given by the President at the presidential elections in January 2015. This is not yet fulfilled. It is obvious that the same ethics should apply also to the President. That is a lesson.”

    What about the Monks?

    They have the same code of ethics of the Sinhala “Buddhist” Monks, plus more.

    Ability to get commissions and other perks.

    Both have the same audience, Sinhala “Buddhists”, and the same strategy may likely work.

    Dr. Laksiri Fernando, are you trying to rock the perks boat?

    • 1

      Dr. Fernando,

      right at he moment, former President is on a move

      violating the number 9).

      Refrain and denounce communalism, hate speech, instigation of any form of ethnic, religious or any other conflict directly or indirectly.

      He seems to be focusing the temples to paint the picture in favour of him an dhis supporters. This is simply the communalism.
      I heard him saying, withthe pact being introdcued, buddhists will loose everything that had been usual to them. What has this guy been uttering at all ?

      In GERMANY, after serving two or three terms, politicians take care of their pensioning days. THere they do some sorta activities that majority of the people would be blessed, as for example Gimi carter did.

      But Mahinda Jarapskshe to support dissidents that have no ideas to take this country forwards is what I cant get right at the moment.

    • 2

      You are asking a moot question Laksiri!

      You might well ask what happened to stopping nepotism, preventing corruption and reconciliation. They are all fotgotten now. Ranil is at Davos with Soros!

      The yahapalana gang played the dirtiest political trick in history on the Sri Lankan people with the help of UK, USA and India. That is the long and the short of it. Now the British and American ara coming in procession to Colombo, asking for their rewards by dictating terms. Our happy and gay politicians are bending over backwards!

      No point in complaining, the need is to act to end this curse on the Sri Lankan nation, Buddhism and national independence ASAP.

    • 0

      Prof. Laksiris: the new Constitution/ changing game that Ranil and Sirisena are wasting time on is a big show, like the FCIU, to distract people from bi-partisan political corruption and the fact that the Parliament of Corrupt Morons by the Diyawenna Oya stinks with corrupt criminals and is A-yahapalanaya Sirisena’s doing.

      Sirisena, the bra-hater, made the bookie Thilanga Sumathipala Speaker of the Parliament in the Miracle of Modayas! Small wonder that now corruption has tricked down to the Sri Lanka Cricket team, with Sumathipala as the Corrupt Chairman of the Sri Lanka Cricket. Do I need to say more?!

      Has a single corrupt Member of the Parliament been tried and jailed for corruption and crime?

      Corruption and Criminality is bi-partisan with the so-called ‘joint opposition’ being the most vile, so a code of Ethics who for a bunch of uneducated louts who do not know the meaning of the word is absurd to expect from them!

      More to the point, if some of the Mahinda Jarapassa sons, brothers and cronies looted billions were traced and returned to Lanka there would be no DEBT TRAP and the rupee would stabilize. But rather, Ranil has jetted off to Davos where the world’s richest men who have all their funds in tax havens preach a global philosophy of INEQUALITY and Poverty for the majority, that is rubber stamped by IMF, WOrld Bank and UN and the likes of Tony Blair et al.!

      The JVP is right – this new constitution is a time wasting exercise to distract people from the fact that bi-partisan (UNP-SLFP) corruption is the root cause of Racism and ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka.

      Democracy has become a circus whereby corrupt politicians distract the Sinhala Modayas from their corruption with HATE SPEECH against the minority Tamils, Muslims and Christians! Meanwhile the economy is in a tail spin with Ranil’s corrupt clown Arjuna Mahendran who lacks any qualifications for the job heading the Central Bank!

  • 2

    “What Happened To The ‘Code Of Ethics’”

    DNA was more powerful.

  • 7

    Dear Laksiri Fernando. Thanks for writing this. This is one of the important aspects of good governance. In corporate world, we refer to this as checks and balances, controlled environment or oversight. Please see US Congress Ethics manual at http://ethics.house.gov/sites/ethics.house.gov/files/documents/2008_House_Ethics_Manual.pdf
    Congress Committee on Ethics does primary investigations. It appears to me that RW has carefully eliminated “Ethics Committee” from SL parliamentary committee system.
    This link provides an example from USA https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/mcdonnell-jury-in-third-day-of-deliberations/2014/09/04/0e01ff88-3435-11e4-9e92-0899b306bbea_story.html The McDonnell verdict – http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/special/local/mcdonnell-verdict/

  • 5

    JVP is responsible for formulating the code of ethics for parliamentarians during the 100 days program.This is one of the unfulfilled promises of the original yahapalanaya govt.

    • 0

      That became null & Void after JVP Prince took the LKR 25 Lakhs Santhosam from the UNP treasury.

      Sorry , I should say after UNP Wije disclosed it..

      Wonder where the Prince is nowadays…

  • 1

    Switzerland here we come says Wigneswaran.

    No wonder the TNA breakaway leader and the CM of future Eelaam picked Switzerland as his role model.

    Although the latter is in the 6 position of the coolest countries List of the TI.

    You needn’t be an Economics Einstein to work out the relationship between good governance and median Income of inhabitant population.

    I am afraid this Yahapalana Professor wouldn’t see any hope of his dear Government fulfilling any of his Wish List.

    Minister Kirra says our Yahapalana suckers will be in USD 12,000 PCI of GDP bracket in 2030.

    But the number of containers (20 footers I guess ) at our Port which is now under the Porky Minister, were 350,000 less in the first Yahapalana 12 months than the previous year. .

    That is a drop of nearly 15 %.

    Number of containers in and out of the port is the best guide to judge the health of small countries like ours.

    It is a pity I couldn’t find whether this drop is from in or out bound.

    Yahapalana treasurer borrowing USD 1 Billion from his Belgian mate is the only guide to work it out.

    No wonder Wiggy wants the Swiss Model with 50 50 Sovereignty.

    I also like Swiss Cheese and Patek Phille. In that order, mind you..

  • 1

    I am amused by your list in your suggested code of ethics.

    No 2. Will need to be removed. It is an inherent trait in our Sinhala Buddhist culture to prop up family friends and relatives.

    No 5. Can’t do. Sinha Le runs in our blood. We are duty bound to uphold our superior Sinhala Buddhist culture. All minorities, their languages and culture are subservient.

    No 6. Can’t do. Violence is inbred. We need outlets for our vile violent streak. The poor, the downtrodden, the minorities, the homosexuals, the Muslims are all there so that we can impose our cultural superiority by violence, intimidation and vilification.

    Come to think of it, none of the code of ethics suggested by you can be applied to Sri Lanka. We are the thrice blessed wonder of Asia.

  • 2

    Well said, Laksiri and thanks for bringing this up.

    ‘Ethics’ is not a subject a majority of our parliamentarians want to discuss as this would defeat the main reason they are in politics to begin with!

    The reason we voted for Sirisena was because we hoped he would be ‘ethical’, as opposed to Rajapakse, who was anything but! But alas, we were all taken for the ride of our lives and the first signs of Sirisena’s intentions was the unethical move of appointing his brother as head of SLT and then it was a steady progression of ethical disintegration of this administration.

    The time for the ‘Code of Ethics’ is NOW and we must agitate for its implementation without delay.

  • 2

    ETHICS? That was an election ‘gundoo’ for the voter to swallow.

    For ethics to work we need to drive out the large coterie of crooks and shysters who have been allowed to inhabit our political milieu. This is a job for our political leaders to undertake. Not only do they allow these undesirables to be put forward on the party ticket, they also usurp the democratic wish of the people and allow the rejected back in through the back door (aka the national list).

  • 1

    A foundation for good thoughts is usually learnt from school books by all students from grade 4 to grade 12. The curriculum of studies is designed by expert teachers with the purpose of making them good citizens. Subjects like Language, Literature, human relations, social science taught in lower classes are full of stories and plays from popular authors used to teach good ethics, human relations, social living, all depicted in interesting plays where the good hero comes out the victor to impress the children with all good values and denounce the bad. While in college too you are learning relationships, ethics, and following all rules and regulations. After going through these institutions and getting appointed or elected to high positions why should there be a problem in Sri Lankan Parliament?

  • 0

    Do they teach social science, human relations, language and literature in schools from grade 4 to grade 12 in Sri Lanka?. The books we learnt in school have interesting lessons for ethics and socializing with all irrespective of caste, origin and religion. The common factor of friendship in school and college life always kills our pre religious, cast and race differences altogether. The stories we read, and the plays we do in school always teach us the good values for peace and love. How come after reaching high positions in Academics, Managerial and Political positions these values disappear for Sri Lankans?

    • 1

      I think what they introduced to the school curriulum in late 70ties excluded history and other subjects- social studies did not contain much about ethics and morals. My elder sisters and cousin knew much more about the history and geography than I do. Just some knoweldge on the world wars ONLY we learnt at the school in mid 70ties to 80ties.
      I have the feeling on the west, you learn a lot in schools.. Why we learnt on Zoology and Botney, they cover within a semster (6-month term). I am talking about Germany s schooling. And the fact that Syllubues contain not only theories but also practical applications of chemistry and physics. That is the greater difference though srilanken Alevel is highly competitive.

      You are dead right that schools and unis should work hard in terms of provid more awareness programms on ethics and morals – that surely help the many to shape up their own life. Most living back in home country lack their knoweldge in very common areas.
      Today, materialism is given a high place – no respect and dignity is there among the second generation

  • 0

    That is only one of the Election promises…..

    BTW, it is difficult to keep tab on all election promises.
    When it will be done, it will be known.

    For now……….
    Tasty rice & curry meal for lunch with Fruit salad, Ice cream, watalappam etc. provided by the Parliament Cafeteria, (for a subsidized price of Rs150) this is what you can expect!!

  • 2

    The title should be “What happened to Yahapalanaya” !!!!

    Going nowhere- doing nothing!

  • 1

    Dr Fernando..

    having lived on the west for the last 25 years, I feel – not only to parliament but we need to introduce code of ethics to where it is necessary. From Airport on – each time when putting the feet back in the country, I feel, if this people would be taught a better system, there will be no doubt the people would behave well and in compliance with the regulations. From Taxi to home on my way within the country, I get shocked being unable to share to them where we have to begin with.. sure, parliament and schools/Universities are the examples that should pass the message across the nation. They the rulers should start irrespective varied obstacles they would face on their way. This is very important.. if people would nt be taught this at the montesori level, we cant expect them to behave civlized in their adolesence.

  • 3

    It had been a practice to deceive public to come to power for many decades. However Code of ethics is a must for good governance. Who will do the policing? Certainly even the Speaker of the Parliament cannot be trusted. It would be wise to empower Elections Commissioner to enforce code of ethics for all politicians after necessary legislation are made.
    Obviously, if there’s a delay, the President and Prime Minister are not appearing to be honest politicians either. Timely reminder Laksiri.

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