An exercise in futility

Our parliamentarians are about to be brought under a Code of Conduct, to make them behave themselves in the House, we are told. A draft of the Code of Conduct has been made ready which includes the inputs of both local and foreign experts, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya told parliament on Wednesday. The Code of Conduct has been introduced to preserve the dignity and decorum of the House, as well as restore public trust in parliamentarians, the Speaker noted. He called on MPs to make their own proposals and suggestions for improvements, before the final draft is presented to parliament, at a future date.

It is not clear when this Code of Conduct will come into being. It is equally uncertain if a Code of Conduct is going to stall MPs from the Joint Opposition going their merry way, as at present. Especially, there is a lot at stake for the JO to keep things on the boil at the present juncture. After all, this is a parliament which saw JO members keep a night vigil in the House, with some even worse for liquor. What form will this COC take? Will it be enforceable, or, will it run counter to the rights and privileges of members? The Speaker should ensure that the COC is a foolproof one, and, what is more, one that will be binding on the MPs.

A COC, may, or may not, make MPs fall in line, as far as their conduct in the House is concerned, but it is debatable if it can restore the public trust in parliamentarians, as the Speaker is hoping. The unfolding events militate against such a scenario.

One could ask why a Code of Conduct is required to make our MPs adhere to good etiquette and accepted norms of decency. After all, these are all Honourable Members, who, one would expect, to be the last to need a set of guidelines to govern their behaviour in the House. Already, there are Standing Orders that lay down the standards of conduct expected of an MP. Has the Speaker come to the decision that “enough is enough”, going by what has been played out before his own eyes, so far during his tenure, and decided a firm hand is needed to bring about order in the House.

Perhaps, the recent suggestion by former Secretary General of Parliament Nihal Seneviratne at his “Order Please” book launch, for more stringent action to discipline members, following the increasingly deteriorating standards in parliament, may have influenced the Speaker in his move.

Usually, any Opposition party is wont to display its muscle in parliament and resort to theatre, as an attention gaining tactic. This could be born of an inferiority complex .The exception was in 70-77 and thereafter till 88 when the Opposition was enfeebled and could not muster sufficient ‘manpower’ to challenge those governments which enjoyed steamroller majorities. Even then, there have been instances when members of the miniscule Opposition had some of their members evicted from parliament, notably W. Dahanayake (70 -77) and Ananda Dassanayake (77-88). Thereafter, with the advent of the PR system, the Opposition was bestowed with sufficient numbers to challenge the government benches, as was seen during the raucous sessions in the 89- 94 parliament and thereafter, where, for the first time perhaps, the practice of running away with the Mace, which was made into a fine art by Vasudeva Nanaykkara, was witnessed.

It is only natural that things would go from bad to worse, given this scenario and reach the sorry pass parliament has descended into today, where it is not just the nature of the hooliganism, expletives and the vulgarity that has come to impinge on the sensitivities of the decent folk but also emergence of a much more dangerous trend in the form of outright violence in the August Assembly, compelling the Speaker to give a piece of own mind, when confronted with a group MPs wrestling on the floor of the House, during a particular violent session, recently.

Which, once again throws up the perennial question of the quality of the members elected. Professionals and leading members of society, has, time and gain, prevailed on political party leaders to nominate candidates based on their education and good background. However, the leaders are hamstrung, since it is the uncouth, the thug, who rake in the votes for their respective parties, in addition to the criminal types, and, of course, the moneybags who would demand the usual quid pro quo. The progeny and the siblings, of the present lot, too are waiting in the wings in the Provincial Councils to step into the shoes of their papas and mamas. Add to this the latest revelation that as much as 40% of our legislators have not passed their O/Ls, is it any wonder that parliament has plunged into the present morass.

It is therefore doubtful that any Code of Conduct is going to make things different unless there is a complete overhaul. 


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