Why do politicians dislike codes of conduct?
10 September 2012
Politicians, generally, don’t seem to like being subject to a code of conduct that incorporates meaningful standards. This appears to be the case regardless of jurisdiction or geography. The rationale is that the ballot box is the ultimate monitor of behaviour and that there is no need to otherwise regulate what they do. They are adept at turning a blind eye to scandalous (and not infrequently criminal) abuse of political office to which codes, almost universally, are a reaction .
A willingness by all politicians to be open about what they do would make any code less relevant – whether in disclosing campaign contributions, the nature of interest groups that seek to enlist their support, the source and scale of all gifts and hospitality, expense claims for their official activities or the costs of their travel and subsistence.
In New Zealand the private member’s bill for an MPs’ code was not reintroduced onto the order paper following the 2007 general election – and had minimal support when at select committee anyhow. The same MP apparently has another draft bill awaiting the ballot for introduction – the Members of Parliament (Code of Ethical Conduct ) Bill.
Last week the Prime Minister indicated support for a private member’s Lobbying Bill currently being considered, “… provided what is sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander…” meaning that if employee organisations are to be excluded from the scope, so should employer organisations. (Unions consider lobbying for employment conditions and remuneration to be public interest matters, unlike employer concerns which they consider as matters of private interest.)
In the UK, support for measures to control the lobbying of MPs by registration of lobbyists now reflects the political divide. Ministers are not persuaded by the strength of submissions for extensive and prescriptive regulation at present championed by the Opposition.
Transparency International reports that in the European Parliament the issue of codes of conduct is a hot topic at the moment, and “…it seems that some members of the European Parliament still are not taking the issue of ethics seriously…” The code imposed on MEPs’ in 2011 may well be watered down, now that the public uproar about payment for votes has died down. Last year’s reforms included tracking the influence of external advice on amendments and legislation, safe channels to blow the whistle on violations, and rules on second jobs, gifts and hospitality.
Apparently there is little enthusiasm now for ensuring levels of disclosure required by the code. TI says that a number of MEPs are outraged at the new disclosure rules on gifts and trips and are looking into ways to overturn the decision.