Wed | Aug 4, 2021

Rosalea Hamilton | Searching for appropriate standards of political behaviour

Published:Sunday | June 13, 2021 | 12:07 AM
George Wright
Rosalea Hamilton
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Today, epidemic levels of crime have positioned Jamaica as the most murderous country in our hemisphere in 2020 in a context where violence and abusive behaviours seem to have become acceptable norms. This epidemic has also contributed to the impregnation of 249 girls from rapes, carnal abuse and other sex crimes between January 2020 and March 2021. It is this context that has contributed to the public outcry in the matters surrounding Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Member of Parliament (MP) George Wright and People’s National Party (PNP) General Secretary Dr Dayton Campbell and has fuelled the demand by advocates and other members of the public for better laws and higher standards of behaviour, especially among political leaders. Unless behavioural standards change, our current trajectory will irreparably damage our development prospects for decades to come. To change course, we not only need more effective laws/legal institutional arrangements, but also more effective socio-political institutional arrangements to set and enforce appropriate standards of political behaviour.

LEGAL VS MORAL STANDARDS OF BEHAVIOUR

Most of us will agree that legal standards of behaviour (embodied in laws) are essential for an effective and functional democratic society. Legal standards of behaviour have teeth because they are enforceable by the State. But are these standards enough? No!

We have long recognised that moral/socio-political standards of behaviour also matter. They shape our social, economic and political institutions. They expose and ultimately change unjust and ineffective laws and create the basis for new laws. This is evident in the current push for legislative changes to better protect victims of violence and abuse. While important, non-legal standards are often ignored, or de-emphasised, unless our leaders are sufficiently vigilant in setting examples and reinforcing them through policies and codes of conduct.

The Wright/Campbell matters are complex because they involve, among other things, both legal as well as moral/socio-political standards of behaviour. While the legal issues will be addressed and settled in a court of law, the non-legal issues are being debated in the Court of Public Opinion. As we deliberate, we must go beyond fake news, rumours and cass-cass to more discerning judgements based on fairness, informed opinions, reliable information and the truth. We must also rely on, and create where absent, the processes and decisions of credible, non-judicial institutions that can aid in setting and enforcing appropriate standards of behaviour. The push for impeachment of Parliamentarians for misconduct for impeachable offences such as abuse of official authority is an important step to strengthen the standards of behaviour among Parliamentarians. In 2016, Prime Minister Andrew Holness noted that impeachment will “… ensure that only members of unquestioned integrity sit in the Parliament.”

ROLE OF POLITICAL PARTIES AND OMBUDSMAN

Both the JLP and the PNP have constitutions with disciplinary provisions that should be strengthened to include behavioural standards and adherence to codes of conduct that address sexual harassment and gender discrimination, among other things. The Vision 2030 Code of Conduct should be incorporated and enforced by the parties to set an example for the society. Lessons can be learnt from how the parties have handled the Wright/Campbell allegations.

In the case of George Wright, the JLP’s press release (April 16, 2021) stated that the Party would “discuss the matter of his membership in the JLP within the rules of the Party and to determine next steps.” The General Secretary advised that, although Wright was silent on the matter, he acknowledged the serious nature of the allegations and “grave concerns for his role as a parliamentary representative and inconsistent with the principles, policies and positions of the Government and Party”. The Prime Minister and Party Leader Andrew Holness noted the required standards of behaviour in government and in the JLP: “…it is important that our national leaders have the credibility and confidence of the people as we ask them to change their behaviours and attitudes.” To have real teeth, these standards should be codified in the JLP’s disciplinary rules. If it was Mr Wright’s failure to meet these standards that has led to the JLP’s acceptance of his resignation from the Party on June 4, 2021, the public should expect that the application of these same standards will lead to his resignation as MP for Westmoreland Central. In fact, when Wright became independent, he should have been summarily expelled from the Party, pursuant to Rule 36(3) of the JLP’s Constitution.

In the case of Dayton Campbell, the matter is before the PNP’s Disciplinary Committee. Here, the challenge is to balance the important principle of due process and fairness to Campbell with the serious threat to our society of the alleged behaviours. It should be noted that Campbell’s press release (May 26, 2021) has damning allegations about the behaviour of PNP’s Group Chairman Karen Cross which should also be investigated. However, it is a matter of utmost social priority that, while investigating, the PNP must send the strongest possible signal of its intolerance to epidemic levels of violence and abuse, especially of our children. For this reason, both Campbell and Cross should step aside from their leadership positions until the Disciplinary Committee completes its investigation with public transparency and urgency.

EXTERNAL INVESTIGATION

Beyond the internal investigations of political parties, an external investigation by the Political Ombudsman would also be useful. Section 12 of the Political Ombudsman (Interim) Act, provides that the Political Ombudsman shall investigate any action taken by a political party, its members or supporters, where such action “is likely to constitute a breach of the Code of Conduct” and “is likely to prejudice good relations between supporters of various political parties”. The Code of Political Conduct requires, inter alia, party officials to respect the rights of others, not to make statements that constitute slander or libel, and to reject the use of violence and of intimidation in the conduct of their activities.

To achieve Vision 2030, higher standards of behaviour by political leaders are essential. Jamaica must become not only the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business, but also a place where sexually abusive behaviours or unwanted sexual advances are no longer normalised and where young girls and boys do not have to learn to navigate that space … and a place where teenage girls do not have to fear forceful impregnation and the dysfunctionality of children mothering children.

- Rosalea Hamilton, PhD is the CEO, LASCO Chin Foundation; founding director, Institute of Law & Economics; and chair of Caribbean Philanthropic Alliance. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and rosaleahamilton@gmail.com.