New parliament to debate code of conduct

  • Dennis Lister (File photograph)

    Dennis Lister (File photograph)

A code of conduct for MPs will be tabled soon after the new parliamentary session starts in November, the last Speaker of the House has promised.

Dennis Lister, who became Speaker after the Progressive Labour Party’s election win in 2017, said the document had “been in the works for a period of time”, but had been delayed, partly by disruption caused by Covid-19.

Mr Lister added: “Once the new House convenes, it will be one of the early items that will be assented. It’s part of moving Parliament forward and tidying up some of the processes.”

The PLP and the One Bermuda Alliance pledged in their 2017 election manifestos to implement a code of conduct if elected, as part of a series of measures to improve accountability. But the promise was not in either party platform for the General Election or in the manifesto of the Free Democratic Movement.

The code of conduct has been discussed by politicians for decades — but never appeared.

Grant Gibbons, then the leader of the Opposition United Bermuda Party, said in 2003 that a code of conduct for MPs to cover debates, campaigns and elections should be created to prevent a repeat of the “slurs” that marred the General Election that year.

Cole Simons, then a UBP MP, tabled a motion in the House of Assembly for a code of conduct seven years later.

Paula Cox, the PLP premier of the day, said mechanisms already existed to monitor the behaviour of politicians, but suggested that Mr Simons draft a code for consideration.

A bipartisan joint select committee of the House on parliamentary governance and reform, headed by Mr Simons, issued a report in 2014 that called for a comprehensive code of conduct, to be enforced by an ethics committee.

It is understood a draft code was presented to Randy Horton, the Speaker during the OBA’s term in office, but stalled.

The PLP’s election platform in 2017 said: “Your next PLP government will implement a code of conduct for Members of Parliament.”

Mr Lister was presented with the draft code soon after the election, but has not yet managed to table it in the House.

A Progressive Labour Party spokeswoman said: “The code of conduct for members of the Legislature has been approved by the PLP and will be implemented by the Speaker of the House.

“The draft code includes an independent ethics watchdog and we look forward to its introduction.”

She added that there was more work to do on good governance reform.

But she added: “The PLP is making steady progress towards our commitments.”

An OBA spokesman did not make direct comment on the code of conduct.

But he said the party would reduce the size of Cabinet and Parliament if it won power, which would “support more consensus building and reduce the partisanship currently the sad hallmark of Bermuda politics”.

Patrice Minors, a candidate for the FDM, highlighted that employees signed a code of conduct at work, so parliamentarians should also have a set of rules with sanctions for breaches.

She said: “I think a code of conduct is something that is required and it should be mandatory.

“There needs to be some penalty or disciplinary action that goes with the way you conduct yourself in the Houses of Parliament.”

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Published Oct 5, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated Oct 5, 2020 at 8:08 am)

New parliament to debate code of conduct

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