JIS News

Prime Minister P. J. Patterson and Opposition Leader Bruce Golding yesterday (Sept. 20) signed the much anticipated joint agreement and Declaration on Political Conduct, during the weekly sitting of the House of Representatives.
The Prime Minister, in his remarks, said that the code was significant as unlike previous agreements, it served to characterize the actions and service of members of parliament during elections and throughout the period of representation.
He noted further, that the code represented a renewal of the process to reconstruct Jamaica, to create a model for good governance and respect for the rules of society.
“We must, in the process of plural democracy, build a culture of greater political tolerance at every level,” the Prime Minister said, pointing out that while the propensity for violence in the broader society had increased over the last decade, the relationship between the government and opposition inside and outside of the House had stood up creditably.
Among other things, the agreement clearly defines the role of the political ombudsman, the treatment of garrisons and “the deliberate steps to publicly disassociate political leaders from criminal elements and criminal activity,” the Prime Minister said.
As it relates to garrisons, the signatories agreed to “eschew the practise of political tribalism rooted in coercion, intimidation and violence of any kind, and commit to removing and resisting the development of any structures, behavioural, cultural, social or organizational, which reinforce political tribalism.”
The Prime Minister said that rather than implying past association with illegality, which was now being disavowed, it instead declared that members would “not knowingly associate with persons in their pursuit of illegal activities and or any kind of violence and actively cooperate with the security forces to bring such persons before the law.”
Mr. Patterson further informed that legislation to establish an Electoral Commission was to be brought to the House shortly and expressed confidence that there would be unanimity of view between government, opposition and independent members in the Commission’s decision making processes.
For his part Mr. Golding, in his statement, commended the Private Sector Organisation (PSOJ) for its tenacity in ensuring that the agreement was brought to fruition. With respect to the amendments, which were proposed in the initial stages of the agreement, Mr. Golding said these held substance as it was recognized that persons holding or seeking political office were part of a system, which if discredited, would be an indictment on all concerned.
“It is not enough for us to demonstrate that we are the exception; it is not enough for us to differentiate ourselves individually; it is rather incumbent on us to define the rules.and enforce the rule so that there can be few if any exceptions and that where exceptions arise, they can be effectively dealt with,” he noted.
The Opposition Leader said that while symbolism must be respected, the signing would not be meaningful unless it reflected a clear and sincere commitment to comply with the provisions along with a determination “to take action against our own”.
The code applies to all officials of political parties and is binding on persons holding any type of office within political parties including persons approved for appointment to any such office or intending to apply, as well as members of the House of Representatives and the Senate and Mayors and Councillors.
It limits signatories from engaging in, adopting or encouraging any form of violence or intimidation in political activities and states that there should be no procurement or distribution of weapons or ammunition of any sort for use in political activities.
There should be no threats of violence or intimidation expressed or implied against any person or group of persons because of their political affiliation, neither forcing of persons against his or her will to declare his or her political affiliation or acknowledge any affiliation whatsoever.
The code also stipulates that every person should be free to go about his/her lawful business without restriction, harassment or intimidation and that party officials should actively discourage the erecting of roadblocks in this regard.
Meanwhile, candidates or others acting on behalf of candidates should not use funds derived from public or private sources to improperly influence electoral choices and should ensure that all financial donations are derived from legitimate sources.
The declaration, which among other things calls on politicians to disassociate themselves from criminal elements, came out of the expressed concern of private sector leaders, who in May locked their businesses and met in Emancipation Park, New Kingston to call for the restoration of law and order and a halt to the country’s spiraling crime rate.
The signing was witnessed by Political Ombudsman Bishop Herro Blair; Chairman of the People’s National Party, Robert Pickersgill; Party General Secretary, Senator Burchell Whiteman; Opposition Chairman, Dr. Kenneth Baugh; and Opposition General Secretary, Karl Samuda, as well as members of Parliament who were present at the sitting.