The upcoming Code of Conduct has provoked a rare show of unity in the Bangladesh parliament
An unprecedented debate is looming large in the national assembly, which kicks off its winter session today. On its agenda is a proposed bill that will prescribe an ethical and financial code of conduct for members of parliament, for the first time in the country’s history.
The Code of Conduct Bill for MPs 2012 defines the principles of selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership that MPs are required to follow.
It also makes them legally bound to fully disclose financial information on their families as well as themselves, to resolve any conflicts of interest and to give reasons behind their decisions and directions.
The bill seeks the formation of a nine-member committee, headed by the Speaker with proportionate representation from the main political parties, to ensure its enforcement. The committee will be authorized to investigate allegations against MPs, prosecute and take punitive measures that would include expulsion from parliament.
It will undoubtedly be hailed by civil society groups, who have been demanding it for several years.
As a democratic institution, the country’s parliament has never been effective. MPs’ absence or irregular attendance, frequent boycotts and puerile exchanges of insults and tirades between ruling and opposition party members have all been regular features.
But these factors pale into insignificance alongside the overriding problem of wholesale corruption.
A recent survey by the Bangladesh chapter of TIB, Transparency International, claimed that 97 percent of lawmakers are involved in ‘negative activities.’
“If this bill is passed, it will ensure parliamentarians’ transparency, accountability and proper use of power. It will make them equal in eyes of the law, like any other citizen of the country,” said TIB board member M Hafizuddin Khan.
He added that if neighboring India can have a Code of Conduct Act for MPs, it is possible in Bangladesh too.
Initially tabled in 2010, the bill was endorsed by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in September. It is expected to be debated in this parliamentary session and a two-thirds vote in its favor will see it enshrined in law.
But this majority will not be easy to achieve; in fact, most members are thought to be strongly against it, to the highly unusual point where both the ruling Awami League and the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party are for once united in opposition.
“I don’t think a Code of Conduct is needed for MPs,” said Awami League parliamentarian Iqbalur Rahim. “They are the people’s representatives and people voted for them knowing their past and present. No law is needed to restrict behavior.”
Advocate Syeda Ashifa Ashrafi, a BNP MP who has made headlines with her aggressive, anti-Awami League words, finds herself in agreement on this issue.
“If the lawmakers follow the orders of parliament, no Code of Conduct is required” she said. However, she also felt obliged to allege that it is ruling party MPs who are mostly responsible for breaches.
Report claims 97 percent of lawmakers are corrupt