Bishop’s Code of Ethics call

Addressing the island’s top business executives at the latest monthly meeting of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Roman Catholic Bishop of Bridgetown, The Most Reverend Dr Charles Jason Gordon, called on societal leaders to push for the adoption of a Code of Ethics in time for the next general election.

The call is not only timely but also appropriate in light of concerns expressed in recent years about the absence of transparency in relation to the sources of financing which political parties receive to foot increasingly expensive campaigns.

Another troubling elections-related issue, on which there has been much public discussion, is the reportedly widespread practice of vote buying which, if allowed to get out of hand, can undermine the democratic process and the true expression of the popular will.

Immediately following the last general election in 2013, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart complained bitterly about this issue and vowed to take decisive action. It is a major disappointment to many that he has not yet followed through on the promise by moving at the legislative level to stamp out what amounts to an unwelcome intrusion in our politics.

There is significant concern too, especially among Barbadians eager to see a major enhancement of our system of democracy and the adoption of an improved governance model more reflective of 21st Century reality, that politicians seeking election to public office indulge in too much character assassination, often to the amusement of the masses. As a result, there is insufficient meaningful discussion of critical national issues which impact on the general well being of Barbadians.

Recognizing the importance of building a better future for Barbados, especially against the backdrop of the current observance of the island’s 50th anniversary of Independence which is a significant milestone that implies the attainment of a level of maturity, we endorse Bishop Jason’s call. Indeed, it echoes positions we have espoused in previous editorials on the subject of improving governance and building a better politics in Barbados.

Besides committing politicians to adhere to an agreed standard of conduct during the next general election which, constitutionally speaking, is roughly a year- and-a-half away, the adoption of a Code of Ethics would hopefully result in an improved environment and framework for more effective, broad-based discussion of issues related to our future so as to facilitate the development of more relevant public policy.

This is what democracy is about; full participation of the people in the deliberation of issues of national importance followed by the election of persons to take decisions at the governmental level based on a mandate which reflects popular consensus on the said issues. In addition, democracy is about having  effective mechanisms for accountability by politicians to the people on whose behalf they are supposed to act.

Bishop Jason saw a major benefit that could flow from the adoption of a Code of Ethics. Obviously cognizant of the widespread cynicism which exists among the general populace in relation to persons in positions of power and authority, not only in politics but also others spheres of national life, he noted: “If we as leaders are willing to hold ourselves, the political parties and the electorate accountable to the highest standards, then we will create the conditions of hope in our nation for our people, the next generation and investors.”

As the next general election will soon be upon us, it is important that the societal interests are mobilized as soon as possible to begin work towards making the Code of Ethics a reality. Unofficially, the election campaign has already started at the constituency level as many candidates are more visible in the field, especially on weekends, canvassing and engaging in other political marketing activities.

While there are some among us who strongly object to church leaders speaking on political issues, it ought to be recognized that they, as citizens, have a vested interest in ensuring that our politics is guided by a moral compass. It is for this reason that we believe the church is probably best suited to spearhead the initiative on the Code of Ethics. If it is achieved, it probably will be the first time in local history that a Code of Ethics is in place to establish behavioural standards for general elections.

Such, however, is standard practice in many countries. We in Barbados boast of a long history of free and fair elections. Even though this is generally indisputable, it does not mean there is room for complacency. Our overriding objective should be to ensure that what obtains is consistently improved on because there is always room for good to become better and better to become best. Such is the path to excellence.

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