Current Affairs

Current Affairs




Leaders sign conduct code
Patterson, Seaga pledge to reject violence, intimidation as political strategies

BYRON BUCKLEY Senior political reporter
Wednesday, June 12, 2002

Prime Minister P J Patterson (right), looks on as Opposition Leader Edward Seaga signs the political code of conduct, at Gordon House, yesterday. (Photo: Michael Gordon)

PRIME Minister P J Patterson and Opposition Leader Edward Seaga yesterday signed a political code of conduct that pledged their parties to a rejection of violence and intimidation as political strategies and, at the same time, formally endorsed a policy document committing them to new multi-sectoral initiatives to combat crime in Jamaica.

And as the leaders put their signatures to the documents, Patterson also insisted that his administration would not attempt to use the security forces for political purposes -- as has been claimed by Seaga and his Jamaica Labour Party.

"... On behalf of the Government, I unequivocally declare that we will not attempt to use our law enforcement agencies as a pawn for political purposes nor will we condone its indulgence in oppressive action," Patterson said at the ceremony at Gordon House, the island's Parliament.

Yesterday's signings -- symbolically done in the legislative chamber -- followed last August's summit between Patterson and Seaga, brokered by the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) and held against a backdrop of tensions in the country after the July West Kingston violence that left 27 people dead.

The formalisation of a new political code of conduct -- the first one was signed in 1988 between Seaga and the late People's National Party (PNP) leader, Michael Manley -- also comes ahead of general elections which will take place by year end.

In the code, the PNP and the JLP "affirm their belief in the sanctity of human life and abhor taking human life or the violation of the person of anyone because of their political allegiance".

They also denounce either the procurement or distribution of weapons of any sort to members or supporters of their parties and agree to reject as election candidates, persons who have been convicted of violence or have been judged by a judicial or quasi-judicial body "of conduct of moral turpitude".

An addition to the previous codes is a specific declaration for candidates not to use funds "derived from any source, public or private, to improperly influence electoral choices".

A political ombudsman is to be appointed to police the code and yesterday Seaga underlined the critical importance of this job and the manner with which it is done.

"If there are weaknesses in the capability of this code in ensuring conduct which is in compliance with the objectives set out, it is, to a significant extent, due to the lack of credible and effective leadership in adjudicating complaints," Seaga said.

It was how well the adjudicator did his job that will make the code "more than a document of words without weight".

Patterson, however, said that his party would not tolerate breaches of the code of conduct by its members.

"As president of the People's National Party I give my commitment to the nation that no person found in breach of the Political Code of Conduct will be granted safe haven in this party," he said.

Both leaders, however, agreed on the need for a national involvement to fight the broader issue of crime and violence in Jamaica where over 1,000 people were murdered last year and another 400, including six policemen, have been killed so far this year. These numbers do not include police homicides which average about 145 a year.

Patterson said that his administration accepted that fighting crime could not only be grounded in law enforcement strategies, but had to include efforts that acknowledged and sought to address "the alienating effects of social and economic marginalisation and tribalism".

"We recognise that while a solution to our crime problem requires the concerned efforts of all Jamaicans, it is incumbent upon government to provide the requisite leadership," he added.

His government had begun to implement elements of the strategy, Patterson said.

A critical observation of the strategy, produced by a seven-member committee of political, private sector and civil society representatives and unveiled earlier this year, was the need to address what was seen as an over-centralisation of power and authority that left communities without the capacity to solve their own problems or to settle disputes.

It proposed a wide range of initiatives, from creating community consultative committees to teaching parenting skills and breaking the cycle of political patronage by helping to re-establish and strengthen legitimate leadership in communities as well as the use of reformed criminals and gang leaders to carry the message.

Fundamentally, too, it proposed an overhaul of the police force, with decisive action to remove older officers who are unresponsive to change so to allow "younger, more flexible persons lower in the structure to come into leadership".

Seaga, in his remarks yesterday, in concert with the broad thinking reflected in the strategy, said there were deep and fundamental issues which Jamaica had to face in its fight against crime -- an unjust criminal justice system, a deficient education system and a formal economic system skewed against the lower classes.

"It is the society which shares its economy for all, provides quality education for all and dispenses justice for all, which create from two, one Jamaica and truly one people," Seaga said.