Cook Islands Developing Code Of Conduct To Prevent Corruption

Parliamentarians, officials, bureaucrats to be subject to new ethics rules

By Richard Moore 

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, ) – Anti-Corruption stalwarts are continuing their push to prevent dodgy dealings among parliamentarians, officials and bureaucrats.

A new Code of Conduct is being developed for those elected to, working in or providing services to parliament.

The second draft of the code is ready for further consultation and if seen as being suitable will be reviewed by Crown Law and then be put before parliament.

The men heading the anti-corruption code are Justice minister Nandi Glassie, Clerk of Parliament John Tangi and Tangata Vainerere, the executive director of Pacific Legislatures for Population and Governance.

They are keen to make people in important positions aware of what can constitute corruption and have had a number of education sessions with Members of Parliament about the issue. They have also met with Koutu Nui and traditional leaders to explain the code they are developing.

At some point in the next 12 months the trio will be consulting on the code.

Glassie says: “We have established an anti-corruption team, called GOPAC - Global Organisation of Parliamentarians Against Corruption to warn Cabinet ministers and politicians about temptations of corruption.

“It’s part of the UN Convention Against Corruption. That’s the UN body that looks at whole area of corruption worldwide.

“We’ve all read articles in paper, we’ve had court cases … we hope the Code of Conduct will prevent future re-occurrences. Or, if they happen, they can be dealt with.

“We didn’t have one properly constituted by parliament, apart from standing orders that talk about prevention matters.”

GOPAC has now pooled everything into one document.

Vainerere  says:  “We studied all the specific documents relating to anti-corruption at this level. We also studied international models on code of conducts for parliamentarians.

“We’ve developed a document that we feel is at a level that is suitable for us. It is workable, it is not over cumbersome in terms of implementation and cost.

“It’s a fairly tight mechanism we are establishing without imposing too much like other countries. They have full time commissioners and layers of bureaucracy that waste money.

“We are proposing a succinct and basic system, that we know can work with the co-operation of those involved.”

One of the plans is to re-establish a Privileges Committee to police the code. If an MP ws thought to have broken the code then it would be up to the Clerk, Tangi, to present a case to the committee.

The clerk doesn’t do the investigation, but he will be able to engage people to do so.

Vainerere says: “These are powers not built into current system, but we see the need for it.

“If the committee finds this offence of a minor nature the sanction will be internal. It can’t impose jail or monetary fine, but use other things like suspension from parliamentary sittings and loss of benefits.

“If the committee finds evidence of criminality as an MP they refer, through the Clerk, to the police.  That’s when the police will take it over as a criminal case.” There are other punishments for things you do in the proposed code.

Vainere says: “For example if an MP is convicted of any crime related to corruption and your punishment is 12 months in jail it already says you lose your seat. But it doesn’t say for how long.

“So what we’ve done is expanded that and proposed if you get convicted under those conditions you are going to be ineligible to run for public office for four years afterwards. It doesn’t have to be four years - it could be longer, but we don’t want to have it shorter because that’s  just a slap on the wrist for anyone convicted at that level.

“Because the power of parliament to punish is zero, everything goes to court.  But with this a parliament can actually discipline an MP within its own system.”

Glassie says: “Corruption is corruption, whether it is small, medium or big. It is also a way of warning ourselves as MPs, or people in responsible positions, that we are only the guardians of the facilities of government not the users.”

Tangi adds: “The mentality of people as far as corruption is concerned is on MPs. But let me assure the general public there is corruption even in the churches, even in the traditional leaders area.

“We see corruption as a universal issue. It does not only affect politicians,  it affects all sectors of society.”

Cook Islands News
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