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Name and shame politicians

Sunday, June 28, 2015
Council for Responsible Political Behaviour continues to...

Chairman of the Council for Responsible Political Behaviour (CRPB) Dr Bishnu Ragoonath is fearful that the war of words between the various combatants could get worse in the run-up to the September 7 general election. Dr Ragoonath, head of the Department of Political Science at the St Augustine Campus of the University of the West Indies, does not, however, think matters will reach the stage it did in Jamaica when election violence claimed the lives of hundreds 35 years ago.
Q: Dr Ragoonath, in the context of the mandate given to the CRPB, is it possible this body can make any positive changes to the political campaign psyche of our politicians?
A: (In his office at the St Augustine campus of the University of the West Indies, Thursday afternoon) I will answer that question in the way some members of my council would answer it, we have already brought about some change, small as it may be.

That is interesting when you look at the bacchanal we are witnessing at this time. What change are you seeing now?
Limited as it might be, but when we released our first statement...we called on political leaders to try and keep their speeches dignified. 
Since that time we believe we got a positive response to the extent that, believe it or not, it is the representatives of these two parties who have criticised their own party leadership.
Let me give you one example, Dr Roodal Moonilal, three weeks ago, he used some unpleasant terms to describe Opposition Leader Keith Rowley.

Wasn’t he responding to something the PP’s opponents had said?
Whether he was responding or not, he used all sorts of terms to describe Rowley. 
We made a release and we told him he was breaching the code.

The next time he got on the platform, he started by saying: “I have been cited for breach of the code and I do not want to breach the code any further...” The rest of his speech that night he never used any word which could have been deemed derogatory in any way whatsoever. Isn’t that a positive change? (Smiles)

Dr Ragoonath, how would you categorise the latest so-called revelations by the leader of the ILP, and isn’t he violating the code that all political leaders signed on to?
(Hesitating) And that’s why when you called me this morning, I wasn’t too sure where you were taking this interview. 
You see, I do not want to answer those questions right now because if it has to come to the council and my opinion is already outside there the other members could…

Doctor, the council is still getting, from what I have heard, an avalanche of complaints. How then could you justify it is making some kind of positive change by the execution of its mandate?
The complaints have been significantly reduced.

Do you all have a scorecard as it were to determine the effectiveness of your work?
I do not have one on me, but there is one in the office, okay? This scorecard would tell us what we have dealt with, what we have deliberated on, and whether we have to issue a press release to erring politicians.

There is a school of thought, doctor, that says politicians would not take you all seriously because the council does not have any power to impose punitive penalties on those violating its code of ethics?
(Elbows resting on table while gesticulating) We have absolutely no penalties.

In the absence of meaningful penalties, do you think these big men would adhere to the rules and they would continue to...I really don’t want to use the word?
I agree with you that they don’t have to. What they know, however, is if they breach the code we would issue a release saying they have done so and we leave it up to the electorate to make their own decision. 
If they are breaching the code at this stage, when they have presented their manifesto would they breach that too?

In other words, doctor, you are saying that the only penalty ‘quote unquote’ is shaming them?
Yes. Name and Shame. Look, they have already begun to behave.

You really think they all have shame...would that work in our political culture?
(Laughing) Not all of them I would agree, would have shame. 
The point about it here is that at least it is the first step...the thing is that this code was only developed last year and yes, we believe that this would take time for people to understand.

Another troubling aspect of this political season, doctor, is the ongoing talk in some quarters that the nastiness would get worse. Do you share that pessimistic outlook?
(Head bowed, quietly reflecting) Yes, I agree.

Therefore, aren’t you all wasting time if you cannot hold these fellows in check?
I agree if we cannot hold them in check but we could keep naming them, shaming them, if that is what it takes. 
If they have shame as you said, but the point about it is that we will keep hitting it until at least somebody takes it on seriously. 
And you know something, Mr Raphael, even if we can reach one-tenth of the people by the time election comes around we would feel that we have achieved a measure of success.

Is this a short-term process?
Of course not. We see it as long term. When I say so, I mean we have worked it out already: 2015, general election; 2016, local election; 2017, Tobago House of Assembly; 2019, local again; 2020, general election. Within one year we would have achieved much.

If the council had the power to impose meaningful sanctions would this assist you in achieving your objectives?
Yes, we will achieve more. A lot more. I am not sure the council in its current form would be able to impose sanctions as we are a civil society organisation.

You did agree that the bad behaviour of some of these politicians would get worse in the run-up to the September 7 polls. What is the worst thing that could happen?
(Hesitating) Well, to be honest...

Would it reach the stage such as in Jamaica when there was widespread violence in the 1980 general election and more than 800 citizens were killed?
I agree our worst would not be to that extent of violence.

The animosity and the language by the combatants, are they more intense than in previous election campaigns?
The language is becoming a bit more caustic but it is not toxic, and I would agree that it is becoming more caustic and could become even a little bit more. 
But I still don’t think it would be toxic enough to poison the society so that after the election we simply disintegrate.
What I believe, and this is where I say it could become worse, is while the language may be caustic, the positioning of the parties in order that they pursue their goals to achieve maximum victory will mean pulling out all stops, and that is what I am fearful of. 
It would not reach the stage of violence but rather making statements which could either be deemed to be racially or all the other sorts of biases...


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