Roman Catholic Archbishop Joseph Harris has called on society and by extension political parties to stop playing the blame game and to focus on developing the society.He was one of the speakers at the launch yesterday of the Code of Ethical Political Conduct and the Council for Responsible Political Behaviour at the Hilton Trinidad and Conference Centre, Port-of-Spain.
Saying old habits were hard to break, Harris urged: "We as a people have developed certain habits which are not the best and the code seeks to help us to change those habits and build better habits where politics and canvasing and campaigning are concerned."He hoped that through the code a new culture would be built but said that would not be achieved overnight.
"We don't expect to have 100 per cent compliance immediately, even though I suppose all of that would be welcomed, but we do hope that the code would help us so that ten years from now we could look back and say, 'Yes our political culture has changed.'"And not a people who focus on the character assassination but on the projects, the ideas, the philosophy and the development which we all seek for our country," Harris added.
Head of the council, Dr Bishnu Ragoonath, when asked whether he believed political parties had broken the code, said:"I am not saying they have broken the code. Political parties may have crossed the line in some instances but as of now as we go forward we would like to see that they abide by the code."He added the onus was also on the political parties to educate their members regarding their behaviour.
"A lot of this code does not only relate to the leaders or the platform speakers but also supporters of the party and how these supporters would behave... do you go and deface other people's posters and that sort of thing?" he asked.Asked to comment on whether he believed the UNC's poster, saying "Hide your children from Rowley", should be pulled down Ragoonath said he was unaware of such a poster.
He said the council had no powers of sanction and all it could do was to use moral suasion in the hope the parties, candidates and supporters would hold to the values and principles as outlined in the code."We need to promote a political culture that is far better than what currently exists," Ragoonath added.
The Council For Responsible Political Behaviour was set up to encourage moral, lawful and responsible conduct during this year's general election.Last July the country's main political parties received for consideration a copy of the code which was put together by a committee led by Harris and several civil society groups.
They included the Inter Religious Organisation (IRO), Catholic, Anglican, Methodist and Presbyterian Churches, Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha, the Anjuman Sunnat ul Jamaat Association (ASJA), T&T Chamber of Industry and Commerce, T&T Transparency Institute, Women's Network of NGOs, the T&T Publishers and Broadcasters Association and the Communication Workers' Union.
The code was endorsed last September by the United National Congress (UNC), People's National Movement (PNM), Congress of the People (COP), Independent Liberal Party (ILP) and Movement for Social Justice (MSJ).
The code's objectives
The code is intended to achieve the following objectives:
�2 Fostering of democracy through peaceful, free and fair elections, conducted at regular intervals in which voters are permitted to cast their ballots freely, without interference, fear, intimidation or bribery.
�2 Promotion of respect for human rights, the pursuit of civil and political liberties, the tolerance of divergent opinions, full and active participation of all in the political process.
�2 Encouraging participation in the electoral process by the People and to uphold their right to make political choices.
�2 Promoting an election process free from violence