Can code of ethics ‘educate’ lawmakers?

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Chairman of the Standing Committee on Ethics and Discipline B.Bat-Erdene submitted a draft resolution on revision to the Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament to Speaker of Parliament G.Zandanshatar. Lawmakers B.Bat-Erdene, S.Byambatsogt, S.Ganbaatar, N.Ganibal and L.Enkh-Amgalan developed the resolution by Order No. 45 of the speaker of Parliament. Thus, the legislators are set to revise the code of conduct adopted in 2009.

In accordance with the amendment to the Constitution of Mongolia, the Act of Parliament and the Law on Parliamentary Procedure were revised and amended last year.

In connection with the legislation, the revision of the Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament was developed to reflect the ethical requirements of lawmaker’ powers, conflicts of interest, budget expenditures, declarations of assets and income, business trips, awards, and election campaigns.

The code approved by Parliament in 2009 has 7 chapters, 14 articles and 20 sub-clauses, while the draft revision expands the code to 12 chapters, 71 articles and 26 sub-clauses.

The bill initiators noted that the purpose of the revised code is to help lawmakers stay true to their oath of office. “As an ambassador of the people, I swear to uphold the interests of all citizens and the state, respect the state, history, cultural traditions, and the Constitution of Mongolia, be free from corruption and conflicts of interest, and fulfill my duties as a legislator honestly. If I break this oath, I will be held accountable,” legislators say when they take an oath to Parliament.

Of course, the current code, or any code of ethics, is enforced for this purpose, in order to keep people true to their oaths and their office. However, it is a different matter whether the code passed in 2009 is not up-to-date, or difficult for lawmakers to comply with, or their ethics and the quality of implementation of documents have deteriorated. The public’s judgement will perhaps provide answers to these questions. In any case, Parliament has decided to update the code.

The draft resolution stipulates that the Standing Committee on Ethics and Discipline will impose a (stern) warning to a member who fails to comply with the code, and reduce salary by no more than 20 percent for up to six months. There is no such provision in the current code. At the very end of the code, there is a single sentence stating, “The implementation of this code will be monitored by the Subcommittee on Ethics, and the rules of procedure of this subcommittee will be determined by special rules.”

The revised code says that a warning will be imposed through a resolution of the Standing Committee on Ethics and Discipline, which will be published on the official website of the Media and Public Relations Department of Parliament within five working days.

Moreover, if a member’s misconduct is of criminal or corruption-related nature, it shall be referred to the relevant authority in writing by a majority vote of the standing committee members.

The Standing Committee on Ethics and Discipline will be responsible for receiving complaints and information related to unethical activities of legislators directly from legal entities, as well as resolving such petitions and proposals submitted to the speaker of Parliament. In doing so, complaints and information shall be received by the chairman of the standing committee and transferred to one of the standing committee members for review. A member will also have the right to request documents, explanations and other reference materials from the relevant authorities if necessary.

The revised code stipulates members to attend session on time and not to miss meetings. It also includes detailed provisions for members to speak from their office’s point of view, to express their views wisely and reasonably, not to give false or intangible information to the public, and not to violate accepted moral norms. Furthermore, there are new regulations prohibiting the illegal use of information obtained in the exercise of one’s duties.

Interestingly, a parliamentarian will be prohibited from appointing or nominating their family member to other organizations in accordance with the draft resolution. Recently, the son of a legislator was appointed to a senior position in the civil service and resigned due to overwhelming public criticism.

However, this does not cover sexual harassment, violence or intimidation by members of Parliament. During the previous Parliament, the revision of the code of conduct was discussed and drafted, and the issue of including such a provision was raised.

In addition, the draft revision of the code developed by the previous Parliament states that except in cases decided by open tender, a lawmaker and their affiliates must not be direct or indirect beneficiaries of a buyer of goods, works or services for state and local needs, state financial reserve staff, and guaranteed borrower business entity. However, the provision was scratched off during the approval process. At the time, there was a scandal among members who had funneled billions from the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Fund to their affiliates.

The raised code also prohibits a Cabinet member from being appointed to a working group established under Parliament, as well as from initiating or proposing the establishment of such a working group.

It also clearly states that a legislator is prohibited to travel abroad with funding from the government, foreign or domestic business entities and organizations and citizen without a permission of the speaker of Parliament.

In addition, members of Parliament will be strongly warned to adhere to diplomacy and not to act against Mongolia’s reputation during an official visit abroad.

Furthermore, the ethical requirements for election campaign are specified in the draft revision. In particular, the provision stating, “During the parliamentary election, a candidate shall notify the relevant authorities in advance if they opened an account and placed cash in an offshore zone, purchased movable and immovable assets, or established a shareholding business entity. This also applies to candidate’s affiliates,” is likely to be included in the code of ethics. The so-called “offshore” law contains detailed regulations, but the current code of conduct for lawmakers does not mention it at all.

The revision of the code stipulates that during election campaign, legislators must not use jobs, financial resources, communications, information, documents, vehicles and other state-owned assists provided in connection with the exercise of their powers. This is regarded as one of the biggest advantages available to incumbent lawmakers during elections, which is almost entirely unregulated and unmonitored.

The bill initiators believe that the new code will help lawmakers build trust of the government and the public as an ambassador of the people, and help them fulfill the oath to be free from corruption and conflicts of interest.

It is understandable that the code will have to be extensively detailed due to of the absurdity and recklessness of past and present lawmakers. However, the code of ethics need to underscore and uphold the high responsibilities of the exclusive authority and inviolability of a member of Parliament.

Parliament spent more than 10 years to create a code of ethics for legislators and has been trying to adopt and implement it for another 10 years. It is important to consider whether the reputation of lawmakers has improved during this period.

We need to review whether Parliament has operated ethically to date, and whether Mongolians still have a sense of respect for the state.

Article 10.7 on investigation and resolution of ethical violations of lawmakers of the draft revision of the Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament has the following provisions.

• Article 10.7 states that in the following cases, the issue of misconduct of a member of Parliament shall be submitted directly to the meeting of the Standing Committee on Ethics and Discipline.
• Article 10.7.1 stipulates that if a declaration of assets and income specified in Article 8.1.25 of the Act of Parliament was not submitted two or more times in a timely manner in accordance with the relevant procedures, the member’s transgression will be reviewed.
• Article 10.7.2 reflects that if accountability measure specified in Article 18.1 of the Law on Parliamentary Procedure was imposed by the speaker of Parliament three or more times, the standing committee will review the issue.
• Article 10.7.3 states that if a member missed plenary session and meetings of standing, subcommittees and temporary committees three or more times without a valid reason, the issue shall be reviewed by the standing committee.

Misheel Lkhasuren