“MPs do not fully realize what they should do in Parliament”, said Svitlana Matviienko, Chairwoman of the Board of the Agency for Legislative Initiatives, in conversation with Olha Aivazovska and Andriy Saychuk on the program “Reform. Parliament” on hromadske.ua.
Discussing the issue of elaboration of a Code of MPs’ Ethics, Svitlana spoke about international experience of drafting such codes as well as focused on issues of lobbying, conflict of interests, and the need to regulate the work of MPs as a professional activity.
MPs’ ethics is not an issue of parliamentary behavior, parliamentary vocabulary, or the argument of “throwing your sword”. This issue is much wider. MPs tend to think that most issues of parliamentary ethics should be solved with the help of anti-corruption legislation. But there are questions of unregulated lobbying; conflict of interest; very important questions of what MPs engage in after they cease to be deputies, how they are recruited and how they use all the privileges granted to them.
The issue of the Code of MPs’ Ethics in Ukraine is rather old. Yulia Tyshchenko, in cooperation with UCIPR, did a very important work, i.e. they considered this issue from voters’ perspective rather than from MPs’, having arranged focus groups across Ukraine to ask voters whether they think this code to be necessary. The results turned out to be rather unexpected because people consider it extremely significant and believe that it should regulate not only MPs’ behavior in the session hall but also outside Parliament. One can observe a certain imbalance; MPs’ understanding of ethics is at a lower level than the awareness among ordinary citizens.
It is important to raise the awareness of MPs because they are people with different levels of education and different professional backgrounds; there are those who were elected for the first time, and we had to work with all of them. Therefore, we started this work. This convocation of the Verkhovna Rada is interesting because it is in this convocation that the name of the committee responsible for ethical questions was reduced to just the Committee on Rules, without the word ‘ethics’ in it. In addition, it does not even have a chairperson to this day, only an acting chairman.
In different countries, issues of parliamentary ethics are regulated differently, and each country chooses its own format. In Britain, it is the Nolan principles; in Sweden, there is a list of laws united in one module; the European Parliament has a big code, which, by the way, does not contain any sanction section. The experience of Estonia, which we have used from the very beginning, demonstrates that it is sometimes possible to adopt a code without sanctions, and then add a sanction section.
Work with MPs
Many international and Ukrainian experts can write a good document, but it will be useless. That is why we work with the deputy corps. It is necessary that each faction should have representatives working on the ethical code, who are constantly immersed in the process. For if different factions and groups are not in agreement on the decision, it will be pointless and will not be legitimate, and nobody will follow it. The Code of Parliamentary Ethics can exist in various forms, and it does not matter whether it will be adopted by a Law of Ukraine, by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, or will become part of the MP’s oath.
Currently, the activities of MPs are regulated by the Constitution of Ukraine, the Law on the Status of People’s Deputies, and the Rules of Procedure of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine. However, very often the regulatory provisions of these documents are simply ignored. For example, when somebody is fighting in the hall, the Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine should stop the meeting. Very often we see that it does not happen, as in the case of Serhiy Leshchenko’s torn jacket or when foul language is heard in the hall.