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Our View: Do MPs need 155 pages of rules to tell them how to behave?

As lawmakers were discussing a proposed code of conduct for MPs on Wednesday, deputies elsewhere were discussing non-performing loans (NPL) held by politically-exposed persons (PEP), which has been the subject of much debate for years.

The solution, as always was to set up another committee which is due to meet again today.  According to the information discussed, of 37 MPs on a Central Bank list, 19 owed one bank a total of €51.2m and 13 of those had NPLs totalling €35.3m.

The appointment of the ad hoc committee is aimed at having results by the end of this month. But in the words of Greens leader Giorgos Perdikis there is a concern that the matter would be shelved. “The delay, the repeated postponements, and time-consuming procedures go against the aim, which is transparency,” he said. The fact that there are parliamentary elections next year, will also be a temptation to kick the can down the road.

This issue of PEPs and their NPLs is a case in point as to why a code of ethics for MPs, which includes accountability mechanisms, is badly needed. Although when you think about it, the apparent necessity to spell out in excruciating detail how elected officials need to behave, is a tragedy in itself.

Isn’t the fact they are paid high salaries and expenses by taxpayers, who could only dream of such an income, supposed to be a disincentive to bribery, corruption and conflict of interest? Yet, one third of MPs from a House of 56, owed one bank millions and most of those were not paying their loans and the public paying their wages has no way of knowing whether what they are lobbying for in parliament is connected to their private business dealings.

Now they’re complaining that the proposed code of ethics is too big. To be fair, it should not really take 155 pages to spell out for MPs that they should be honest and transparent, put the public interest first, and avoid conflicts of interest, aside maybe from some basic guidelines as to ceilings on gift values etc.

The UK House of Commons code for its MPs is 58 pages long, 48 if you exclude the appendices and even less without much of the other blurb so why is ours 155 pages?

Is it because our lawmakers need more reining in? According to some MPs, included are provisions that suppress free speech, freedom of information, and the transparency the code is supposed to safeguard. The code would bar deputies from giving any information to journalists or having “isolated contact” with any. It also stipulates what a deputy could write in articles published in the press. This speaks more to authoritarianism than mere ethics and would indeed damage transparency if MPs could not act as whistleblowers, not that they do all that often. No doubt the code will be so watered down eventually that it will probably be toothless anyway.

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