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DEVELOPING AN UNDERSTANDING OF ETHICAL CONCEPTS

What is the public interest?

  • "Public interest" is difficult to define, but broadly speaking it refers to acting or taking decisions in favour of the public as opposed to acting in favour of one’s private interests.

What is a private interest?

  • If a Member or his or her family or friends benefit financially from an action, lack of action or decision by a Member because of his or her position in Parliament, then that is considered a private interest.

What is a conflict of interest?

  • A conflict of interest arises when a Member’s personal interest conflicts with the public interest. For example, assume the Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs and Tourism is considering the thickness of plastic bags and a Member of that committee owns a factory that produces plastic bags. This situation creates a conflict of interest for the Member.

When is a conflict of interest permitted?

  • Let us assume, for example, that the Portfolio Committee on Mineral and Energy is deciding on some aspect of electricity tariffs. As all consumers of electricity have a general interest in tariffs, this cannot be construed as a conflict of interest.

What is lobbying?

  • "Lobbying" refers to a Member receiving payment to make representations or to attempt to influence a decision on behalf of a third party.

What are post-employment tenure restrictions?

  • These restrictions come into play when the prospect of future employment creates a conflict of interest for a Member. For example, a member of a committee may provide information or favours to a company on the basis that after his/her tenure as Member he/she will obtain employment from that company. In some countries there are rules that restrict members of legislatures from obtaining employment in sectors where conflicts of interests are likely to arise. This problem has occurred when the state has privatised its assets and Members have switched sides, using information obtained from government to represent the interests of a bidder.

What are the guidelines for ethical behaviour?

  • Members should take decisions solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends.
  • Members should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that may influence them in the performance of their official duties.
  • In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, Members should make choices on merit.
  • Members are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must subject themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.
  • Members should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly so demands.
  • Holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.
  • The Code requires that when a Member lobbies a Minister to assist, that Member is required to disclose private interests.
  • No Member may lobby for remuneration. ("Remuneration" in this instance means any financial gain or benefit.)
  • The code does not prevent Members from making representations on behalf of others, as long as the interests are disclosed and the Member does not receive remuneration.
SECTIONS OF THE JOINT RULES PERTAINING TO THE COMMITTEE ON ETHICS AND MEMBERS' INTERESTS.

121. Establishment
There is a Joint Committee on Ethics and Members' Interests.

122. Composition

  1. The Joint Committee on Ethics and Members' Interests consists of -
    • Twenty seven Assembly Members; and
    • Thirteen permanent Members of the Council.
  2. The Committee must be composed in such a way that the majority party in Parliament has one Member more than the combined total of Members representing all other parties in the Committee.

123. Chairperson and deputy chairperson

  1. The Joint Committee on Ethics and Members’ Interests must elect one of its Members from the one House as its chairperson and one of its Members from the other House as its deputy chairperson.
  2. The chairperson and deputy chairperson are not entitled to remuneration.
  3. The chairperson presides at meetings of the Committee.
  4. If the chairperson is unable to perform his or her function the deputy chairperson performs the functions of the chairperson.

124. Functions

  1. The Joint Committee on Ethics and Members’ Interests must –
    • Implement the Code of Conduct for Assembly and permanent Council Members set out in the Schedule;
    • Develop standards of ethical conduct for Assembly and Council Members;
    • serve as an advisory and consultative body, both generally and to Members, concerning the implementation and interpretation of the Code;
    • regularly review the Code and make recommendations for its amendment; and.
    • perform the other functions and exercise the other powers reasonably assigned to the Committee in the Code and in terms of resolutions adopted in both the Assembly and the Council.
  2. The Committee must report to both Houses at least annually on the operation and effectiveness of the Code.

125. Public access

Meetings of the Joint Committee on Ethics and Members’ Interests must be held in closed session when the Committee considers a matter affecting a specific Assembly or Council Member and the Committee regards that matter to be confidential.

126. Decisions

A question before the Joint Committee on Ethics and Members' Interests is decided when there is agreement on the question among the majority of the Members present, provided at least half of its Members are present.

127. Confidentiality

  1. Each Member or alternate Member of the Joint Committee on Ethics and Members' Interests must swear or affirm, before either the Speaker or. the Chairperson of the Council, depending on the House of which that person is a Member, to comply with the requirements of confidentiality set out in the Code.
  2. The Registrar appointed in terms of the Code and each Member of the staff assigned for the work of the Committee must swear or affirm, before either the Speaker or the Chairperson of the Council, to comply with the requirements of confidentiality set out in the Code.