Behaviour Council: Rowley’s platform remarks ‘insensitive, inappropriate’

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley at the PNM’s political meeting, Bournes Road, St James on June 29. – Jeff Mayers

THE Prime Minister used language that was “insensitive and inappropriate” and breached the country’s Code of Ethical Political Conduct said the Council for Responsible Political Behaviour in a statement on Thursday.

While the council, led by Dr Bishnu Ragoonath, did not reproduce Dr Rowley’s offending words, it said it was acting in response to a complaint by National Transformation Alliance (NTA) about his remarks on a political platform.

The NTA has complained about Rowley’s remarks at a recent PNM rally in St James which NTA head Gary Griffith described as race baiting.

Rowley had questioned the UNC/NTA pact’s proposed stand-your-ground laws to reduce home-owners liability in cases of self-defence against home intruders.

He said, “That they are going to give people of a certain race to shoot people of another race, because they are saying the crime in this country – which we know is across the board – is one race attacking another race.”

The council said the NTA accused Rowley of an offensive utterance using inflammatory language which could cause irreparable consequences.

“The council, having reviewed the speech made by the Prime Minister, is of the view that the language used was clearly inappropriate and insensitive.

“To be sure, the statement from the Prime Minister runs counter to clauses in two sections of the code, the ‘commitment’ section as well as the section on ‘prohibited conduct.’”

Under ‘commitment’ the code says parties, coalitions and candidates must “promote and enforce respect, tolerance, harmony and peace” among supporters and the general public, during the campaign, elections and post-election period.”

The council said under prohibited conduct, the code abhorred the encouragement of violence; the intimidation of candidates or supporters; or the promotion of hatred, resentment or any form of violence.

“As Prime Minister, one would have expected that Dr Rowley would be promoting unity in our diversity, and while it may not have been his intention, the utterances can easily be interpreted as underscoring our diversity and more critically could have led some supporters to embrace and foster hatred and divisiveness for members of other ethnic communities in our society.

“In our quest to guard against such possibilities, Dr Rowley as well as all political leaders must set an example for the citizens to follow and must be always mindful to avoid inflammatory statements.”

The statement said the council had heard a claim that inducements were being made to facilitate party jockeying.

While the council had not investigated and could not rule on the validity of such claims, it reminded all that prohibited conduct under the code said parties, coalitions and candidates must not offer any inducement or reward to join or not to join a party; attend or not to attend a public meeting; vote or not to vote; or refuse a nomination as a candidate or to withdraw as a candidate.

“A third issue considered by the council refers to the issue of smear campaigns, which was brought to the council’s attention. Again, due to the lateness of this concern reaching the council, the council could not have carefully reviewed the claim.”

However the council reminded all of the code’s clauses regarding campaigns.

“Not discriminate on the grounds of race, ethnicity, sex, gender, class, religion or belief, or seek to mobilize support by reference to race, sex, gender, religion or class.”

No one should make false or defamatory allegations in print or speech, inclusive of images and effigies, during an election of a party, candidates, representatives or members.

“Not seek to assassinate the character of or make defamatory comments about any individual, family, professional group or section of the community.

“Not criticise aspects of the private lives of candidates, their families, not connected with the public activities of the leaders or candidates of other parties.”

The council urged political entities to follow the code.

“As we continue in this campaign, it is the hope of the council, as well as the vast majority of citizens that the remainder of this campaign will be peaceful, respectful and based on tolerance.

“Mindful of the fact that there may be instances of possible breaches of the code, the council is urging the citizenry at large to bring to its attention any instances that it may detect during the campaign. Reports of possible violations can be emailed to the council at [email protected].”