The strictest ethical standards apply in high offices

US President Joe Biden had interesting remarks last week about his view that we are at a “turning point in history” in the “struggle between autocracies and democracies”.

This struggle is shown in the all-consuming war in Europe, but protecting democracy and the freedoms we enjoy is something that all western liberal democracies like Ireland should constantly strive to do within their own established order. Compared to autocracies like Russia and China, this country is a beacon that politicians and citizens often take for granted.

An essential part of democracy is the transparency behind the elections and the political process. In that regard, Sherry Perreault, the outgoing head of ethics and lobbying regulation at the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo), has interesting views to share in this newspaper this week.

Ms. Perreault refers to the busyness of her office with around 20 employees. Founded in 2001, Sipo is the regulatory body responsible for compliance with legislation on ethical issues relating to politicians, public officials and civil servants. It clearly has a lot of important work to do. The regulation of ethical standards is not a stationary function, it is constantly changing.

Ms Perreault raises relevant questions here in relation to accepted standards. Politicians, officials and civil servants act according to these standards, but are the standards high enough? For example, she rightly asks whether politicians should be allowed to routinely employ family members. It can be argued that this practice should be allowed, as politics is often a family matter, but it is a practice prone to abuse.

She also makes a good point about what should be an acceptable gift for a politician or anyone within the broader arena that her office regulates. Elsewhere in this newspaper today we describe some of these gifts, which were presented at a fairly high purchase price. The threshold without reporting obligation is €650; Ms Perreault believes it should be lowered to 100 euros.

She also has interesting views on what needs to be declared and calls for legislation to be updated to require politicians and high-ranking officials to declare assets (including private homes), contracts with the state and liabilities such as mortgages and other debts, at least confidentially to Sipo.

In recent years, this country’s ethics laws have been amended and improved, such as the introduction of the Regulation of Lobbying Act in September 2015, but in this era of online communications, Ms Perreault is also referring to crowdfunding and online campaigns.

Interestingly, Mr. Biden recounted his conversations with President Xi Jinping of China, who doesn’t believe democracies will exist in the 21st. He would say that, right?

But there is one more point. In order for democracy to survive and thrive, liberal democracies like Ireland should always be on the alert and prepared, if necessary all legislation, such as z and big, has served us so well. The strictest ethical standards apply in high offices

Fry Electronics Team

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