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Ministerial code of conduct falls short on sexual offences- Red Thread

The women and child rights organisation, Red Thread, on Tuesday rubbished government’s proposed ministerial code of conduct, saying that it does not provide for sexual harassment and child molestation.

Executive Member of Red Thread, Karen De Souza told Demerara Waves Online News that the code of conduct should have included the dismissal of persons if faced with enough evidence.

Asked how a satisfactory provision in the code of conduct should be structured, she said “any instances of sexual behaviour with under-aged children, sexual harassment or sexual misconduct in the office would be grounds for removal; it is not about discipline, it is about removal.”

She said dismissals should not merely be left to a police probe and prosecution because proving in a court is tougher. “It is possible to investigate and to prove without going t court. The standard of proof is higher in the court than at the workplace,” she told Demerara Waves Online News.

She said issues would arise about who should conduct the probe and how it should be conducted. “It really shouldn’t be left to be proven in court. Once there is enough credible investigation and there has been an investigation or hearing of some sort that shows that you are tarnishing the appearance of the government…,” she said.

The Red Thread activist noted that harassment at the workplace by mainly men in authority is a very crucial issue for women that might require the application of the Sexual Offence Act to prove consent. De Souza said except in the case of couples, every effort should be made to discourage liaisons between senior and junior staff.

She expressed disappointment that the code of conduct states that it does not seek to regulate the conduct of public office holders in their private and personal lives. The code further states that public office holders have a duty to uphold the law, including the general law against discrimination and sexual harassment, and to act with propriety on all occasions in accordance with the public trust and confidence placed in them.

De Souza argued that the private and public lives of ministers could not be separated because victims would have already lost the case.