Still no Commissioner for Standards, a year after law was enacted

The commissioner's task is to investigate breaches of ethics by MPs

In March last year, legislators approved the Standards in Public Life Act. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

In March last year, legislators approved the Standards in Public Life Act. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

A year after Parliament gave the go-ahead for the appointment of a Commissioner for Standards to scrutinise the behaviour of Members of Parliament, the post is still vacant despite the good governance pledges made by both major political parties.

The government has for months been saying that “discussions have started” on the new appointment.

And the matter seems to have been put on the backburner by the Nationalist Party, with no replies received from the party to this newspaper’s questions.

In March last year, legislators approved the Standards in Public Life Act which had been in the pipeline since the end of 2012 when the Nationalist Party was still in government.

According to this promised law, a watchdog should be investigating breaches of ethics committed by MPs and those appointed on a position-of-trust basis within the public service.

The Prime Minister has to kickstart the process by issuing the legal notice if he wants its implementation

Apart from the Commissioner, who would require the support of two-thirds of all MPs to be appointed, the Act also provides for the establishment of a parliamentary committee that would propose sanctions against offending legislators. However, MPs would have the final say on what course of action to take, if any.

READ: Commissioner will not probe past breaches

For some reason, however, the legal notice which implements this legislation had been put on hold and is yet to be published.

In June last year, addressing the Labour Party’s general election victory celebration in Gozo, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat promised to fill the vacant post by the end of summer. The commitment was made in the wake of an appeal by the then outgoing Opposition leader Simon Busuttil.

However, the end-of-summer deadline has long come and gone.

Asked about the delay, a government spokesman told The Sunday Times of Malta that “discussions between government and Opposition are still under way”. He gave the same reply when the matter was raised last February.

The Nationalist Party gave no reply whatsoever by the time of going to print last night.

Times of Malta also sought comments from Democratic Party MP Godfrey Farrugia, who has been vociferous about the need to beef up Malta’s “integrity system”.

“It is amply clear that there does not exist goodwill over the appointment of a Commissioner for Standards, neither on the part of the Prime Minister, who has not even implemented the law, nor the Opposition leader,” Dr Farrugia said.

“The Prime Minister has to kick-start the process by issuing the legal notice if he wants its implementation. The next step would be to consult with the Opposition. The fact that Dr Delia never mentions the issue publicly shows that he is not receptive to the Act,” he added.

The MP also renewed his call for certain provisions of the Public Administration Act, which had been suspended in 2006, to come into force. He first made his appeal last June, in the first days of this legislature.

The PD had pointed out that these provisions would serve to improve meritocracy in the public service and set up a Merit Protection Commission. The latter would have the remit to audit the appointment of employees of government agencies and government entities to ensure they are made in accordance with the law.


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