The Malta Independent 24 June 2019, Monday

Commissioner for Standards in Public Life currently investigating three complaints

Kevin Schembri Orland Tuesday, 22 January 2019, 16:55 Last update: about 6 months ago

The Commissioner for Standards in Public Life is currently investigating three complaints, he confirmed today.

The Parliamentary Committee for Standards in Public Life today met with recently appointed Commissioner for Standards in Public Life George Hyzler.

This was the first meeting of the committee since it was created. Speaker of the House Anglu Farrugia joined the first sitting, and said that the law will give power to apply a number of sanctions when there is a breach of ethics. He said that this is the only committee, of which the composition is unique as neither government nor the opposition have a majority of members on it.

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Taking office back in November, Hyzler had said on the day of his appointment that this is a new office, and his first task is to build his office by hiring staff. His aims are long term, he said. He had, however, spoken of the need to build a culture, for MPs and persons of trust to feel that they are subject to scrutiny by an authority with investigative and other powers. Hyzler had, on that day, acknowledged that there are high expectations of his office, and said that he hopes he could meet them. The law does not give him the power to investigate issues which occurred prior to 30 October, he explained. The law states that a watchdog will investigate claims of ethic breaches by MPs and those appointed on a position of trust basis in public service.

Hyzler said that he has already recruited the basic staff, and that Charles Polidano is the Director General of his office

Hyzler said that the Office has already begun to receive complaints.  He received three complaints which are being investigated, and one which was not prima facie admissible and was dismissed as it dealt with a person who does not fall under the definition of a person of trust as per the law, Hyzler said.

“As a fact, he said, there are three being investigated and one which was immediately rejected.”

He said that he had organised a meeting with his UK’s counterpart, Catherine Stone, where they were able to better understand how the office in the UK operated.

He spoke about how complaints are dealt with. In the UK, he said, at the beginning they used to provide information on every complaint as it came in, publicly. The repercussions could be serious, he said, adding that now his UK counterpart does not publish anything. 

The procedure is still being discussed within the committee, as questions arose as to what will happen in a case where an investigation occurs but the MP or person of trust is found to have done nothing wrong, as Hyzler highlighted that the law does not deal with this situation. In cases where a breach is found, a report is filed with the Committee.

PN MP Simon Busuttil brought up the recent Venice Commission report, stating that it highlighted potential conflicts of interest with backbench MPs running public institutions.

Hyzler said that what concerns him is that backbench MPs have a duty to hold government to account, and when they themselves form part of the government it could be contradictory. “It is something one must study, and something I will do.”

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