The Malta Independent 8 December 2022, Thursday
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Updated: Ministers to be ‘obliged’ to seek advice from new committee for public appointments

Monday, 25 September 2017, 12:55 Last update: about 6 years ago

Justice Minister Owen Bonnici announced that a new law is to be enacted, “obliging” ministers to seek advice from a newly appointed parliamentary committee before making any political appointments to regulatory boards.

This includes chairpersons, ambassadors, and commissioners in high positions who are normally politically appointed, that is through the relevant minister.

Regulatory bodies that are affected by this include the Central Bank of Malta, the Malta Financial Services Authority, the regulator for Energy and Water Services, the authority for Transport in Malta, the Malta Communications Authority, the Malta Gaming Authority, the Planning Authority, the Environmental and Resources Authority, the Commissioner for Voluntary Organisations, the Lands Authority, the Malta Competition for Consumer Affairs Authority, the Malta Medicines Authority, the Malta Tourism Authority, the National Commission for Higher Education and the Financial Intelligence Analyses Unit.

The permanent parliamentary committee will be made up of five members, three from government and two from the Opposition, “reflecting the make-up of Parliament”, Bonnici said.

Ministers who are seeking to appoint a new chairman to a regulatory body under their remit, for example should the Finance Minister wish to appoint a new chairman of the MFSA, they would then have to write to the committee to express this.

The committee must then formulate their own questions within five days time, pass them on to the relevant minister, who then passes these same questions to the person in question.

That person has five days to reply to the committee’s questions in writing. The committee is then empowered to submit supplementary questions, and can call on the person to appear before the committee to respond to them in person.

A clause within the law dictates however that it is up to the committee to choose whether proceedings are to be made available to the public:

“...questions and replies, unless the Committee otherwise determines, [are to] be made public”.

Asked by The Malta Independent is the decision to keep proceedings hidden from the public will be made through unanimity or through a simple majority, Bonnici replied that it is the latter.

He went on to say that this clause has been put in for reasons or “national security or national interest”, for instance should sensitive questions related to the FIAU arise.

It was pointed out that normally, such a specific clause is relayed in the text of a law, whereas in this case, it is left vague, open, and up to the committee’s complete discretion to decide what is public and what is not.

Bonnici stressed that this clause is intended to be the exception and not the rule.

Ultimately, it is up to the minister to decide on whether to heed the committee’s advice or not.

Bonnici called this change in the appointments of public persons as “innovative” and “revolutionary” as no other government has attempted to bring this level of scrutiny to such appointments ever before.

He cited the whistle-blower’s act, the party financing law and the removal of time-bar for accusations of corruption as a series of regulations this government has put in place to strengthen democracy.

This new move, is another step in that direction, he said. 

 

PN reaction

Reacting, the Nationalist Party said this was a positive step but came too late.

It said it had been insisting that the government should take this step for the past three years.

The PN said the government had, in the past five years made ‘scandalous’ appointments where people were given roles not because of their abilities but because of their loyalty towards the Labour Party. This was done to the detriment of others who had the necessary qualifications.

 

The PN said it would be taking part in the parliamentary committee to ensure that public appointments are carried out according to merit, not political views. However, the Opposition would not be part of a committee that only serves as a screen for decisions that would have already been taken behind closed doors. 

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