The Malta Independent 20 August 2019, Tuesday

PM did not breach code of ethics in Girgenti Palace party – Commissioner for Standards

Tuesday, 2 April 2019, 13:59 Last update: about 6 months ago

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s organisation of and behaviour at a party in his official residence at Girgenti Palace did not breach the ministerial code of ethics or any other statutory duty, the Commissioner for Standards for Public Life George Hyzler has concluded.

Hyzler was asked to investigate the party by Indepedent MEP candidate Arnold Cassola after a video of the Prime Minister and his wife Michelle Muscat chanting ‘ma taghmlu xejn ma’ Joseph taghna’ during  party at Girgenti Palace went viral on 23 February.

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The commissioner concluded that Muscat’s behaviour, even in singing along with what was a chant of a partisan nature, does not constitute a breach in the ministerial code of ethics or any other statutory duty. 

The commissioner also concluded that the organisation of a private event in the official residence which, he found, was not financed in any way by public funds was also not in breach of the ministerial code of ethics or any other statutory duty.

The complaint was filed by independent candidate Arnold Cassola.

 

WhatsApp Video 2019-02-23 at 18.15.29 from The Malta Independent on Vimeo.

“It is true that the Code of Ethics for Minister and Parliamentary Secretaries obliges ministers (or, in this case, the Prime Minister) to behave to the highest order even on a personal basis”, Hyzler wrote in his conclusions.

The commissioner however wrote that one must look at each situation objectively to reach the conclusion as to whether the minister’s behaviour has indeed broken any such codes of ethics.  In this case, there is no basis to reach the conclusion that the Prime Minister had behaved in such a manner that is improper.

For one to celebrate within the limits of decency in one’s house cannot be considered to be behaviour that should be censored, Hyzler said.

If a person is entitled to live in a state residence, then that person has the right to organise celebrations or private events in that residence and invite friends and relatives, Hyzler said.  If the guests of a private event sing a partisan chant, this does not mean that the activity somehow ceased from being private and instead became a political activity, the commissioner concluded.

In these circumstances therefore, it cannot be concluded that the residence was used for political purposes, Hyzler wrote.

The commissioner wrote that it had also been established through the Principal Permanent Secretary, and then confirmed by the Prime Minister himself, that no request for public funds to finance this activity had been made.

In requesting the investigation, Cassola said the video shows the Muscats chanting partisan songs in state property. He asked them to open an investigation into the “unethical” behaviour and the “illegal donation” of state property to be used for partisan activities which, he said, goes against the party financing law.

Replying to the commissioner, Cassola said that he disagreed entirely with the conclusions that he had drawn, adding that rulings such as these will give more leeway to “arrogant politicians” to continue abusing their positions of influence to the detriment of the whole of the general public.

The only comfort that Cassola said that he could take from the report was that the commissioner had recognised that the chant shown being sung in the video is of a partisan nature.  This being said, the former AD leader said that he was extremely surprised to note that, according to this ruling, there is no problem in allowing chants of a partisan nature to be sung in a state residence.


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