The Malta Independent 18 September 2019, Wednesday

Labour MP reappointed onto OHSA board in spite of Standards Commissioner’s criticism

Jeremy Micallef Sunday, 18 August 2019, 08:45 Last update: about 30 days ago

Labour Party MP Manuel Mallia has been reappointed as the Occupational Health and Safety Authority chairman in spite of Standards Commissioner George Hyzler’s recent scathing report describing the practice of giving backbench Members of Parliament jobs or consultancies with the government as ‘fundamentally wrong’.

Standards Commissioner Hyzler had stated that the appointment of Members of Parliament as persons of trust runs counter to the underlying principles of the constitution. He had noted that Parliament made an exception to this disqualification, although he argued against it.

In his published report, Hyzler notes that every single MP on the government side of the House is employed or appointed in one way or another in the public sector.

Board members for the OHSA board fall under the remit of, and are appointed by, Minister for European Affairs and Equality Edward Zammit Lewis for a period of two years.

In a report published in July, he noted that the public administration should – as much as possible – be protected from politicisation. The widespread appointment of persons of trust puts this principle at risk, particularly when those appointed are Members of Parliament.

Mallia was previously Minister for Home Affairs and National Security until he was removed after his driver was involved in a shooting incident when his ministerial car was damaged by another vehicle.

He was also previously a political aid to members of the Nationalist Party, although he switched parties before the 2013 election when he was elected to Parliament on the PL ticket.

 

The Standards Commissioner’s report

The commissioner concluded that this practice dilutes Parliament’s role of scrutinising the executive government; goes against the underlying principles of the constitution; goes against the Code of Ethics of Public Employees and Board Members; places MPs in a position of financial dependence on the executive and hence reduces the independence of MPs; discriminates between government and opposition MPs and gives government MPs an advantage over opposition MPs; overly politicises statutory bodies and distorts their independence from the government of the day; exacerbates the questionable practice of appointing persons of trust, which possibly goes against Article 110 of the constitution; and creates unnecessary jobs, or else fills genuine vacancies with persons who are not necessarily best suited for that job, against principles of transparency and meritocracy.

Moreover, the engagement of MPs as persons of trust possibly constitutes a breach of Article 55(1)(g) of the constitution, although this would need to be determined by the Constitutional Court.

The report was instigated by a complaint from MP Godfrey Farrugia, who requested that the commissioner investigate whether MPs who served as employees of or consultants to the government had a conflict of interest. The complaint concerned backbench MPs, that is, those who do not hold office as ministers or parliamentary secretaries. However, the report does not deal with individual MPs but with the general principles involved.

In the course of his investigations, the commissioner found that all backbench members of Parliament on the government side have been employed or engaged with the government, directly or indirectly, and some opposition MPs are regular employees of government departments or agencies.

In most cases, MPs were employed or engaged with the government after being elected to Parliament. Such MPs hold appointments as ‘persons of trust’ or on ‘contracts of service’ in government ministries, or as chairpersons or members of the boards of directors of public authorities, or else they have been given consultancy contracts with ministries or public authorities.

The commissioner had noted that giving backbench MPs jobs with the government is widely perceived as a means of appeasing those who are not appointed as ministers or parliamentary secretaries, or as a means of compensating them for their low salaries as MPs. He had called upon Parliament to address the issue of low remuneration of MPs.

The commissioner had declared his intention to revisit the issues raised in his report in due course in the light of any action that may be taken in the interim.

 

Questions sent to the Office of the Prime Minister and the Ministry for European Affairs and Equality were unanswered by the time of publication

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