The Malta Independent 7 December 2019, Saturday

TMID Editorial: The time has come to ban MPs from sitting on public boards

Monday, 11 November 2019, 10:14 Last update: about 25 days ago

Nationalist party MPs have begun resigning from boards on which they sit, and perhaps the time has come to ban MPs from sitting on boards altogether

Marthese Portelli was the first, resigning from the Planning Authority Board. Her reason was that "there is a systemised institutional breakdown within the Planning Authority." Following her resignation, Ryan Callus resigned from the Lands Authority Board, arguing that it was due to the unprecedented interference by the government in the board’s functions and that of the authority, and after the government shifted the taking of decisions from being under the board’s responsibility and gave them to Land Authority chairman James Piscopo.

PN Leader Adrian Delia had endorsed both decisions. In addition, referring to the Planning Authority, the PN said that it will not be appointing another representative to the PA, as it “It is clear that the PA, like other institutions, has been taken over by forces and people who completely ignore the common good, work for personal interests and care only for their political conveniences, obligations and personal friendships. We are here facing a systematic institutional breakdown, and the PN shall not be part of it,” a spokesperson had told The Malta Independent.

Indeed the reasons for not being present on these boards are clear, but perhaps there is an even greater reason why MPs should not be on boards in the first place.

Marthese Portelli had told this newsroom that she does not believe that MPs should sit on boards at all. “Our role is to legislate and to ensure proper governance which also includes the pushing for the revision of outdated policies and the introduction of new policies in the interest of the common good.  Some may point out that one's vote on the Planning Board will show clearly the party's position - true, but that can also be conveyed through one's role in Parliament. I would prefer having a system where MPs are free to say what they believe in through their parliamentary seat, rather than to be shackled by sitting on the Board.”

How right she is. MPs sitting on boards shackles them from speaking out about issues pertaining to that board, as they might be putting themselves in a legally problematic position. If a PA board member were to publicly state that a development is wrong, then vote on the same board, couldn’t that influence other board members?

Indeed the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life, through a recently published report, has now backed the argument that MPs should not sit on boards.  “It is proposed that persons of trust and members of boards, committees and other officially appointed bodies should be disqualified from serving as MPs. These appointments are at the discretion of the government, so again the appointment of MPs to such posts undermines the independence of Parliament.”

MPs, especially government MPs, would be less likely to scrutinise their own party if they are tied to government appointments where they are paid a sum of money. As such, their impartiality is shattered.

At the other end of the argument, is that opposition MPs on such boards can help keep those boards under scrutiny. Perhaps a balance can be found, maybe the government and opposition should appoint representatives who are not MPs to these institutions, rather than members of Parliament.

That way the same level of scrutiny can remain, but MPs will not be shackled from speaking out about issues pertaining to those entities.

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