The Malta Independent 25 February 2020, Tuesday

TMID Editorial - Big business: Time for rules and regulations on lobbying

Saturday, 8 February 2020, 10:05 Last update: about 17 days ago

The Standards commissioner George Hyzler has said that he is unconvinced by entrepreneur Luke Chetcuti’s claims that he had been bluffing when he said that he had met Economy Minister Chris Cardona to secure a beach concession at St George’s Bay.

The government’s closeness to big business has been a concern for many since the revelation of the Labour Party’s 4th floor. Since then, many have questioned whether there were any backroom deals between certain developers and businessmen, and members of the government. A suspicion which created much distrust in the country’s institutions.

One such scandal involved Luke Chetcuti. Chetcuti, the son of the late Paceville mogul Hugo Chetcuti, was caught bragging about the alleged meeting with Cardona in a French investigative documentary. And so when such news came out, nobody was really surprised. Add in the name of Konrad Mizzi, given that in the video clip the businessman is heard alleging that Cardona sent a message to Mizzi asking him to intervene, and the level of suspicion immediately hits burning point.

The Commissioner had not found a potential breach of ethics by Konrad Mizzi.

The Standards Commissioner’s statement, of him being unconvinced with the businessman’s denial, results in much concern. The Commissioner also found that he did not have enough evidence to conclude that Minister Cardona breached ethics, and recommended that rules to regulate lobbying are needed. This newsroom agrees with such a call by the Standards Commissioner.

Lobbying in Malta is mostly done behind closed doors…. Perhaps now more than ever every ministry should be obliged to publish a register about who the minister and his top aides meet with and speak with, in addition to what such topics being discussed are.

On this particular case, regarding the beach concession, perhaps more investigation is needed.

Indeed the new Economy Minister, Silvio Schembri, said that government should not be ruled by business, but should work with it. This is indeed the right direction to head in, however given the government’s track record over recent years, the phrase put money where your mouth is comes to mind.

Schembri argued that everything boils down to how politicians behave, and this is of course ultimately true. Prime Minister Robert Abela’s decision to leave certain MPs who are surrounded in suspicion out of Cabinet was by far the right one, and by doing so he has earned some space for their replacements to work. But they cannot fall into the same mistakes by their predecessors. Transparency will be key in this regard, and each and every minister must not be seen to favour certain businessmen, or to be controlled by them.

Indeed the government does have to work with business, it is the only way the country can grow and move forward, so government working with the business community must remain a priority.

So what’s the next step? The Environment minister had already mentioned that he will be introducing a transparency register for his minister. Maybe it’s time for the rest of government to do the same?

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