The Malta Independent 3 June 2020, Wednesday

Ministers should not give improper advantages to private operators – Hyzler; 'Resign', PN says

Wednesday, 25 March 2020, 08:28 Last update: about 3 months ago

The Commissioner for Standards in Public Life has said that when ministers support initiatives by private operators, they should be careful to avoid crossing the line between providing appropriate official assistance and giving an improper advantage.

The Standards Commissioner, George Hyzler, came to this conclusion after considering a complaint by the NGO Repubblika against Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli for appearing in a promotional video produced by the law firm Chetcuti Cauchi Advocates. The video was shot in the Auberge de Castille. 

ADVERTISEMENT

The Commissioner found that Chetcuti Cauchi Advocates produced three videos to promote the citizenship by investment and residential visa schemes. Minister Farrugia Portelli, who at the time was a Parliamentary Secretary with responsibility for these schemes, appeared in all three videos together with officials from the government agencies that administer the schemes and representatives of the law firm itself. All three videos were shot in Castille.

The Commissioner concluded that this may have given an improper advantage to the firm because the videos gave the impression that it was well connected with the authorities. He said: “there is a fine line between promoting a Government scheme and giving preferential treatment to a particular agent. In my opinion, this line has been crossed in the case under consideration.”

However, the Commissioner also found that Parliamentary Secretary Farrugia Portelli had not been directly involved in the production of the videos, other than through her own appearance. This case was the result not of bad faith but of lack of thought on her part, as well as a failure to act promptly to have the videos removed once she became aware of the effects of her actions. 

After the Commissioner held meetings with Farrugia Portelli and Dr Jean Philippe Chetcuti of Chetcuti Cauchi Advocates, Farrugia Portelli instructed the firm to remove the videos from its web pages.

The Commissioner felt that this action, together with his own report, were a sufficient remedy in the circumstances. He therefore closed the case in terms of article 22(5) of the Standards in Public Life Act. 

The minister said in a statement that she had taken note of the commissioner's ruling, but for the Nationalist Party this is a serious situation that should lead to her resignation.

In a statement, the PN said that the film was shot in the room where Cabinet meetings are held. Prime Minister Robert Abela must see that she carries political responsibility for what she did.

In its reply to the commissioner's ruling, Chetcuti Cauchi said that as licensed citizenship agent it was not only entitled to but obliged to promote the IIP and to seek the MIIP Agency’s prior consent before publishing any IIP-related promotion. 

The video in question was a result of research conducted by the firm comparing the due diligence standards of the IIP with that of other programmes represented by the firm. Apart from the logos of the firm on the video, the firm’s representative made objective statements of fact about the sectoral investment Malta was attracting, and made no direct reference to the services of the firm, the firm said. 

Furthermore, with hindsight, the firm agrees with the recommendations made on the choice of filming location and explains that the choice was made intentionally to avoid the impression of preference that would have arisen had the firm filmed at its own offices as the firm does for all legal update videos it releases. 

  • don't miss