The Malta Independent 5 December 2020, Saturday

TMID Editorial: MPs - Persons of trust, conflicts of interest, a debate on possible changes

Tuesday, 27 October 2020, 08:14 Last update: about 2 months ago

Backbench MPs holding official posts in the government has become somewhat of the norm, but this does not mean that it is right.

Both political parties have been guilty of this tactic in some form or other, the PN with its Parliamentary assistants, and the PL though other means. PL examples that come to mind include Alex Muscat, who had served as Joseph Muscat’s Deputy Chief of Staff last administration, Glenn Bedingfield who had held a position in OPM as Parliamentary Question Coordinator, Rosianne Cutajar during the last administration as Commissioner for the Simplification and Reduction of Bureaucracy and others.

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This practice does not seem to have stopped. The most recent situation revolves around Clyde Caruana, who was recently co-opted to Parliament. He told The Malta Independent of Sunday that, despite now being an MP, he will remain in his role as Prime Minister Robert Abela’s Head of Secretariat, in other words his Chief of Staff.

Malta’s electoral system is, essentially, a two-party system, with the Nationalist Party and the Labour Party. MPs are elected directly by the people. Technically speaking, the role of backbench MPs should also be to scrutinise the government where needed, since the government and Parliament are two separate entities.

Caruana in Parliament represents the people of Malta, yet with his position also represents the government. How can he do his job and scrutinise government decisions in Parliament?

The problem is that, if one is receiving pay from the government, then that person is less likely to scrutinise or rock the boat. It results in a conflict of interest due to dual roles. MPs employed by ministries would be dependent on the government salaries

The Commissioner for Standards in Public Life had also highlighted issues with the practice. This form of ‘jobs for the boys’ needs to stop, and backbench MPs should be more than ‘yes men.’ The last administration should be a clear example of how such a situation led a country’s name down the toilet.

Some might argue that MPs need the extra salary. This may well be the case, but in reality Malta should have full-time MPs with a decent salary, rather than part-time MPs with government jobs.

There have been other issues relating to conflicts in the past, such as when it comes to lawyer MPs taking on certain court cases, or others who are involved in businesses which are under Parliamentary scrutiny.

Malta needs full-time MPs, and an open and honest discussion on this issue should take place. In addition, while the salaries would need to be good, the actual number of MPs should also be debated.

Aside from this, Parliament should have more funding to provide research staff who would be available to MPs, to help them conduct their work.

How can MPs, who hold down other jobs, be expected to properly research many new laws, come up with their own proposals about said laws, and criticise particular projects properly all at once? MPs would be able to do a lot more if their Parliamentary work was their sole focus.

While we’re at it, the way Parliament actually operates also needs some tweaking. MPs don’t need 20 minutes to speak, given that most repeat what the previous person said anyway. The European Parliamentary model is far better, and the institution would be able to get more done that way.

Let’s discuss this.

 

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