The Malta Independent 8 March 2021, Monday

TMID Editorial: Breach of ethics – Law should be changed

Friday, 15 January 2021, 08:17 Last update: about 3 months ago

One of the first laws enacted by the Labour government under Joseph Muscat in 2013 was that to remove the statute of limitations on cases of corruption involving politicians.

Through this law, any politicians caught in corrupt practices can no longer invoke time-barring, and will be subject to court proceedings independently of when the alleged crime was committed.

ADVERTISEMENT

When the law was enacted, then Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had declared that he will “sleep with peace of mind, but those who committed crimes will not be able to do so; they have plenty to worry about”.

The law meant that cases of corruption against ministers or parliamentary secretaries can be taken to court even after the people holding those positions would have relinquished the post. The law had been welcomed as a sign that the Labour government, in particular Muscat, was to be adamant in fighting corruption. Whether this actually came to be is a matter that has taken a lot of space on the media these last eight years, given all that has taken place under Muscat’s watch.

This particular amendment to the law on corruption came to mind this week when Muscat was in the spotlight for what the Standards Commissioner ruled was a breach of ethics in his final weeks as Malta’s prime minister.

Last Monday, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Anglu Farrugia, ruled that Parliament’s ethics committee can no longer investigate Muscat over abuse of power when he instructed the Malta Tourism Authority to give a consultancy role worth €80,000 a year to Konrad Mizzi, days after the latter had resigned from the post of Tourism Minister.

The law, as it stands, makes no reference to former MPs and, since Muscat resigned from Parliament in October, the committee has no power to proceed against him, because now he is a private citizen. The Opposition is contesting the ruling, arguing that it gives individuals an easy way out to avoid shouldering the burden of political responsibility, reinforced the culture of impunity and harmed the democratic system.

The law related to the setting up of the Standards Commissioner is not the same law that covers corruption, the one that was changed in 2013 to eliminate time-barring.

But the same argument should apply here, and therefore the law covering the office of the Standards Commissioner should be changed to allow action to be taken against MPs who commit breach of ethics or abuse their power from facing consequences, irrespective of whether they are still in office.

In last Sunday’s editorial, The Malta Independent anticipated that Muscat would walk scot-free. We wrote: “If, as things stand today, MPs (in this case, the prime minister), cannot be sanctioned for offences committed while in office just because that office has been surrendered, then this example should be used for the necessary alterations that need to be made for similar cases that might happen in the future.”

A similar law in Britain has been amended to empower the commissioner to probe and impose sanctions against former MPs, the Speaker said in his ruling on Monday. The same should happen in Malta, as we cannot allow politicians to avoid being sanctioned for breaching rules simply because they have left office.

 

  • don't miss