The Malta Independent 15 April 2021, Thursday

TMID Editorial: Breach of ethics - Gatekeeping for Muscat

Thursday, 4 March 2021, 10:31 Last update: about 2 months ago

 

For the fourth time so far, Standards Commissioner George Hyzler has found a breach of ethics by former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.

The latest case revolves around the lock-up of journalists at the Auberge de Castille after a 3am press conference in November 2019.

The report, which had been handed over to Speaker Anglu Farrugia some three weeks ago was published in its entirety yesterday, but the publication came neither thanks to Farrugia nor to the two government members who form part of Parliament’s ethics committee.

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In fact, the two PL MPs who sit on the committee – Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri and Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis – voted against the publication of the report. And the Speaker, who had the casting vote, decided that the report will not be published before the committee discusses it.

The Home Affairs Minister said he was voting against the publication of the report because the document “had already been leaked to the media.”

First of all, this was not the case, or at least, not all newsrooms were in possession of the said document. Secondly, if the report was already out, as the minister claimed, why vote against its publication?

Worse still, Camilleri and Zammit Lewis requested a ruling from the Speaker, arguing that the Standards Commissioner “went beyond his legal remit” and that he could never have investigated this complaint since the case had been under investigation by the police. They also said that the report is practically useless since Muscat is no longer an MP and, like in the previous cases where he was found to be in breach of ethics, he cannot be admonished.

The two PN MPs, Karol Aquilina and Therese Comodini Cachia, rightly pointed out that the request put forward by the two government MPs would render the ethics committee toothless and pointless. The government, they said, wanted to prevent the committee from even discussing the report, by asking the Speaker to declare Hyzler’s investigation invalid.

The Labour MPs also argued that the report was worthless since Muscat is no longer a Member of Parliament. Their reasoning is completely flawed. It matters not whether Muscat is still and MP or not – what matters is that any breach of ethics he was involved in is discussed, publicly.

Secondly, the two ministers should, rather than trying to kill a debate before it even starts, push forward changes to the Standards Commissioner Act so that former politicians do not get away scot free just because they no longer sit in the House.

Joseph Muscat had boasted that his government had removed time-barring on political cases – which means that politicians can be investigated even if their transgressions are revealed decades later. But in the case of the Standards Commissioner, things are different, and time-barring comes into effect the moment the ‘perpetrator’ resigns his seat.

This clearly needs to change. If this government truly believes in transparency, accountability and the rule of law, then it should take the lead and be the one to propose these much-needed legislative changes.

 

 

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