The Malta Independent 24 July 2021, Saturday

Carmelo Abela breached ethics with advert ‘intended to boost minister’s image’ - Hyzler

Wednesday, 14 April 2021, 18:21 Last update: about 4 months ago

OPM minister Carmelo Abela breached ethics with the publication of a newspaper advert that was intended to boost his image, rather than provide information of value to the public, Standards Commissioner George Hyzler has found.

The report was published on Wednesday after an agreement was reached during a meeting of Parliament’s ethics committee. It had been sent to the Speaker a number of weeks back.

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The debate was derailed last week when the government representatives – Edward Zammit Lewis and Glenn Bedingfield – decided to boycott a scheduled meeting, claiming that the report had been leaked to the media.

The investigation by the Standards Commissioner was instigated by civil society group Repubblika. The issue revolved around a full-page advert that was printed in a number of local newspapers. Repubblika claimed that there was a misuse of public funds.

In his conclusions, the Standards Commissioner said the advert “was clearly intended to boost the image of Minister Carmelo Abela rather than provide any information of value to the general public, given the prominence of the photograph and the absence of informative content on the work of the ministry.”

The expenditure of public funds on the advert “was not warranted,” he continued. “It served the interests of the Hon Carmelo Abela as a member of Parliament who was seeking to retain his ministerial post.”

“By the Minister’s own admission, the use of funds for the advertisement was approved by ‘the Public Service’ – that is to say career public officers serving in his ministry.”

“They should not have been placed in the position of having to approve funding for such an advertisement,” the Commissioner said.

“It is therefore my considered opinion that the Minister’s conduct constitutes a prima facie breach of articles 4.9, 4.10, 5.3 and 7.4 of the Code of Ethics for Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries, as set out in the second schedule of the Standards in Public Life Act.”

The Commissioner did not find that the Minister intentionally discriminated against PN newspaper Il-Mument “as it has resulted that he was given the wrong information by his PR agency.”

Hyzler said it us up to the Standards Committee to consider what remedy is appropriate but noted that there is practice in the UK House of Commons whereby a member of the House who is found to have misused public resources is required to refund to the state the value of those resources.

“In this particular case the cost of the advertising campaign (consisting of fund disbursed, and not including the cost of ministry staff time) amounted to €7,012.98.”

The Standards Committee will be discussing the report during its next sitting.

 

Minister should refund taxpayer funds - Repubblika

In a statement, Repubblika said it expects Parliament to make the minister refund the money spent on his advert.

It also expects that the government draws up regulations and guidelines so that “this abuse stops once and for all, particularly now that a general election is approaching.”

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