The Malta Independent 3 August 2021, Tuesday

Standards czar says he cannot investigate complaint on Rosianne Cutajar’s oranges gift

Albert Galea Thursday, 24 June 2021, 17:39 Last update: about 2 months ago

Commissioner for Standards in Public Life George Hyzler has said that his office cannot investigate a complaint against PL MP Rosianne Cutajar over bags of oranges which she handed out as gifts because the matter is under investigation by the police already, a report seen by The Malta Independent states.

Hyzler was asked by independent candidate Arnold Cassola to investigate Cutajar over bags of oranges, which came including a picture of herself, she gifted to residents of an elderly care home in her home district. 

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Cassola also asked the Standards Commissioner to investigate Silvio Parnis over roly-polys he sent to constituents in September, Silvio Schembri over some cupcakes, and Alex Muscat over the gift of Covid-19 masks also with a picture of himself attached.

In his report, which was seen by this newsroom, Hyzler said that on the day that Cassola made his complaint, the NGO Repubblika requested that the Police open an investigation into Cutajar on the same matter, alleging that the General Elections Act, which concerns ‘treating’, had been breached.

In explaining the legal position of the matter, Hyzler noted that the complaint does not seem to constitute a breach of the code of ethics for parliamentary members, but that the allegation is of a breach in the country’s electoral laws.

Under Maltese law, giving out free food, drinks, or anything else in an attempt to influence their electoral choices is illegal, and people found guilty are liable to a fine of up to €1,160 or a six-month prison term.  The law however has never been enforced.

Cutajar had reacted to Repubblika’s report by saying that suggesting that people’s votes can be bought with an orange is an insult to their intelligence.

Hyzler notes that treating only counts before, during or immediately after an election – a period defined as the period after parliament is dissolved following the calling of a general election or three months before the end of a five-year legislature.

In considering the complaint, Hyzler said that, as explained in other cases, the Standards Commissioner is not there to assume the roles of other authorities.

In this case, he said, the allegations fall under the competence of the police, and that his office cannot prejudice the police’s investigations by investigating the alleged crime itself.

With regards to the gifts from Alex Muscat, Hyzler noted that masks do not fall under the things considered by law as constituting “treating”.

On Silvio Parnis’ gifts, Hyzler said that a complaint had to be filed not more than 30 working days from the day that the matter in question took place – a period which had elapsed before Cassola filed his complaint.

As a result, Hyzler said that there is no basis for him to investigate Cassola’s complaint.

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