The Malta Independent 21 September 2021, Tuesday

Ministers ‘by and large’ adhering to social media guidelines – Standards Commissioner

Neil Camilleri Wednesday, 15 September 2021, 15:37 Last update: about 5 days ago

Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries are, “by and large” adhering to new social media guidelines, Standards Commissioner George Hyzler said Wednesday.

He was speaking to journalists following the launch of a two-year project that aims to strengthen transparency and integrity in public life. The project is supported by the European Commission and the OECD.

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Hyzler had drawn up the social media guidelines after several ministries were found to have spent public funds on their respective ministers’ personal social media pages.

“I am glad that the government took the guidelines on board. We have been monitoring the social media pages of politicians and, by and large, they are being observed. The issue we had concerned the use of ministerial funds to boost their ministers’ personal Facebook pages, and this no longer seems to be the case,” he said.

Hyzler also said that none of the reports issued by his office so far “showed any bias whatsoever.”

The commissioner was asked whether the law should be changed to preclude former politicians from occupying the role.  Hyzler served as a Nationalist MP between 1995 and 2003, and as Parliamentary Secretary from 1999 until 2003. He was nominated by the Labour government when the office was set up in 2018.

He pointed out that he was appointed by the Labour administration, on the basis that, as a former politician, he had knowledge of the local political scene and of what people expect from politicians.

He said he takes comfort in the fact that whenever his reports were criticised, this was not done on technical merits. “Sometimes, when some people do not agree with my reports, they point to my political past, but I have had no problem in rising above that.”

He said that, if the role is to be occupied by a politician, it makes sense to appoint someone from the Opposition side, since most complaints are against the government of the day.

He said he is of the opinion that the law should not ban politicians from occupying the role.

“All the reports issued by this office do not show any bias whatsoever. I am not here to justify the past, but to see what is happening now and to propose for the future.”

Replying to other questions, Hyzler said the agreement he has with Parliament’s ethics committee on the publication of reports on breaches of ethics should be reviewed. Currently, when a breach is found, the report is passed on to the five members of the committee.

“What has happened is that there have been leaks of these reports, and accusations are levelled at my office. Both sides also accuse each other of leaks. This is totally unnecessary. One way of dealing with this is to just go transparent, he said, adding that the office can be trusted with ensuring that any sensitive data is kept confidential. “My suggestion is to revisit that policy.”

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