The Malta Independent 16 May 2022, Monday

Standards Act should not be used as a witch hunt against politicians – Zammit Lewis

Giuseppe Attard Thursday, 11 November 2021, 15:33 Last update: about 7 months ago

Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis said on Thursday that the law on standards in public life should not be used as some form of “witch hunt” against politicians.

On Wednesday, Parliament’s standards committee, which Zammit Lewis forms part of, voted to adopt a report by standards commissioner George Hyzler that had found Rosianne Cutajar to be in breach of ethics over her brokerage role in a controversial property deal.

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While Cutajar is still under investigation by the tax commissioner over a €45,000 fee she allegedly pocketed from the Mdina property seller, the committee adopted the report after Speaker Anglu Farrugia confirmed to the committee members that Cutajar had failed to declare a €9,000 ‘gift’ from the would-be buyer – Yorgen Fenech – in her annual declaration of assets.

In a rare occurrence, the two government MPs sitting on the committee – Edward Zammit Lewis and Glenn Bedingfield – voted to adopt the report.

The committee will meet again next week to discuss sanctions against the MP. On this point, Zammit Lewis said Cutajar has already paid the political price by resigning as Parliamentary Secretary.

During a press conference on Thursday, The Malta Independent asked Zammit Lewis whether he was advocating for the lowest possible punishment for Cutajar simply because he might find himself in a similar situation in future, due to the close relationship he had with Yorgen Fenech.

Replying, the justice minister insisted he has no conflict of interest in the matter.

“My track record in the standards committee speaks for itself. Yesterday, we voted to adopt the report. I reiterate that Rosianne Cutajar has paid a political price when she resigned from the Cabinet. I am also saying that the committee should not be used as a witch hunt against MPs, members of the executive or any other person that falls under the law on standards in public life. We should behave in the same way irrespective of whoever the person is.”

Pressed to say whether a resignation was enough for someone who was found to have breached parliamentary ethics, Zammit Lewis reiterated that the political price had been paid. “We are not here for witch hunts. We will issue reprimands where needed, but the main aim here is to improve standards in politics.”

Zammit Lewis said that, before, MPs would simply submit an asset declaration form and that was it. “Now we have higher expectations.”

Asked about the leaked Whatsapp conversations he had with Fenech, the minister insisted that he had already explained his position and that those messages had been sent in a different context. He said his relationship with Fenech had not impaired his abilities as minister, as evidenced by the reforms he had ushered since he became justice minister in January 2020.

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