The Malta Independent 11 August 2022, Thursday

TMID Editorial - A slap on the wrist does nothing for better standards

Friday, 19 November 2021, 13:47 Last update: about 10 months ago

The standards committee case surrounding Rosianne Cutajar and the money she pocketed from 17 Black owner Yorgen Fenech came to a close this week, but the outcome will do nothing to raise political standards in Malta.

Over the past months, the committee debated a report by Standards Commissioner George Hyzler, who found the former Parliamentary Secretary to have breached ethics over her role in a controversial Mdina property deal.

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In short, Cutajar was accused of having pocketed €45,000 for trying to broker a deal between the seller and the would-be buyer – Yorgen Fenech. The deal fell through, and the seller took Cutajar to court, demanding that he be refunded. The story went that Cutajar’s associate, Charles Farrugia ‘it-Tikka’, pocketed another €45,000.

Cutajar later denied that she had received the €45k fee, and her friend claimed that he had pocketed the entire €90,000 sum. He proceeded to correct his income tax declaration to reflect this.

Cutajar is still under investigation by the Tax Commissioner. Marvin Gaerty said as much when he appeared before the committee last week.

But, in the meantime, there was also the ‘small’ issue that Cutajar had also been gifted €9,000 by Fenech, with whom she enjoyed a close relationship (as evidenced by several leaked Whatsapp conversations).

Cutajar has admitted to having taken the money, and also that she failed to declare them in her annual declaration of assets last year. MPs are obliged to declare all their income and holdings in yearly declarations they submit to the Speaker.

This was, in fact, the basis of why all four committee members and the Speaker agreed to adopt the Hyzler report. By adopting the report, they were effectively endorsing Hyzler’s opinion that Cutajar breached ethics.

It was refreshing to see the government and Opposition members agree for once, and unanimously adopting a report on a breach of ethics by a fellow MP.

But things took a different path when it came to sanctioning Cutajar. The government MPs, backed by the Speaker, argued that Cutajar had already paid a political price when she resigned from Cabinet. A reprimand was enough, they said.

The PN MPs did not agree and insisted that Cutajar should be suspended from Parliament for a month – hardly a death sentence, but it would have sent out a clear message nonetheless.

But, as always happens in a committee where the Speaker has the final say, things went the government’s way and Cutajar left with only a slap on the wrist.

What could have served as an example for present and future MPs, especially on serious matters like failing to declare monetary gifts, the committee chose to close an eye to this serious shortcoming and the matter now ends there.

We are in no way asking for Rosianne Cutajar to be victimised or to be made an example of. But we have to start somewhere, and this was the perfect opportunity to send out a clear message that such shortcomings will no longer be tolerated.

What happened on Tuesday, however, only strengthened the idea that MPs can do whatever they please and that, if they fail to adhere by the standards we expect of them, a telling off is the worst punishment they can expect. 

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