The Malta Independent 24 January 2022, Monday

TMID Editorial: A project to improve transparency, standards

Monday, 29 November 2021, 10:39 Last update: about 3 months ago

In September, a 24-month project was launched which seeks to greatly improve standards in public life in Malta, including through a better Code of Ethics for MPs and Cabinet members, while introducing better practices for lobbying transparency and asset declarations. The project, undertaken by the Office of the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life, is supported by the European Commission and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)

This project, while still in its early phases, will hopefully lead to changes which will not only result in more transparency, but improve trust in our MPs and tighten the rules surrounding practices by politicians.

We have seen many reports against MPs over the past years, a number of which ended up before the Standards Commissioner. We have also seen many accusations that government officials or ministers are too close to businessmen.

This is where this project comes in, analysing the local situation in Malta.

The Malta Independent on Sunday interviewed  Julio Bacio Terracino, the acting head of the OECD’s Public Sector Integrity Division. The OECD’s involvement on the project is of a supporting role, to make recommendations on what could possibly be adapted from other countries.

One item being looked at deals with lobbying.  

While stressing that it is too early to tell what could be done in Malta regarding this, he did give some examples of how things are done abroad.

One such possibility is a lobbyist register. “Lobbyists would need to register and there are different consequences for registering or not – in some countries, when not registered, they cannot meet with the government. This is one option where the burden is more on the private sector, on the lobbyists.” This has its pros and cons.

Another possibility is the setting up of public agendas. “So the burden is more on the government, having a regulation or law that requires and obliges all ministries, or certain levels of officials, to make their agendas public,” he said.

Both are interesting ideas, however given Malta’s small size and everyone’s closeness to business, the second option or a combination of the two might prove more fruitful, in terms of transparency.

The OECD official states that because of the risks in the relationship between the government and business, especially in Malta, which is a small country where everyone is naturally closely connected, one of the aforementioned options might not be enough and there may be a need to go beyond transparency, such as by going into the rules of conflict of interest.

Regardless of what the proposed changes end up being, one hopes that there will be political consensus and the political will to do what is best for democracy in Malta, for transparency.

There are many other issues which will be tackled through this project, and at the end the politicians will need to decide what can and will be adopted.

 

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