The Malta Independent 11 August 2022, Thursday

TMID Editorial: Changes to the Standards Committee

Thursday, 2 December 2021, 08:36 Last update: about 9 months ago

Opposition Leader Bernard Grech made an interesting proposal in Parliament on Monday, to overhaul the composition of the Standards in Public Life Committee.

Currently, the committee has the Speaker of the House as its chairman. Two PL MPs and two PN MPs make up the rest of the committee.

Grech has proposed that the Speaker of the House no longer chair the committee. Instead, the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader will each select a single MP to serve on the committee, and three people who are not MPs will be chosen through a 2/3rds Parliamentary majority approval, with one of these non-MPs serving as the Chairperson. That way the committee will still be made up of five members.

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A Private Members’ Bill was presented in Parliament yesterday containing this very proposal.

This is a proposal which could bring about more justice and strengthen the committee’s role.

One of the things easily noted about the committee’s current structure, is that politics often takes over the debate. If an MP is found in breach of ethics, that MP’s party members on the committee will support or be lenient towards them, while the other party’s MPs would go against them. The Speaker then has the casting vote when the two sides cannot agree.

The problem with this structure is that politics takes centre stage and Farrugia has been seen as a gatekeeper to the government in the past by certain decisions he has taken in Parliament.

The committee should not be about politicians protecting their own. Take Rosianne Cutajar’s case. The PL MPs and the Speaker adopted the report finding the breach, but the action taken against the MP has been widely criticised as being extremely weak.

In order to hold MPs to account, perhaps it should not just be MPs who decide what action or not to take if an ethics breach is found. Would it not be better to have a committee made up of, at least in the majority, independent persons who have the trust of both sides of the House? Would that not lead to the right decisions as to whether a report by the Standards Commissioner be adopted, and what kind of sanctions to impose? Would not an impartial committee do a better job?

Prime Minister Robert Abela did not respond to this suggestion yet. In truth, he should endorse it.

This move will not only make the committee more impartial, but also strengthen the role of the Standards Commissioner in general.

The idea of a Standards Commissioner and a Standards Committee is only a few years old, and now that we have seen the way things work, we can improve on the situation.

The PN’s Bill would also extend the remit of the Standards Commissioner and committee to former Parliamentarians, which is also a good idea. However, it is this newsroom’s understanding that the Commissioner would still be unable to investigate any issues before the setting up of his office.

Aside from these ideas put forward by Grech, the Standards Commissioner is also looking into other things, such as possible regulations that deal with lobbying etc. in order to strengthen ethical standards in the country. The review by the Standards Commissioner is going to take time, but the change to the Standards Committee could very well be implemented quite quickly if endorsed by the government.

 

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