The Malta Independent 30 November 2022, Wednesday
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Hyzler doing work which police chief should have been doing 8 months ago - Cassola

Kevin Schembri Orland Sunday, 19 December 2021, 07:30 Last update: about 13 months ago

The Standards Commissioner is doing the work which the Police Commissioner should have been doing eight months ago, Arnold Cassola, an independent candidate for the coming general election told The Malta Independent on Sunday during an interview.

“With the resources the Standards Commissioner has, he is doing the work which the Police Commissioner should have been doing eight months ago... and didn't. If you read the Justyne Caruana report, the detailed investigation should have been done by the police. It's not the Standards Commissioner who should do all the work for the police. He is even making up for the deficiencies of other institutions,” Cassola said.

Commissioner for Standards in Public Life, George Hyzler, had found that the awarding of a €15,000 contract to Daniel Bogdanovic by Education Minister Caruana amounted to an “abuse of power” by the minister. In his report, published after a unanimous decision by the Standards Committee, he said that Caruana had breached ethics by “giving preferential treatment” to Bogdanovic by giving him a direct order contract which he was “neither qualified nor competent enough to carry out”. Hyzler had even recommended that the Committee should reflect on whether his report should be referred to the Commissioner for Police to see whether other people mentioned in the report should be investigated.

Cassola, who will be running on the 10th and 11th districts, was answering a question posed by this newsroom as to how he finds the workings of the system regarding the Standards Commissioner's investigations and the Standards Committee in Parliament. Cassola has filed many investigation requests with the Commissioner’s office since it was created.

He said that the post of Standards Commissioner “is one of the few institutions from which you can seek recourse in order to try and get justice in Malta. It has proven to be a credible one, together with the National Audit Office and the Ombudsman's Office. All the others, I'm afraid, are not effective”.

“What you see in the papers and the big issues are just the tip of the iceberg. There are other complaints I have filed, which the Standards Commissioner deems not to be investigated and I don't always agree with him,” he said.

He gave an example of a decision by the Commissioner, which he did not agree with. Cassola referred to a family holiday Joseph Muscat had taken in Italy in August 2020. 
It was alleged in the complaint that the holiday had been paid for by Pietro Catalfamo, the owner of a company quoted on Malta’s Stock Exchange. Catalfamo was also the owner of the Castello di Collalto Sabino, where Muscat and his family spent their holiday. The Commissioner found that the holiday had taken place on an invitation from Diane Izzo, who organised a party at the venue for her relatives and close friends, including Muscat and his family. Hyzler found that Izzo negotiated an arrangement with Catalfamo in which she paid for the catering and was given free accommodation at the castle for her guests. But, the Commissioner found that no law then under consideration in Parliament affected Izzo’s personal or commercial interests and concluded that Muscat was not obliged either to refuse the holiday or to declare it, so he did not uphold the complaint.

As regards the law governing the Standards Commissioner itself: “I think the Parliamentarians did everything to protect themselves when they drafted the law as they have tied the Commissioner's hands.” Cassola said that the Standards Commissioner cannot investigate any misdemeanour that happened before October 2018 due to the prescriptive period. "He also cannot investigate something later than a year after it happens. I think these two aspects, if we really want accountability, need to be eliminated.”

There needs to be no prescriptive period, he said. “Whatever happened in the past should be up for investigation if there was a breach of ethics, but I do not think there is the political will to do that.”

As for the Standards Committee: “I think it’s quite a farce,” he said.

He said the PL members on the committee, Edward Zammit Lewis and Glenn Bedingfield, have been trying to do their best to cover for everything, adding that the Rosianne Cutajar case shows this. “People are saying that the report was unanimously adopted and so the system is working. My foot! It took at least five months of haggling, of disagreement, of getting the Speaker of the House not to take a position, etc.”

With the Caruana case, he said that "it's so damning that you simply have to publish it. I also think that public opinion has worked. With the shenanigans we saw with the Cutajar case, people are beginning to see through these games. But with a two-party Parliament and the composition of the Standards Committee – two MPs from either party and the Speaker having the deciding vote – we will always have these games. Unfortunately, we don't have a multi-party Parliament, don't have a multi-party Standards Committee".

Cassola said he strived throughout his political life to get a multi-party parliament. “That is why I also became an independent candidate, so that there are people on offer for the voters as, if not, we will always end up in these situations, putting a load of pressure on the Speaker who is just one person. These are not 50-person committees like in the EU Parliament or 20-person committees like in the Italian Parliament, made up of eight or nine parties where MPs would sometimes agree with one major party and at other times with another, where the vote can sway depending on the issue. Here it doesn't, so the responsibility on the Speaker is unfair.”

“Firstly, the Speaker has to have a strong character and I do not know if ours does, I doubt it."

Secondly, he said, whoever holds the position of Speaker would always have the “traitor” carrot dangling over their head, be that person a Labourite or a Nationalist. “So if they act according to conscience, which in these cases I think any Speaker would vote in favour of publishing or adopting these reports, they then risk being labelled a traitor by half the population and the party in government through the party media. So I think that real decisions cannot be taken.”

Asked how he would change the format of the committee, he said he would bring in people from civil society, "not necessarily always judges, but also, and I would have the committee increase in size, maybe to nine members, ensuring that the parties don't have the majority”.

He was asked what kind of action should have been taken against Rosianne Cutajar, whether he agreed with the PN that a suspension should have been ordered or if that recommendation would have gone too far.

He said that “in other Parliaments, you get a suspension, and this was a serious issue”.

He mentioned the €9,000 she received as a gift from Yorgen Fenech, as well as other complaints that she had faced regarding the oranges she had sent to elderly residents in care homes and sweets to children during Halloween. “They are, for me, all blatant breaches of ethics.” He said that a good number of Maltese have, however, become immune to these things and that it has become a form of normal. 

He added that it is wrong for politicians to have not kept away from Fenech after the 17 Black story broke, mentioning the likes of Cutajar and Zammit Lewis, as well as to Kristy Debono and Hermann Schiavone (who had a meeting with Fenech back in 2019). "I don't know if Delia did, it is still not clear if they met or not." All those who continued having a relationship, in the wide sense, with Fenech is a serious issue, he said.

"So yes, you have to get some sort of punishment; as the message we are sending out now is not to worry as anything goes. And the country is now in a state of anything goes."
Asked whether he has been targeted because of the complaints he files or the requests for investigations he has made, he responded “yes”.

He had threatening messages on his life during the hunting referendum.

“I don't report all I receive, but the ones I feel deserve to be reported. I feel that instigating someone to commit suicide is a serious issue. I recently received two of these. I reported them to the cybercrime unit but under Maltese law, it is not considered hate speech, only cyberbullying.” He said that if he wanted to proceed he would need to start a court case himself as the police would not proceed on their own.

“This was just a week before the Valletta case, where the issue came up as the law states that one is liable to jail if that person does commit suicide, but if they don't...”

“I think this is a flaw in the law.”

Cassola has filed many complaints to the Standards Commissioner regarding MPs, but has also made investigation requests to other entities. Asked why he thinks other people do not do as much, he said that people are afraid.

“There is a climate of fear.”

“Why do I post so much on social media? Because half of the things I post come from what people send me and they are afraid to appear.”

While the majority of the investigation requests he files are very valid, some are less important. As an example, he had called on the Commissioner for Health to investigate whether construction workers, employed by a particular company, were vaccinated against Covid-19 despite there being, at the time, no indication from the health authorities that construction companies were being given priority. He was asked whether he should be more selective as by filing so many complaints and investigation requests he could be watering down the impact of his other requests for investigations.

“I agree that they are not on the same level, but we are getting numb to irregularities. That you skip the queue for vaccination is obviously not the same as having given a €15,000 contract to Bogdanovic. But skipping the queue for vaccination in the context where people were panicking, everyone was trying to get vaccinated, is not done.”

“It is still the concept of favouritism and nepotism at a lower level. The principle is that we should all be treated equally.”

Asked about the electoral system, he said that it is not fair for third parties and independent candidates. Asked how he would change it, he recommended something similar to the German system.

“It would be based on two factors. One is the election of individuals, which is like what Malta has today (...) then they have the second part, which is the national quota. So we would leave the first part of the system regarding individuals as is, but we would then also look at all the votes and have a national quota by which other parties getting, I would say 3%, get into Parliament.”

What the PL and PN have been doing for the last 30 years is always tweaking the system to keep other people out, he said.

“Even the last tweak, which was hailed as being progressive for gender balance, is reinforcing the two-party system. I am totally in favour of the co-options for MPs of the less represented gender, which in Malta's case is women, but what did the two big parties do? They did not change it for Maltese women, but just for Labour and Nationalist women. What can happen in the election is that they would co-opt an x amount of non-elected women who get the most votes, excluding independents and those coming from third parties.”

“This is just reinforcing the two-party system and keeping people out. This is why I have a constitutional case ongoing on this issue.”

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