The Malta Independent 4 October 2022, Tuesday
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TMID Editorial: The next Standards Commissioner

Monday, 15 August 2022, 09:53 Last update: about 3 months ago

George Hyzler will soon be stepping down as the Standards Commissioner to take up a post with the European Court of Auditors.

He has conducted his work well and proved to be well-suited for the role. He was never afraid to state if there was a breach of ethical standards, but also had no problem stating if there wasn't. But his imminent departure leaves a number of questions that are yet to be answered.

First and foremost is who the next Standards Commissioner will be. Such a person will need to be appointed through a two-thirds Parliamentary majority. This means that both government and opposition MPs will need to vote for that person.

A Standards Commissioner cannot be some lackey, cannot be someone who would turn the other way for MPs or bow down to any possible pressure.

The government and the opposition must both work together - however unlikely that may be - to find the perfect candidate.

During an interview with The Malta Independent on Sunday, Hyzler said that if there is no replacement when he resigns to take up his new post, then the office will continue to function in a limited manner but will not have the power to issue reports, as in his opinion,  reports must be issued by a Commissioner.

This would be seriously damaging to Malta's democracy. As has been proven since the Office of the Standards Commissioner was created, a watchdog to ensure ethical standards are upheld is needed.

Both political parties cannot be hard-headed and pick people who would suit them. Someone must be found who either has no allegiance to either party, or who has the ability to set aside that allegiance and focus on the matter at hand. Hyzler appealed to both the government and the opposition to enter discussions with an open mind. 

Hyzler also brought up a number of other issues. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has made a number of recommendations for Malta, in a joint project with the Office of the Standards Commissioner as well as the European Commission. His Office had also made recommendations.

From recommendations regarding lobbying, to revised codes of ethics. One hopes that these recommendations will be implemented, and not end up on a shelf somewhere.

One of the OECD's recommendations was for the introduction of lay people into the committee and for it to be chaired by a retired judge rather than the Speaker.

As regards the composition of the committee Hyzler said that there are different ways to deal with it and that this isn't the only way. "The OECD has essentially said there is a problem and it is saying that this option is one possible way of solving it. The introduction of lay members is something that can be debated. It could help, and it works in the United Kingdom. Obviously in our polarised environment it is very difficult to find people who are unpolitical," he said.

MPs will often find some point to argue in favour or against the MP under scrutiny depending on the party they are from. This is not how things should work. Hyzler also said that since the Speaker chairs the Standards Committee, many issues are being thrown at the Speaker for a decision to be taken as he has the deciding vote and since the Speaker is appointed by one side of the House, "the Speaker comes with a certain handicap. Any decision he takes will be viewed as a political decision."

Hyzler is right on this point. Something needs to be done.


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