The Malta Independent 30 March 2023, Thursday
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TMID Editorial: A dangerous precedent

Wednesday, 1 February 2023, 09:39 Last update: about 3 months ago

The government’s ample majority in Parliament enabled it to change the Standards Commissioner’s Act the way it wanted to.

On Monday, the House of Representatives voted in favour of what has become known as the anti-deadlock mechanism for the appointment of the Standards Commissioner.

From now onwards the government – any government – can proceed with the appointment of a Standards Commissioner even without the support of a 2/3 majority in the House.


The new mechanism establishes that if this 2/3 majority is not reached the government can go ahead and appoint someone via a simple majority. In a nutshell, it can choose whoever it wants without the support of the Opposition.

It is a dangerous precedent.

Although it has been made clear that this change only affects the appointment of the Standards Commissioner, it has opened the way for other positions to be filled up in the same way if, in the future, a 2/3 majority cannot be reached.

Malta has been without a Standards Commissioner since the end of September, when incumbent George Hyzler resigned to take up the role of Malta’s representative on the European Court of Auditors.

Hyzler set the bar very high. In his four years in the post – one year fewer than the full term – his judgments were exemplary. If a breach was committed, he was not afraid to deem so; if the complaints were trivial, he just said so. His office was one of the few Maltese institutions that functioned properly in the past years.

Maybe this is why the government wanted him out. Maybe this is why the government has been so stubborn in the way it has behaved in the nomination of his successor.

It is likely that the new Standards Commissioner will not get the backing of the whole House of Representatives. That would mean that he or she will start on the wrong foot.

It would have been better for the government to propose other changes pertaining to the function of the Standards Commissioner and how his reports are dealt with.

Too often, in Hyzler’s time, reports he compiled and decisions he took found a brick wall. It is not right, for example, that action recommended in such reports has to be approved by a committee made up of two members from each side of the House, with the Speaker acting as chairman. MPs will always defend those on their side, and this meant that breaches by their colleagues were treated very lightly, if at all.

When the commissioner embarrassed a government member through his reports, the committee ended up defending the MP, rather than take serious action against him or her. This is why it has been suggested that the composition of the committee that deals with reports compiled by the Standards Commissioner should be revised, and that a former judge should head such a committee, rather than the Speaker. So far, this suggestion has not been accepted.


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