The Malta Independent 18 June 2024, Tuesday
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Malta set to have a new Standards Commissioner in March

Albert Galea Monday, 13 February 2023, 08:00 Last update: about 2 years ago

Whether an agreement on the current deadlock is reached or not, Malta is set to have a new Commissioner for Standards in Public Life in place in the first week of March.

After the government pushed through an amendment to introduce an anti-deadlock mechanism within the Standards in Public Life Act, The Malta Independent is informed that the voting process for the new Standards Commissioner will kick-off on 15 February and will culminate, at the latest, in the first week of March.

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The anti-deadlock mechanism, which was voted into law on 30 January, was tabled by the government after it failed to reach an agreement over who should succeed Malta’s first Standards Commissioner George Hyzler.

Hyzler left his post a year last September in order to take up a position at the European Court of Auditors.  He is the only person to have held the post of Standards Commissioner since it was created back in 2018, and ended up frequently being a thorn in the government’s side as throughout his tenure he ruled that a number of Labour MPs had been in breach of parliamentary ethics.

Up until the introduction of this anti-deadlock mechanism, the Standards Commissioner had to be appointed with a two-thirds majority – meaning that both the government and the opposition had to agree on who to appoint.

However, no such agreement on Hyzler’s successor has been forthcoming.

The government has – after weeks of negotiation – insisted with sticking to former Chief Justice Joseph Azzopardi as their nominee, while the Opposition has insisted that he is not suitable for the post.

It is this impasse that led to the government introducing the anti-deadlock mechanism.

The mechanism lays down that the Standards Commissioner should be nominated with the support of both sides of the house, but in the event that the required two-thirds majority is not reached in two separate votes, each a week apart, then the appointment is made via a simple majority.

The mechanism has been criticised as being undemocratic because it effectively gives the government free reign on who to appoint as Standards Commissioner, but it was nonetheless voted through on 30 January.

The fact that the mechanism is now enshrined in law means that the process required for the government to appoint its candidate of choice and break the deadlock will begin.

Indeed the first vote on Azzopardi’s appointment as Standards Commissioner will take place on 15 February, requiring a two-thirds majority.  When this majority is not achieved – which can be taken as a fact of what is to happen, since the PN has said it will not support Azzopardi’s nomination – then a second vote, also requiring a two-thirds majority – will take place on 22 February.

The third – and final – vote on the matter will take place on 1 March.  Here, only a simple majority will be required to confirm Azzopardi’s nomination – meaning that support from the government benches will be enough, irrespective of the PN’s opposition.

Azzopardi will find that he already has a hefty to-do list once his appointment as Standards Commissioner is confirmed: The Malta Independent on Sunday reported last weekend that up until that point he had seven pending cases before him, all filed by independent candidate Arnold Cassola.

That number has since risen to eight, after Cassola filed another report on Sunday morning over what he described as a “propaganda video” in favour of Robert Abela uploaded to the government’s official Facebook page.

It is expected that Parliament will move onto the third and final reading on another controversial bill – that proposing an amendment to the Criminal Code to allow the termination of a pregnancy when the prospective mother’s health is in “grave risk” – after this process is concluded.

The amendments to the initially proposed Bill which the government has said are at their final stages are yet to be published, and therefore still have to be discussed by Parliament’s Consideration of Bills committee.

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