The Malta Independent 26 February 2024, Monday
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TMIS Editorial: Time is up for Rosianne Cutajar

Sunday, 3 December 2023, 10:30 Last update: about 4 months ago

Rosianne Cutajar should do the honourable thing and resign from Parliament.

Last Friday week, she was rescued by a time-barring clause which prevented the Standards Commissioner from proceeding against her in a case filed by NGO Repubblika regarding her omission to declare income from a consultancy job at the Institute of Tourism Studies.

Then, last Wednesday, the National Audit Office described this same ITS appointment as having been “fraudulent” and “irregular”, and expressed “concerns of negligence in the disbursement of public funds by all involved”.

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On their own, each incident should have led to her instant resignation from the House of Representatives. Put together, the reasons for her quitting Parliament are overwhelming.

But she has stayed on, writing another sad chapter in the national politics book. Accountability is a word that few politicians know the meaning of.

With regard to the Repubblika case, she even had the audacity to boast on the social media that she had been cleared.

The truth of it all is that Cutajar was not absolved by the Standards Commissioner. What his report said is that he cannot proceed against her because the case was time-barred. Knowledge which led to the filing of the complaint about her breach of ethics had become public more than one year later, and so when the case had been filed, the deadline had already passed.

The NGO had filed its complaint after Cutajar’s omission to list income from a consultancy job with the ITS. News of this had emerged when WhatsApp chats between her and Yorgen Fenech, who is now accused of the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, had been made public.

Her consultancy, at €27,000 per year, had not been listed in the declaration to Parliament. The publication of the chats had eventually led to her resignation from the Labour Party parliamentary group. She stayed on in Parliament as an independent MP.

In his report, the Standards Commissioner had found that Cutajar had not declared her income, contrary to her obligations at law. This was a breach of the code of ethics, but the commissioner was not in a position to proceed against her because, as explained earlier, the complaint had been filed more than one year after the mishap.

Cutajar’s defiance continued after the NAO report, which was compiled after a request from ADPD-The Green Party. She said that she had done nothing wrong and had worked for “every cent”, as calls for her to return the money she had been paid for the job were made. The NAO report highlighted concerns about the contract being backdated and that Cutajar had “no expertise” to cover the “tasks assigned”. It also speaks of a “dearth of evidence” as to what kind of work was carried out by Cutajar.

The former Qormi mayor insists that she has already carried enough political responsibility. She is referring to her resignation from the Labour Party parliamentary group, meaning that she has stayed on as an independent MP.

But this is not enough. Politicians should lead by example and there is nothing exemplary in her behaviour.

She should resign her parliamentary seat.

Two issues came to the fore after the Standards Commissioner’s report.

The first is the idea that backbenchers get consultancy jobs, or other appointments, by the government. This has been criticised over and over again, as it goes against the fundamental principles of separation of powers between the government and Parliament. When such appointments are given, the government is ensuring the MP’s loyalty. No such appointments or jobs should ever be handed out.

But it’s clear that the government has learnt nothing from the Rosianne Cutajar debacle, as only last Friday, a backbencher, Omar Farrugia, was appointed chairman of Sport Malta.

The second issue is time-barring. MPs should not be allowed to hide or save themselves behind statute of limitations. It should be possible for ethical behaviour of a politician to be scrutinised for more than the one-year limit established by the law. At least, the possibility should exist for complaints on such behaviour to be filed within one year of it becoming public knowledge. In Cutajar’s case, Repubblika could not file the complaint within the one-year of it happening because what did happen had not been known until it was too late.

More issues emerged after the NAO report.

One has to see the accountability of all those who were involved in the consultancy job given to Cutajar, including that of the minister who was responsible for ITS at the time, namely Konrad Mizzi.

Prime Minister Robert Abela defends himself saying that the political decisions he needed to take were taken months and years ago. In other words, the PM is indicating how first Mizzi and later Cutajar were dumped by Labour.

But this is not enough. Abela must disengage from the culture that was introduced by his predecessor Joseph Muscat. There has to be an overhaul of a system that in the last 10 years has seen too many instances when people close to Labour were given cushy appointments sustained by public money.

One thing Cutajar was right about is when she wrote that “everyone is pigging out”.

 

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