The Malta Independent 26 February 2024, Monday
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TMID Editorial: The Speaker’s suggestion

Friday, 8 December 2023, 18:33 Last update: about 4 months ago

The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Anglu Farrugia, has suggested that no ministers or parliamentary secretaries should be sitting on the Public Accounts Committee as permanent members. His reasoning is that, as part of the Executive, their place on the committee could present a conflict of interest risk.

The committee’s job is to scrutinise the work of the government, and the presence of ministers and parliamentary secretaries as permanent members is not ideal. It would be better, the Speaker said, to have ministers and parliamentary secretaries out of the committee, and only standing in on a temporary basis when one full member is absent.

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The Speaker made the recommendation in his ruling, last month, about Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo, who was caught passing on questions to a witness who was about to testify before the PAC. The Speaker ruled that Bartolo was incorrect in doing so, given that there are other avenues through which witnesses could be given an indication as to what they will be asked.

Farrugia used the occasion to pass on his recommendation.

At present, apart from Bartolo, the government representatives on the PAC include another member of the executive, parliamentary secretary Andy Ellul.

It was good to note that Prime Minister Robert Abela did not discard the idea. In comments he gave to the media a few days later, he said that the Speaker’s suggestion makes sense. He said that he is seriously considering the suggestion.

We have not heard anything else about the matter since Abela made these comments on 23 November. We do not know if the matter is being discussed internally, within the Cabinet or parliamentary group.

What we know is that, two weeks later, Bartolo and Ellul are still two of the four government members who sit on the committee. So, as yet, there has been no change.

One wonders what is taking Abela so long to make up his mind about this. It is a clear-cut decision, one of the easiest he will ever make. He said it makes sense, and we agree, but now it is time for him to make the necessary changes to prove that his words are followed by action.

Yet, this situation should not be at the Prime Minister’s discretion, whoever the Prime Minister is.

It should be a rule that no government minister and parliamentary secretary should sit on the PAC.

To be fair, this is not the first time that this has happened. Other ministers and parliamentary secretaries sat on the PAC in previous legislatures, both under a Labour and Nationalist administrations. Austin Gatt and Tonio Fenech for the PN, Ian Borg and Chris Agius for Labour, were all part of the executive when they sat on the PAC as government representatives.

So, given that there seems to be agreement between both sides of the House that the way forward is for ministers and parliamentary secretaries not to be permanent members of the PAC, the necessary arrangements should be made.

Abela should make the first move by replacing Bartolo and Ellul on the present committee, and from then onwards no minister or parliamentary secretary should be named as a PAC member.

 

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