The Malta Independent 17 July 2024, Wednesday
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TMID Editorial: The Speaker’s speech

Thursday, 13 June 2024, 11:12 Last update: about 2 months ago

Other than when he gives rulings or is intent in keeping order in the House, the Speaker does not speak much during Parliament sittings.

He delivers one important speech during the course of his duties, and this happens on the Sette Giugno commemoration. The 7 June 1919 riots are linked to the setting up of the Maltese Parliament two years later, in 1921, and when the event is commemorated, it is the Speaker who addresses the attendees, which include the Prime Minister, Opposition Leader and other MPs.

This year, Sette Giugno fell on what is known as the silent day, a time of reflection between the end of an election campaign and voting day.

So in a way the activity, and the Speaker’s address, was lost in the hype of an impending election and its outcome.

Nonetheless, it is worth pointing out a few things that the Speaker, Anglu Farrugia, made in his speech last Friday.

It’s not the first time that he said what he did. The problem is that, year after year, what the Speaker is suggesting is not being taken up by the government and the opposition. More by the government since, after all, it wields power, and unless it is the government that pushes to implement what the Speaker says, nothing much can be done.

Among his suggestions, Farrugia spoke about the need to include advertising guidelines for ministers and parliamentary secretaries as part of the code of ethics that members of the Executive have to follow. This suggestion was made by the Standards Commissioner, and it has now been endorsed by the Speaker. Let us remember that Prime Minister Robert Abela was found to have breached the code of ethics in an advertorial published on the social media, for which he refused to apologise. The commissioner and the Speaker are correct to pursue this. But don’t hold your breath on this one.

Farrugia has also suggested that reports drawn up by the Ombudsman should be discussed either in the plenary or at least in one of the parliamentary committees. The reports are tabled in the House but the Speaker believes that they should be given the importance they deserve. Again, this is a matter that needs to be pushed by the government and, since most of the reports find fault with its workings, the government has little interest in seeing that the suggestion goes through.

Another suggestion made – for the umpteenth time – by the Speaker is for citizens to be given a right of reply when they feel offended by MPs who abuse their parliamentary privilege.

Parliamentary privilege allows MPs to speak freely without fear of prosecution, but there have been occasions when MPs used it to attack individuals who are not protected by the same rights, who cannot answer for them in Parliament and who cannot institute civil proceedings to defend their name. The Speaker once again has called for citizens to be given a remedy when they feel offended by what MPs say in the House about them.

The Speaker’s words should not fall on deaf ears. The problem is that the government is set to lose if these suggestions are implemented, so it is likely that nothing will be done. It’s a pity, because all of them make sense.

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