The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), has just published three reports dealing with various aspects of the integrity of public life in Malta. This was done as part of the EU funded project on “Improving the Integrity and Transparency Framework in Malta”.
The first published report deals with the need to reinforce existing legislation, while the second one deals with the organisational review required at the office of the Commissioner for Standards in Public life. The third report deals with recommendations for the improvement of transparency and integrity in lobbying.
The three reports contain a total of 71 recommendations arrived at by experts and advisors at OECD after having carried out various meetings with stakeholders in Malta. Without in any way diminishing the positive contribution of all three OECD publications I can safely state that the great majority of the recommendations made in the three OECD publications have been present in the local public debate for a considerable time. Unfortunately, they have been repeatedly ignored by the parliamentary parties.
I have written on the need to regulate lobbying many times from these columns. Lobbying is an essential part of the democratic process. It needs, however, to be transparent. Two years ago, Dr George Hyzler, the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life published a detailed consultation paper on lobbying entitled: Towards the Regulation of lobbying in Malta. Two years down the line nothing has been done to regulate lobbying: his proposals are still being “studied”. Unfortunately, none of the parliamentary parties is remotely interested, so far.
The creation of the office of Commissioner for Standards in Public life was the achievement of a milestone, even though it took too long a time to drive the relevant legislation through Parliament.
The office needs however to be aligned with the Office of the Ombudsman and that of the National Audit Office. Viewed together these are the three essential offices which seek to ensure good governance, in all its aspects, throughout the different levels of public administration.
All three are doing sterling work. They can however do better if they encounter less obstructions whenever they seek information to examine issues at hand. The OECD reports dissect the legislation setting up the Office of the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life and pinpoint the several areas where improvements are essential in order to ensure that the independence of the Commissioner is protected in practical ways.
The Uber files published earlier this week indicate that many other governments and institutions (the EU included) are not up to scratch notwithstanding the at times detailed legislation regulating lobbying. The point being made is that having legislation regulating lobbying on our statute books is not enough: we need the political will to implement it. Many times, this political will is inexistent.
Accountability, transparency and good governance are not just slogans: they are fundamental values which underpin the modern democratic state. The office of the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life, the Ombudsman and the National Audit Office are the essential democratic infrastructure to ensure that these fundamental values have strong roots in our institutions.
Around twelve months ago the Ombudsman has signified his intention that he does not desire a renewal of his term of office. His replacement has not been identified yet as a result of the horse-trading in which the PN and PL are currently engaged in. In the meantime, Dr George Hyzler has been kicked upstairs, being nominated as the Maltese member at the European Court of Auditors. As a result, very shortly, another vacancy in the Office of Commissioner for Standards in Public Life has been created at such a delicate point in time.
If we really believe that, in a democratic state, institutions really matter, it is imperative that these vacancies are addressed at the earliest. Standards matter.
published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 17 July 2022