Without transparency, accountability is hampered

Earlier this week I was called by the Auditor General to his office in order to discuss the request for an investigation which I had submitted to his office some 15 days ago on behalf of ADPD. My request for an investigation was relative to the contract of service entered into between the Institute for Tourism Studies (ITS) and the Honourable Rosianne Cutajar, then a Labour member of parliament, now turned independent after being squeezed out of Labour.

As pointed out earlier in this column (The role of members of Parliament: TMIS 2 April), the issue is not an investigation of Rosianne Cutajar. It is rather an investigation into the operation of the Institute for Tourism Studies (ITS): whether it has engaged a consultant to its CEO to carry out responsibilities in respect of which the said consultant had no knowledge or competence, as is public knowledge.

An examination of the contract entered into between the Honourable Cutajar and ITS lists the areas of responsibilities which she was expected to shoulder: primarily issues of financial management. These responsibilities fall substantially outside the competences of a qualified Italian secondary school teacher. The contract in question is one which was hidden from public view until it was released by Shift News on the 23 March after it had obtained a copy as a result of a Freedom of Information request.

The inquisitive and investigative free press is shining a light on secretive acts carried out by the public sector: this is what transparency is about. Without transparency there is no way that we can ensure a shred of accountability.

The Auditor General informed me that he had called this meeting to hear my views, prior to his taking a decision on whether to proceed with the investigation and subsequently inform the Speaker of the House of Representatives of his findings.

Good governance does not stand a chance of ever taking root if this is how decisions are taken in the wider public sector. It is about time that all decision-takers start shouldering responsibility for the decisions they take. This ITS contract is one small example of abusive behaviour which needs acting upon immediately. It is not only politicians who must be accountable.

The management of public funds is tied with a duty to act in a responsible manner. All those who manage public funds must be in a position to account minutely for their actions. At the end of the day, it is the Auditor General who is entrusted by Parliament to monitor and report on the matter. Hopefully in the not-too-distant future we will be informed exactly what happened and who is actually responsible.

Transparency and accountability work in tandem. A lack of transparency is normally the first step to try and ensure that accountability is avoided.

Transparency is the indispensable foundation of good governance. In contrast, bad governance is generally wrapped in secrecy through the withholding of information which should be in the public domain. Without transparency, accountability is a dead letter; devoid of any meaning. A lack of transparency transforms our democracy into a defective process, as basic and essential information required to form an opinion on what’s going on is missing. After all, accountability is about responsibility: it signifies the acknowledgement and assumption of responsibility for our actions. This cannot be achieved unless and until transparency reigns supreme.

Whenever government, or public bodies, are secretive about information which they hold, and refuse or oppose without valid reason requests to release information under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act they give ample proof of their governance credentials.

Transparency is a journey, not a destination. We have to work hard at ensuring transparency continuously. It is a long journey, one which never ends.

Rules and laws will not bring about transparency. It will only result whenever each one of us opts to do what is right and not what is expedient. Our actions speak much louder than words.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 16 April 2023

Ir-rwol tal-Membri tal-Parlament

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, tlabt lill- Awditur Ġenerali biex jinvestiga l-ingaġġ tal-Onorevoli Rosianne Cutajar bħala konsulent taċ-Chief Executive Officer tal-Istitut għall-Istudji Turistiċi (ITS).

Meta wieħed jaqra l-kuntratt tax-xogħol ta’ Cutajar mal-ITS, li kien ippubblikat minn Shift News bħala riżultat tal-applikazzjoni tal-liġi għal jedd għall-aċċess għall-informazzjoni, wieħed jista’ malajr jikkonkludi li r-responsabbiltà tal-konsulenza ta’ Cutajar kien fil-qasam tal-amministrazzjoni finanzjarja tal-ITS.

Cutajar kienet mistennija li taħdem mill-viċin mas-CEO u mad-Diretturi tal-Istitut għall-Istudji Turistiċi fit-tħejjija tal-budget annwali, tas-sorveljanza u kontroll tal-kwalità, biex ikunu stabiliti miri, biex tassisti fit-teħid tad-deċiżjonijiet meħtieġa fit-tmexxija ta’ kuljum, fl-analiżi ta’ rapporti kemm dawk ta’ natura finanzjarja kif ukoll ta’ dawk li mhux, kif ukoll li tidentifika soluzzjonijiet u titjib fl-operat kif meħtieġ.

Meta hu fatt magħruf li Cutajar hi mħarrġa bħala għalliema tal-lingwa Taljana fil-livell sekondarju, hu raġjonevoli li tassumi li dan hu kuntratt biex inħoloq impieg fantażma, imħallas minn fondi pubbliċi.

Fid-dawl ta’ dan jiena tlabt lill-Awditur Ġenerali biex jinvestiga lill-ITS u lit-tmexxija tiegħu għax fl-aħħar mill-aħħar ir-responsabbiltà għal dan kollu hu tas-CEO tal-ITS. Huwa jrid jispjega dak li għamel lit-tim investigattiv tal-awditur ġenerali biex ikun stabilit eżattament x’ġara.

Il-ħolqien ta’ impiegi fantażma fis-settur pubbliku jsir biex jibbenefika lill-bażużli u jħallashom ta’ ħidmiethom f’oqsma oħra. L-impieg fantażma ta’ Rosianne Cutajar’s mhux l-unika wieħed li nafu bih. Tiftakru lil Melvin Theuma, dak li għamilha ta’ sensar biex tinqatel Daphne Caruana Galiza? Anke lilu kienu taw impieg fantażma fis-settur pubbliku, ringrazzjament għal dak li kien qiegħed iwettaq!  Wieħed jistaqsi il-għala, Rosianne Cutajar, li jiena u qed nikteb għadha Membru Parlamentari, għaliex mhiex iffukata fuq xogħolha bħala membru tal-parlament? Jidher li għandha ħafna ħin li ma tafx x’ser tagħmel bih biex tista’ tiddedika ta’ l-inqas 24 siegħa kull ġimgħa għal xogħol ta’ konsulenza lill-ITS, b’żied mal-ħin meħtieġ “għar-responsabbiltajiet Parlamentari” tagħha, u ta’ hekk titħallas €27,000 fis-sena.

Il-problema hi ferm ikbar minn hekk għax hu mistenni li bħala parti mir-responsabbiltajiet  tagħha ta’ membru parlamentari tissorvelja l-istess ITS u tara li l-Ministru tat-Turiżmu jerfa’ ir-responsabbiltà politika għall-operat ta’ dan l-istitut. Imma kif tista’ tagħmel dan jekk għandha kuntratt ta’ konsulenza li bih hi involuta fit-tmexxija tal-istess istitut? Safejn naf jien, qatt ma irtirat minn dibattitu parlamentari dwar it-turiżmu minħabba xi konflitt ta’ interess!

Il-problema mhiex ristretta għall-konsulenza ta’ Cutajar. B’mod partikolari sa mill-2013, dan seħħ fil-grupp parlamentari Laburista in vista anke ta’ emendi għal diversi liġijiet li ippermettew li Membri Parlamentari jinħatru f’karigi diversi. Kellna, per eżempju, lil Deo Debattista u lil Manwel Mallia li kienu nħatru Chairperson tal-Awtorità għall-Ħarsien tas-Saħħa fuq il-Post tax-Xogħol, inkella lil Konrad Mizzi li hekk kif tkeċċa minn Ministru tat-Turiżmu kien inħatar konsulent tal-Awtorità tat-Turiżmu fuq struzzjonijiet speċifiċi tal-Prim Ministru Joseph Muscat. Dan kien ġie stabilit anke bħala riżultat ta’ investigazzjoni li kienet saret mill-Kummissarju għall-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika fuq talba tiegħi.

Kien hemm ukoll numru sostanzjali ta’ ħatriet ta’ Membri Parlamentari bħala konsulenti f’diversi rwoli. F’ħin minnhom, kif ġie emfasizzat mill-Kummissarju għall-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika f’rapport tal-2019, tnejn minn kull tlett backbencher Parlamentari kellu jew kellha xi ħatra jew kuntratt mas-settur pubbliku.

Mhiex funzjoni ta’ membru Parlamentari li jagħti l-pariri lid-Dipartimenti tal-Gvern jew lil xi awtorità pubblika, anke meta jkun (jew tkun) kkwalifikat biex jagħmel dan.  Il-Membru Parlamentari qiegħed hemm biex jilleġisla, biex iħares il-fondi pubbliċi kif ukoll biex jassigura li l-Gvern tal-ġurnata jagħti kont ta’ egħmilu kontinwament. Dan hu obbligu ta’ kull wieħed u waħda mill-Membri Parlamentari.

Tul is-snin il-parlament wera li kien inkapaċi li jagħmel dmiru u riżultat ta’ hekk, il-Kabinett, li qiegħed jikber kontinwament b’mod esaġerat,  ħassu liberu li jagħmel li jrid, għax jaf li effettivament ħadd ma kien qed jitolbu kont ta’ egħmilu.

Il-Membri Parlamentari tagħna huma part-timers. L-impieg ewlieni tagħhom jeħdilhom ħinhom u l-enerġija tagħhom. Riżultat ta’ hekk nistgħu ta’ kuljum naraw parlament ineffettiv b’membri parlamentari bħal Rosianne Cutajar ifittxu impiegi fantażma, u dan sakemm ma tkunx qed tagħmilha ta’ sensara tassisti fil-bejgħ tal-propjetà u ddaħħal xi kummissjoni!

Wasal iż-żmien li l-Membri Parlamentari jagħmlu xogħol tal-parlament biss u xejn iktar.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : 2 t’April 2023

The role of Members of Parliament

Earlier this week I requested the Auditor General to investigate the appointment of the Honourable Rosianne Cutajar as a consultant to the Chief Executive Office of the Institute for Tourism Studies (ITS).

Reading through Cutajar’s contract of employment with ITS, made public by Shift News as a result of a freedom of information application, one clearly concludes that the main areas of responsibility of consultant Cutajar were in the areas of the financial management of ITS.

She was expected to work closely with the CEO and the Institute Directors in order to prepare annual budgets, oversea quality control, establish goals, assist in day-to-day decisions, review financial and non-financial reports to devise solutions and improvements……………

Knowing that consultant Cutajar is a trained teacher of the Italian language at secondary school level it is very reasonable to assume that this contract created a phantom job, paid for from public monies.

In view of this logical conclusion I requested the Auditor General to investigate the  ITS and its management as at the end of the day it is the ITS CEO who is responsible for this state of affairs. He should answer for his actions and explain matters to the auditor general’s investigation team.

The creation of phantom jobs at the public sector is done to benefit blue-eyed boys and girls as payment for services rendered elsewhere. Rosianna Cutajar’s phantom job is not the only one we know of. Do you remember Melvin Theuma, the guy who brokered the murderof Daphne Caruana Galizia? He too was given a phantom job in the public sector, thanking him for services rendered.

Why isn’t Rosianne Cutajar (at the point of writing still a Member of Parliament) focused on her duties as a Member of Parliament? She seems to have so much time on her hands that, in addition to her “Parliamentary duties” she can dedicate a minimum of 24 hours every week to her ITS consultancy work, against payment of €27,000 per annum.

The problem is even bigger than that, as she is expected, as part of her parliamentary duties, to monitor the ITS and to hold the Hon Minister of Tourism accountable for their performance.  How can she do this when she is involved in all this as a result of her consultancy? I am not aware that she ever withdrew from a parliamentary debate on tourism on the grounds of conflict of interest!

This problem is not restricted to consultant Cutajar. It has in fact, particularly since 2013, been generally applicable to the Labour party parliamentary group in view of the amendments to various laws which permitted the appointment of sitting MPs to various posts. We have had Deo Debattista and Manwel Mallia who were appointed as Chairpersons of the Health and Safety Authority or Konrad Mizzi who on being fired as Minister for Tourism was appointed as consultant to the Tourism Authority on the express instructions of then Premier Joseph Muscat as attested to by the investigation concluded at my request by the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life.

In addition, there have been a substantial number of other appointments of MPs as advisors in various roles. At a point in time, as emphasised by the then Commissioner for Standards in Public Life in a 2019 report, two-thirds of all backbench MPs held appointments in or contracts with the public sector.

It is not the role or function of a sitting MP to advise a government department or a public authority, even if he or she is qualified to do so.  A Member of Parliament should sit in Parliament to legislate, to protect the public purse and to hold government to account continuously. This is the duty of each MP.

Over the years parliament has shown itself to be incapable of doing its duty and as a result has left the ever-growing Cabinet free to do what it likes, knowing that no one will effectively hold it to account.

Our Parliamentarians are part-timers. Their full-time employment takes up most of their time and energies. The result is what we can all see, day in day out: an ineffective parliament with Parliamentarians like Rosianne Cutajar seeking phantom jobs, when she is not brokering the sale of properties and pocketing the relative commissions!

Isn’t it about time that Members of Parliament are full-timers?

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 2 April 2023

The Trojan gift

photo:The Procession of the Trojan horse into Troy: Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo(1727-1804)

Greek mythology conveys a multitude of lessons which we could do well to ponder on. One of them refers to gifts that mask a hidden, and generally destructive, agenda. One such lesson results from the account of the Trojan war in Homer’s Iliad and its retelling in Virgil’s masterpiece Aeneid.

Virgil advises us that we should beware of Greeks bearing gifts. Virgil’s observation is with reference to the “gift” of a wooden horse left by the Greek warriors outside the walls of the besieged city of Troy! As we know the actual hidden element attached to the Greek gift was the armed soldiers hidden within the wooden horse!

The Trojan horse was pulled within the city of Troy as part of the celebrations for the lifting of the city’s siege. When the celebrations had subsided, during the night, out came the surprise from within the wooden horse, armed Greek soldiers which devastated the city. This is the proverbial Trojan horse!

The nomination by Robert Abela of George Hyzler some months ago as a member of the European Court of Auditors is precisely one such gift of the Labour leader to the Opposition.

Most would agree that George Hyzler performed well as Commissioner for Standards in Public Life. Even government shares this view. As a result, it has gone out of its way to offer him a gilded carrot which he could not easily refuse. Hyzler was kicked upstairs as a result of his performance. In my opinion there is no other realistic way of interpreting the nomination.

Hyzler’s nomination to the European Court of Auditors is part of the Abela chess game of political manoeuvring. Generally, he moves about Labour pawns along the political chessboard. Through Hyzler’s nomination he has also succeeded in placing the Opposition in an awkward corner which, so far, Bernard Grech has proved to be incapable of avoiding.

The Opposition should have advised Hyzler that he ought to serve his full term as Commissioner for Standards in Public Life. Given the prevailing political circumstances, Hyzler should have never accepted the nomination to the European Court of Auditors. Its Trojan purpose should have been clear enough even to the most junior of political novices. Unfortunately, everyone was aware of this except, apparently, the Opposition, which was once more outmanoeuvred by Labour.

This is the essential and basic background to the current parliamentary debate on the proposed amendments to the legislation relative to the regulation of Standards in Public Life.

Officially the proposed amendments seek to introduce an anti-deadlock mechanism. Whenever the two-thirds majority required to approve the appointment of a Standards in Public Life Commissioner is not attained in two consecutive ballots, a week apart, it is being proposed that thereafter, the required threshold would be reduced to that of a simple majority.

The proposed amendments seek to eliminate a basic objective of the existing legislation, this being that the Standards Commissioner, though approved by Parliament, must enjoy the confidence of the Parliamentary Opposition. (Our laws provide other instances where the Opposition is guaranteed a central role: the Chairmanship of the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee and the role of Deputy Speaker come to mind.)

Having a nominee of integrity, such as former Chief Justice Joseph Azzopardi, is not sufficient. The fact that he is not acceptable to the Opposition is in itself a sufficient (and valid) reason justifying his non-suitability to the post, provided a valid reason for such an objection exists. It is not required that the person be an Opposition nominee: he or she should however be a person whom the Opposition accepts.

The point made by government that Bernard Grech first accepted the nomination and then changed his view, even if correct, is irrelevant, as the proposed candidate needs to be acceptable to the Opposition as a whole and not just to its Leader. His Parliamentary Group is within its rights in over-ruling him whenever it considers that this is necessary. This is not a rare occurrence in democratic political parties!

The whole purpose of the two-thirds requirement is to have as wide a consensus as possible when appointing a Commissioner for Standards in Public Life. Removal of the broad consensus requirement undermines the whole process.

As a result of the two-thirds requirement the Opposition does not just have a major determining say: it also has the duty to act in a responsible manner. It must as a consequence have valid reasons justifying its decision. Even the Opposition is accountable.

The parliamentary debate is currently going round in circles. Government wants to control the whole process on its own. It already enjoys the final say on deciding on each and every investigation, through its parliamentary majority as well as a direct result of the composition of the parliamentary committee on Standards in Public Life. Labour has apparently decided that it is no longer essential to ensure that the eventual appointee is acceptable to the Parliamentary Opposition. It has decided to discard the consensus requirement. This will undermine the integrity of the oversight required on the regulation of Standards in Public Life. The Opposition, has, so far, not explained why it is opposing the nomination of former Chief Justice Joseph Azzopardi.

Both Labour and the PN have taken an intransigent position: my way or no way. Together they are demolishing what has been slowly developed over the years. This is what a two party system is capable of producing!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 22 January 2023

L-integrità fil-ħajja pubblika

L-OECD (Organizzazzjoni għall-Kooperazzjoni Ekonomika u l-Iżvilupp) għadha kif ippubblikat tlett rapporti dwar aspetti differenti tal-integrità tal-ħajja pubblika f’Malta. Dan għamlitu bħala parti mill-proġett iffinanzjat mill-Unjoni Ewropeja dwar it-tisħiħ tal-ħidma tal-uffiċċju tal-Kummissarju għall-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika.

L-ewwel rapport hu dwar kif il-leġislazzjoni eżistenti tista’ titjieb filwaqt li t-tieni wieħed hu dwar it-titjib organizzattiv meħtieġ fl-uffiċċju tal-Kummissarju għall-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika. It-tielet rapport fih rakkomandazzjonijiet dwar ir-regolamentazzjoni tal-lobbying.

It-tlett rapporti fihom total ta’ 71 rakkomandazzjoni li l-esperti u l-konsulenti tal-OECD iddiskutew mad-diversi persuni u organizzazzjonijiet li ltaqgħu magħhom f’Malta. Mingħajr ma innaqqas mill-mertu ta’ dawn it-tlett rapporti irrid nemfasizza bi kważi ċertezza li l-parti l-kbira ta’ dawn ir-rakkomandazzjonijiet kienu ilhom preżenti fid-dibattitu politiku lokali għal żmien konsiderevoli. Sfortunatament dawn ġew repetutament injorati mill-partiti fil-parlament.

F’dawn il-paġni jiena ktibt diversi drabi dwar il-ħtieġa li nirregolaw il-lobbying fil-pajjiż. Il-lobbying huwa parti essenzjali mill-proċess demokratiku. Jeħtieġ, iżda, li jkun trasparenti. Sentejn ilu, il-Kummissarju għall-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika Dr George Hyzler, ippubblika dokument konsultattiv dettaljat dwar il-mod kif nistgħu nirregolaw il-lobbying fil-pajjiż. Wara sentejn, iżda,  għadu ma sar xejn: il-proposti tiegħu għadhom qed jiġu “studjati”! Hi sfortuna li s’issa l-partiti fil-parlament ma jidhrux li huma interessati.  

Il-ħolqien tal-uffiċċju ta’ Kummissarju għall-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika kien pass tajjeb ħafna, avolja kien hemm ħafna dewnien u tkaxkir tas-saqajn sakemm il-liġi għaddiet mill-Parlament.

Dan l-uffiċċju jeħtieġ li jkun allinejat kemm mal-uffiċċju tal-Ombudsman kif ukoll mal-Uffiċċju Nazzjonali tal-Verifika. Meta tqishom flimkien dawn huma tlett funzjonijiet essenzjali biex il-governanza tajba tinfirex u tissaħħaħ fl-oqsma kollha tal-amministrazzjoni pubblika.

It-tlieta li huma qed jagħmlu xogħol utli.  Jistgħu jkunu anke aħjar kieku jkollhom inqas tfixkil kull meta jkunu jeħtieġu informazzjoni biex jeżaminaw dak li jkollhom quddiemhom.  Ir-rapporti tal-OECD jezaminaw il-liġi Maltija li biha twaqqaf l-uffiċċju ta’ Kummissarju għall-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika u jigbdu l-attenzjoni għad-diversi oqsma fejn jista’ jsir titjib biex ikun assigurat li l-indipendenza tal-Kummissarju tkun imħarsa b’mod prattiku.

Il-pubblikazzjoni tal-files Uber, iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, wrew li hemm bosta gvernijiet u istituzzjonijiet oħra (inkluż l-Unjoni Ewropeja) li minkejja li għandhom biżibilju liġijiet u regolamenti dwar il-lobbying, xorta nqabdu fuq sieq waħda. Għax li jkollok il-liġijiet li jiregolaw il-lobbying mhux biżżejjed: neħtieġu ukoll ir-rieda politika biex nimplimentawhom. Bosta drabi din ir-rieda politika ma teżistix!  

Il-kontabilità, it-trasparenza u l-governanza tajba huma ferm iktar minn slogans: huma valuri fundamentali li fuqhom jinbena l-istat demokratiku modern.  L-uffiċċju tal-Kummissarju dwar l-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika, l-Ombudsman u l-Uffiċċju Nazzjonali tal-Verifika huma parti integrali mill-infrastruttura demokratika li hi essenzjali biex dawn il-valuri jrabbu għeruq b’saħħithom fl-istituzzjonijiet u s-soċjetà tagħna.

Madwar tnax-il xahar ilu l-Ombudsman kien indika li ma kellux intenzjoni li jaċċetta li l-ħatra tiegħu tkun imġedda. Ghad ma ġiex identifikat min ser jinħatar floku avolja qed jingħadu bosta affarijiet dwar dak li għaddej bejn il-partiti parlamentari  huma u jiddiskutu dwar min jista’ jinħatar.  Sadanittant Dr George Hyzler ser ikollu jwarrab ukoll  għax inħatar mill-Gvern Malti fil-Qorti Ewropeja tal-Awdituri. F’dan il-mument delikat ser ikun hemm post ieħor vojt.

Jekk verament nemmnu li f’dan l-istat demokratiku l-istituzzjonijiet għandhom valur, huwa essenzjali li dawn il-vakanzi jimtlew illum qabel għada. F’ġieh is-serjetà fil-ħajja pubblika hemm bżonnhom bla ħafna iktar dewmien.

ippubblikat fuq : Illum 17 ta’ Lulju 2022

Standards Matter

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.

Standards matter. 

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

Ikla tajba tiftaħ l-aptit ta’ Bernard Grech

Ikla tajba tiftaħlek l-aptit sewwa. Hekk jidher li ġara lill-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni Bernard Grech f’ikla li kellu waqt il-kampanja elettorali ma’ numru ta’ negozjanti. Hi ikla li għaliha mar bis-sasla biex jiġbor flejjes kbar. Għax għandu bżonn il-miljuni. Ġew imwegħda somom kbar, mid-dehra. Imma jidher li kien hemm ukoll il-kundizzjonijiet.

Intqal li hemm min ried proklama għal tal-familja. Hemm min ried jagħlaq ħalq uħud mill-kandidati tal-PN. Għax qed idejquh!

Diġa saru dikjarazzjonijiet dwar dak li ġara, għax uħud li kienu hemm, għall-ikla, tkellmu.

Il-verità kollha mhux ser inkunu nafuha qabel ma jkun hemm min jgħid l-istorja kollha. S’issa nafu biss biċċiet. Kull min tkellem qal il-biċċa li taqbillu.

Li jkun hemm min jagħmel talbiet lill-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni bħal dawk li issemmew hu possibli. Li hu ta’ interess pubbliku iżda hu x’wieġeb il-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni għat-talbiet li sarulu. Kemm dawk (it-talbiet) li nafu bihom kif ukoll dawk li għad ma nafux!

Iċ-ċaħda li saru t-talbiet ma tantx titwemmen. Għalhekk hu iktar importanti li tingħata spjegazzjoni ċara ta’ x’ġara eżattament. Illum jew għada nkunu nafu, imma l-verzjoni li toħroġ bil-mod qatt ma tkun preċiża, dejjem tkun imlewwna. Il-kuluri żejda, kif tafu, ma jagħmlu ġid lil ħadd.

It-trasparenza u l-kontabilità vera jesiġu li Bernard Grech jagħti kont ta’ għemilu. Illum qabel għada.

Il-politka bl-ixkupa

Bħala partit għażilna l-ixkupa bħala s-simbolu politiku għall-elezzjoni tas-26 ta’ Marzu. L-ixkupa hi għodda tal-indafa. Tgħinna nnaddfu. Hi l-għodda tal-kennies, il-ħaddiem umli li jnaddaf it-toroq tagħna wara li aħna nkunu ħammiġnihom

Kull politiku għandu jkun kapaċi japprezza l-indafa. Għandu jkun kapaċi jmidd għonqu għax xogħol u jkun il-kennies tal-ħajja pubblika. Il-membri tal-parlament għandhom ikunu l-kenniesa tal-politika, determinati li jnaddfu, li jħarsu l-integrità tal-ħajja pubblika u fuq kollox jassiguraw li jittieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet meħtieġa f’waqthom, mingħajr tkaxkir tas-saqajn.  

Il-Manifest ta’ ADPD ġie ippubblikat f’nofs il-ġimgħa iwassal messaġġ ċar li Xkupa ħadra tnaddaf.

Hemm ħafna x’jeħtieġ li jsir biex dan il-pajjiż jinġieb lura għan-normal. Partiti oħra għandhom viżjoni u attitudni differenti u jwasslu messaġġi li ġeneralment jikkuntrastaw ma tagħna. Hemm iżda oqsma fejn hemm qbil u dan hu tajjeb. Għandi nifhem li ilkoll wara kollox nixtiequ l-ġid lil dan il-pajjiż avolja dan ma jkunx dejjem ċar.

Għandna nifhmu li qegħdin naħdmu għall-istess pajjiż, anke jekk b’viżjoni differenti u li kulltant tikkuntrasta! Għandna nagħmlu ħilitna kollha biex nikkontribwixxu għal dibattitu pubbliku pożittiv. Il-kritika tagħna għal dak li jingħad hi essenzjali, imma hi kritika li trid issir dejjem b’mod responsabbli.

L-aħħar xhur tal-ħidma parlamentari kienet iddominata minn diskussjoni dwar rapporti tal-Kummissarju dwar l-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika dwar l-imġieba mhux korretta ta’ uħud mill-membri parlamentari. Dawn ir-rapporti wasslu għar-riżenja ta’ żewġ membri tal-Kabinett u ta’ Segretarju Permanenti.  Kien hemm reżistenza biex isiru dawn ir-riżenji. Hi sfortuna li l-Prim  Ministru xejn ma kien deċiżiv fiż-żewġ każi: ħa passi biss wara pressjoni sostanzjali mis-soċjetà ċivili.

Hu fatt magħruf li d-dinja tan-negozju u l-poter politku huma viċin wisq ta’ xulxin. Dan hu ta’ ostaklu għall-kontabilità, għat-trasparenza u ġhall-osservanza tal-etika fil-ħajja pubblika. Aħna f’ADPD ilna s-snin ngħiduh dan. Anke is-soċjetà ċivili ilha ssemma leħinha dwar dan. Issa anke l-Kummissjoni ta’ inkjesta li investigat iċ-ċirkustanzi li wasslu għall-assassinju ta’ Daphne Caruana Galizia ikkonfermat din il-konnessjoni mhux mixtieqa bejn il-politika u d-dinja tan-negozju. Qegħdin viċin wisq!   

Għandna ħtieġa ta’ Parlament li jkollu sensittività etika.  Għandna bżonn iktar membri parlamentari ta’ integrità, kapaċi jgħarblu b’mod konsistenti l-ħidma tal-amministrazzjoni pubblika. Neħtieġu istituzzjonijiet b’karattru u b’sinsla. Għandna bżonn ta’ Parlament li jinkludi kandidati ta’ ADPD eletti mid-distretti differenti. Kandidati li mhux qegħdin fil-ġirja għal xi interess personali, tagħhom jew ta’ oħrajn, imma biss għas-servizz tal-komunità kollha.

NagħmeI emfasi fuq il-verb “jinkludi” u dan billi l-kandidati ta’ ADPD mhumiex l-uniċi li jistgħu jagħtu kontribut pożittiv għall-iżvilupp tal-politka f’pajjiżna.  Nitkellem b’rispett dwar il-kandidati l-oħra ippreżentati mill-partiti politiċi l-oħrajn. Il-parti l-kbira minnhom huma nisa u irġiel iddedikati li qed jagħtu servizz ġenwin lill-komunità tagħna huma ukoll.

Il-manifest elettorali ta’ ADPD jittratta numru mhux żgħir ta’ proposti li għandhom impatt dirett fuq il-ħajja taċ-ċittadini tagħna. Mhux manifest ta’ Father Christmas iqassam ir-rigali imma hu presentazzjoni ta’ viżjoni li irridu nimxu fuqha.

L-agenda tagħna hi li nkunu ta’ servizz għall-komunità kollha.

L-indafa fil-politika hi essenzjali. Mingħajr indafa ma nistgħux naħdmu sewwa. Aħna irridu li nkunu l-għodda għat-tiġdid tal-politika fil-pajjiż. L-ixkupa ħadra li tnaddaf. B’politika li tagħti servizz illum  waqt li tkun attenta dwar l-impatti fuq għada. B’hekk nistgħu nassiguraw li l-ħidma tal-lum ma xxekkilx lill-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri mid-dritt tagħhom li jieħdu id-deċiżjonijiet li jkunu meħtieġa minnhom.

F’dan il-mument kritiku il-politika bl-ixkupa hi l-unika triq vijabbli l-quddiem. Il-politika Maltija għandha bżonn tindifa nobis!

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 6 ta’ Marzu 2022

The politics of the broom

ADPD – The Green Party has selected the broom as its political symbol for the 26 March elections. The broom is a tool which assists us in achieving cleanliness. It is the street sweeper’s tool, the humble worker that cleans our streets after we mess them up.

Achieving cleanliness is an objective which should be shared by all parliamentarians.  Parliament and its members should be the political sweepers, keeping politics clean, safeguarding its integrity and above all ensuring that decisions are taken whenever required without unnecessary delay.

The Green political manifesto has been published in mid-week. Its main message is that Green sweeps clean (Xkupa ħadra tnaddaf).

There is so much to do to get this country back to normal. Other parties generally have a different vision and attitude and convey contrasting messages. There are however also areas of overlap between the different political parties. It is to be assumed that all seek the common good, even though at times this is not that clear!

We recognise that we are in this journey all together. We will do all in our power to contribute to a positive debate. We are critical of the political platforms of other parties but we do this in a responsible manner.

The last months of parliamentary debate have been dominated by the consideration of the reports of the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life on the unethical behaviour of members of Cabinet. These reports have led to the resignation of two members of Cabinet and a Permanent Secretary. They were reluctant resignations. The Prime Minister unfortunately did not act decisively in both cases: he acted only as a result of the substantial public pressure of civil society.

It is a well-known fact that accountability, transparency and ethics in public life are severely hindered by the close connections between political power and business concerns. It is not only ADPD that has been saying this for a long time. The ever-increasing voice of civil society has led to these issues being given the attention they deserve. The Inquiry Commission investigating the circumstances into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia also confirmed this unsavoury link between politics and business: they are too close for comfort.  

We need a Parliament that is ethically sensitive. We need more Members of Parliament of integrity, able to oversee continuously and consistently the public administration. We need institutions with character and a solid spine. We need a Parliament that includes ADPD representatives elected from amongst the candidates being presented to the electorate in each district – candidates that are not in it for their personal gain or in the interests of others but for the service of all citizens.

I emphasise the verb “includes” as ADPD candidates are not the only ones who can contribute positively to the development of our politics. I speak with utmost respect of the candidates presented by other parties. Most of them are dedicated men and women willing to be of genuine service to the community.

ADPD’s electoral manifesto presents a wide range of proposals that impact directly on citizens’ rights. It is not a manifesto of Father Christmas promises but a vision laying out a road map to be followed.

Our agenda is to be of service to the whole community. Clean politics in public life is essential. We want to be a political tool for renewal. A green broom to sweep clean. Politics that serves today while keeping an eye on the impact on tomorrow, ensuring that actions taken today do not deny future generations their right to eventually take their own decisions.

At this critical point the politics of the broom is the way forward. It is about time that we sweep Maltese politics clean.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 6 March 2022

The golden handshakes must be transparent

It has been reported, in various sections of the press, that Justyne Caruana, former Minister of Education, has received, or will be shortly receiving payment in the region of €30,000 as a result of her ceasing to hold political office. This has occurred after she was forced to resign subsequent to the publication of a damning report from the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life which report concluded that the Ministry of Education, under her political direction, had screwed the exchequer to benefit her “close friend”.

Since 2008 holders of political office who cease to occupy such office have received golden handshakes, substantial sums which some describe as severance pay. The sums disbursed to date are substantial and, over the years, are said to be close to a total of €1,500,000. Holders of political office in receipt of such payments are not just members of Cabinet, as payments have also been made to former Leaders of the Opposition throughout these years.

The applicable criteria are largely unknown. There is no transparency whatsoever in the process.

There is a serious issue of governance.  The Executive is bound to be accountable through ensuring that both the criteria applied as well as the monies disbursed are well known. It is an expenditure from the public purse, so there should be no secrets about it. It is in the public interest to know how the public purse is being managed at all times.

First: the objectives of the payments should be crystal clear. When holders of political office take up their post, generally, they take leave from their current employment or close their private offices if they are professionals. Their job prior to assuming political office may be lost by the time they relinquish office. On the other hand, losing contact with their professional environment will generally place them in a difficult position to reintegrate when their term of political responsibilities draws to an end. 

Hence the objective of these so-called golden handshakes is to compensate for the fact that the holder of political office cannot go back to his/her former job or professional environment. He or she will generally have to start from scratch or almost. Not all cases are identical and hence the criteria drawn up should allow for some leeway. Do they? We do not know as to date these criteria are considered as some state secret!

The objective of the payments made is to ease the transition of the holder of political office back to a normal life.

The second point is to establish who should apply these criteria. From what is known through reports in the media the matter is regulated by the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), either directly or through the Cabinet office. This is not on.

Ideally the criteria should be applied by an authoritative person or body separate and distinct from the OPM. The OPM has a finger in the pie, generally, in all the circumstances leading to the appointment to political office or to the dismissal therefrom. It should therefore not be in a position of sugaring resignations with promises of generous hand-outs.

The third point is then to establish the quantum payable.

From what is known, locally, this is established at a month’s salary for every year’s service, subject to a minimum payment of a six-month salary. It is not known whether eligibility is pegged to a minimum period in office.  These payment rates are substantial when compared to those in other jurisdictions. In addition to having smaller payments other jurisdictions subject such benefits to a minimum period in office, generally of not less than one year.

There are also a number of other serious considerations which need to be made. Should loss of political office as a result of an unfavourable election result have the same impact as being dismissed from office or being forced to resign as a result of unethical or unacceptable behaviour?

Specifically, should ending your political appointment in disgrace be rewarded? It should definitely not be so.

These are some of the issues which transparency brings to the fore. We need to discuss them seriously and only then can they be applied ethically and fairly.

It is for these reasons that earlier this week I have requested the Auditor General to investigate the golden handshakes being paid out by the Office of the Prime Minister to former members of the Cabinet. The payments made and the criteria applied should be examined meticulously.

Good governance should be our basic guide.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 9 January 2022