Pétrus: minn Yorgen għal Joseph: u ejja, b’daqshekk x’ġara?

Il-politiċi għandhom iżommu distanza soċjali min-nies tan-negozju, u dan mhux biss waqt pandemija. Dan kien rappurtat li ntqal minn George Hyzler, il-Kummissarju tal-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika, iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, waqt seduta ta’ kumitat parlamentari li kien qed jiddiskuti r-rapport tiegħu dwar investigazzjoni li għamel fuq Joseph Muscat, ex-Prim Ministru. Ir-rapport ta’ Hyzler hu dwar ir-rigal li Joseph Muscat irċieva mingħand Yorgen Fenech li kien jikkonsisti fi tlett fliexken inbid prim, Château Pétrus, mingħand min hu presentement akkużat li kien il-moħħ wara l-assassinazzjoni ta’ Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Joseph Muscat mhux l-ewwel politiku li irċieva rigali kompromettenti. L-ex Ministru tal-Finanzi Tonio Fenech kien aċċetta rikba bla ħlas (bejn Malta u Madrid u lura) fuq jet privat flimkien ma żewġ negozjanti biex jara logħba futbal taċ-Champon’s League (l-Arsenal f’Madrid).  Tonio Fenech, li anke rċieva rigali kontroversjali oħra, dakinhar kien soġġett għal kritika qawwija, avolja l-kariga ta’ Kummissarju dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika ma kienitx teżisti!  Anke kellu l-barka tal-Prim Ministru ta’ dakinnhar, “ir-rett” Lawrence Gonzi. U ejja, b’daqshekk x’ġara?

Fl-2015 kellna ukoll il-każ tal-ex-Ministru tas-Saħħa  Joe Cassar li, kif kien sar magħruf, kien aċċetta numru ta’ rigali mingħand negozjant ieħor kontroversjali: Joseph Gaffarena. Dakinhar ukoll ma kellniex Kummissarju dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika, imma  Joe Cassar ħa deċiżjoni korretta u irreżenja wara li ammetta li żbalja. Cassar ma irrealizzax mill-ewwel bil-gravità ta’ dak li ġara. Imma fl-ebda ħin ma qal: u ejja, b’daqshekk x’ġara?

Meta dawk li jkollhom kariga politika jirċievu rigali li jiswew il-flus ikunu qed joħolqu sitwazzjoni li biha faċilment jikkompromettu l-kariga pubblika li jokkupaw. Il-posizzjoni kompromettenti tkun ferm iktar gravi jekk dak li jġib ir-rigal ikun jiddependi mill-politiku  minħabba deċiżjonijiet li jkunu għadhom pendenti, u ferm agħar jekk ikun jew tkun diġa ibbenefika minn deċiżjonijiet li diġa ttieħdu.

Nifhem li għal uħud mill-politiċi din tista’ tkun sitwazzjoni diffiċli ħafna, b’mod partikolari jekk il-politiku nvolut ma jkunx imdorri jaġixxi b’mod etiku saħansitra f’affarijiet żgħar li niffaċċjaw fil-ħajja ta’ kuljum.  L-imġieba etika mhiex switch li tixgħel jew titfi skond jekk tkunx attiv fil-politika jew le.  Il-politiku qiegħed taħt il-lenti pubblika u l-pubbliku, illum jew għada, jiskopri l-imġieba mhux korretta ta’ dak li jkun.  L-attitudni ta’ uħud ġeneralment hi rifless ta’ imġieba mhux etika li saret tant komuni fis-soċjetà tagħna: fil-professjonijiet, fin-negozju (żgħir u kbir), fis-servizzi, fis-settur pubbliku u f’kull qasam tal-ħajja ta’ kuljum. Is-soċjetà tagħna żviluppat attitudni ta’ “u ejja, b’daqshekk x’ġara?”. Kollox, jew kważi kollox jgħaddi.  Allura m’hemmx għalfejn nistgħaġbu jekk din l-attitudni hi riflessa ukoll f’dawk eletti f’karigi pubbliċi!

Ir-rapport dwar l-inbid Château Pétrus li Yorgen ta’ lil Joseph hu biss każ wieħed li spikka.  Bla dubju hemm kwantità ta’ każijiet ta’ għoti ta’ rigali lil politiċi konnessi ma’ deċiżjonijiet speċifiċi  inkella li kellhom impatt fuq il-proċess ta’ teħid ta’ deċiżjonijiet.  F’xi każi il-linja li tifred rigal minn  attentat ta’ korruzzjoni hi waħda fina ħafna. Il-parti l-kbira tal-każi imma, diffiċli li jkunu ppruvati.  Huwa għalhekk essenzjali li l-ftit każi li dwarhom hemm il-provi jittieħdu passi dwarhom.

L-uffiċċju tal-Kummissarju tal-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika hu essenzjali fil-bini tal-infrastruttura etika tant meħtieġa biex ikunu regolati dawk f’ħatriet politiċi.  Hu għal din ir-raġuni li kien hemm elf skuża u dewmien sostanzjali biex din il-kariga inħolqot.

Ir-rapporti tal-Kummissarju dwar l-Standards fil-Ħajja Pubblika dejjem ser ikunu kontroversjali. Waqt li wieħed jirrispetta l-ġudizzju tal-Kummissarju, huwa għandu jifhem li l-konsiderazzjonijiet tiegħu dejjem ser ikunu taħt il-lenti. Bħalissa, f’xi waqtiet jidher li qed joqgħod lura bħalma għamel fl-investigazzjoni riċenti dwar il-vjaġġ ta’ Joseph Muscat f’Dubai.

Dawn huma materji li dwarhom bħalissa għadna qed nitgħallmu. Anke l-Kummissarju dwar l-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika nnifsu għadu qed isib saqajħ f’mixja li forsi twassalna biex xi darba neliminaw mill-vokabolarju tagħna espressjonijiet bħal “u ejja, b’daqshekk x’ġara?”.

Kultant, imma, naħseb li diġa qegħdin tard wisq!

ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 26 ta’ Lulju 2020

Château Pétrus and the “anything goes” syndrome

Politicians should keep a social distance from big business, always, not only during a pandemic. This was reportedly stated by George Hyzler, the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life earlier this week during a parliamentary committee sitting, when discussing the contents of his report concluding an investigation of Joseph Muscat, former Prime Minister. Hyzler’s report dealt with the receipt by Joseph Muscat of a gift consisting of three bottles of the premier Bordeaux red wine, Château Pétrus, from Yorgen Fenech, entrepreneur, currently defending himself from the criminal charge of masterminding the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Joseph Muscat is not the first politician to receive such compromising gifts. Former Finance Minister Tonio Fenech had accepted a free ride to join a couple of entrepreneurs to watch an Arsenal Champion’s League match in Madrid on a private jet belonging to one of the entrepreneurs. Tonio Fenech, who also received other controversial gifts, was heavily criticised, even though unfortunately there was no Standards Commissioner to investigate back then! He even had the blessing of his boss, the sanctimonious Lawrence Gonzi.

In 2015 we also had the case of former Health Minister Joe Cassar who, it was revealed, had accepted a series of gifts from another controversial business man: Joseph Gaffarena. There was no Commissioner for Standards in Public Life then, but Joe Cassar took the right decision and resigned after publicly accepting that he had committed a serious error of judgement.

When holders of political office accept expensive gifts, they are placing themselves in a position which could easily compromise the public office which they occupy. The seriousness of the compromising situation created increases exponentially if the gift bearer is dependent on the holder of political office for decisions yet to be taken or worse, if he/she has already benefitted from decisions taken.

It is acknowledged that at times the holder of political office may be in a very awkward situation, especially if he is not accustomed to behaving ethically even in minor everyday matters. Ethical behaviour is not a switch-on/switch-off matter dependent on whether one is involved in politics. Holders of political office are under the glare of the public spotlight, which, sooner or later discovers their misdemeanours. Their attitude is however generally a reflection of the unethical behaviour prevalent throughout society: in the professions, in business, in all sectors of everyday life. Our society has developed an attitude that “anything goes”. Consequently, it is no wonder that this is also reflected in those elected to public office!

The Château Pétrus report is just one case which has made it to the headlines. There are undoubtedly countless of other cases of gifts to holders of political office which were the result of specific decisions or else had a material impact on decision-taking. In some cases, the gift bearing borders on corruption. Most of them are however difficult to identify or prove. It is hence imperative that action is taken in respect of the few provable cases.

The Office of the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life is an essential building block of the ethical infrastructure required for the regulation of holders of political office. For this specific reason, it took ages to be implemented with a multitude of excuses continuously piling up in order to justify substantial delays.   The reports of the Standards Commissioner will always be controversial. Whilst respecting his judgement he will undoubtedly realise that his considerations will always be subject to scrutiny as at times he appears to be applying excessive self-restraint as he has done in the investigation relative to the recent Muscat Dubai trip.

We are currently riding a steep ethical learning curve. Even the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life himself is on this ethical learning trip at the end of which it may be possible to consign the “anything goes” syndrome to the dustbin of history, even though at times it seems that it may be already too late!

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 26 July 2020

Investigating Konrad’s MTA contract

It is known that Johann Buttigieg, former Chief Executive at the Planning Authority, was squeezed out of his post by Minister Ian Borg. Johann Buttigieg, however, found an ally in Konrad Mizzi, then Minister for Tourism, who facilitated his employment as the new Chief Executive of the Malta Tourism Authority.

By the time Johann Buttigieg had taken up his new post at the Malta Tourism Authority, Konrad Mizzi had already resigned as Minister. Although Konrad Mizzi had announced his resignation after a Cabinet meeting on the 26 November 2019 it is not clear if he had volunteered to step down or if he had been forced to go. He was reported as having said: “I felt it my duty – in the context of current political circumstances – to resign in loyalty to the people, the Labour Party and the Prime Minister.”

It would be reasonable to assume that Johann Buttigieg returned the favour from Konrad Mizzi when, on 9th December, he signed the contract appointing Konrad Mizzi as a consultant to the Authority – as one of his first decisions as CEO! However, this would not necessarily be a correct assumption. In fact, elsewhere in the press it has been opined that the decision to engage Konrad Mizzi as consultant was taken by Joseph Muscat himself, because after Konrad Mizzi’s resignation he was directly responsible for the Tourism Ministry.

As Chief Executive of the Malta Tourism Authority, Johann Buttigieg must shoulder substantial responsibility although it is most probable that he was acting on the instructions of Joseph Muscat. He should by now be aware that illegitimate (and unethical) superior orders can – and should be – ignored.

After Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli announced the rescinding of Konrad Mizzi’s contract she was asked to explain the reasons which justified such a revocation. She was very brief in her reply, saying that there were legal and ethical reasons that justified such a course of action. She was reluctant to state more in order to avoid prejudicing any legal action, should this result.

It is very interesting to note that the Honourable Minister has justified the revocation of the contract on ethical grounds. She is, of course, correct, although she chose not to point fingers. The point at issue then is who acted unethically?

I suggest that there are four persons who acted unethically in this specific case.

Irrespective of what they say, former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and his sidekick Konrad Mizzi resigned in disgrace for a number of reasons, including being the cause of reputational damage to the country through their involvement and/or failure to act on the Panama Papers debacle, as well as a direct result of the role of the Office of the Prime Minister in Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder: a role, the details of which are still emerging.

Joseph Muscat and Konrad Mizzi are at the top of the list of those who acted unethically as they set in motion the revolving recruitment mechanism as a result of which Konrad Mizzi was parachuted straight into the organisation for which he, as Minister, was politically responsible just two weeks earlier. This is unacceptable in any country that has a minimum degree of adherence to good governance: normally there would be a cooling-off period of some two to three years before such appointments are even considered.

Muscat and Mizzi tried to cash in on the fact that, the rules governing the ethical behaviour of holders of political office are still in their infancy. Dr George Hyzler, recently appointed by Parliament as the first Commissioner for Standards in Public Life, is still in the initial phase of his term and has yet to draft some of the appropriate rules.

The same applies to Chairman of the Malta Tourism Authority and Chief Executive Johann Buttigieg, who should not have allowed Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and his sidekick Konrad Mizzi to bully them into submission. The recruitment of Mizzi was kept secret as long as was possible due to the fact that, knowledge of its existence would undoubtedly have created further turmoil within the Labour Party, then in the process of electing a successor to the disgraced Joseph Muscat.

Where do we go from here? In my view those acting unethically should shoulder their responsibilities. I have thus requested the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life to investigate the role of Joseph Muscat, Konrad Mizzi, Gavin Gulia and Johann Buttigieg in the matter and consequently to recommend the necessary action required.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 2 February 2020

Pass tajjeb Julia: u issa?

Għada kif ħarġet l-aħbar li l-Ministeru tat-Turiżmu, wara li rċieva parir legali, ordna lill-Awtorità tat-Turiżmu biex il-kuntratt ta’ konsulenza ta’ Konrad Mizzi bi ħlas ta’ €80,000 fis-sena jkun annullat.

Pass tajjeb dan għal Julia Farrugia, l-Ministru ġdid tat-Turiżmu li sabet din il-ħatra ma wiċċha u ħadet passi. Ħatra li saret bil-moħbi fl-aħħar jiem tal-Gvern ta’ Joseph Muscat.

Li tħassar il-kuntratt hu pass tajjeb. Imma jeħtieġ ukoll li jittieħdu passi oħra.

Min ordna li Konrad Mizzi jkun ingaġġat bħala konsulent tal-Awtorità tat-Turiżmu? Ma naħsibx li dan sar minn wara dahar Joseph Muscat.

Bla dubju huma nvoluti ukoll Gavin Gulia Chairman tal-Awtorità tat-Turiżmu u Johann Buttigieg Chief Executive li ġie ngaġġat dan l-aħħar wara li Ian Borg ra kif għamel u ħeles minnu mill-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar. Il-kuntratt fil-fatt hu iffirmat minn Johann Buttigieg.

L-istorja m’għandhiex tieqaf hawn. Diġa saret talba biex il-Kumitat tal-Kontijiet Pubbliċi tal-Parlament jinvestiga.

Imma dan il-kaz hu ukoll wieħed dwar nuqqas ta’ mġieba etika u għandu jkun eżaminat mill-Kummissarju dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika fil-konfront kemm ta’ Joseph Muscat kif ukoll ta’ Gavin Gulia u Johann Buttigieg.

Ser nagħmel talba lil Dr George Hyzler biex jinvestiga dan.

L-arloġġ ta’ Joseph: tgħid falz, bħaċ-ċertifikat dwar Egrant?

Il-bieraħ is-sit elettroniku lovinmalta.com ippubblika l-istorja esklussiva li Yorgen Fenech ta rigal lil Joseph Muscat konsistenti f’arloġġ tad-deheb abjad Bvlgari li jifforma parti minn edizzjoni limitata li inħadmet bħala kommemorazzjoni tas-sħubija ta’ Malta fl-Unjoni Ewropeja.

Hemm ħamsa u għoxrin arloġġ li huma kollha numerati. Ta’ Joseph, tgħidilna Lovinmalta għandu n-numru 17: bħas-17 Black.

Jekk din l-istorja hi minnha hi gravi ħafna.

L-ewwel nett hi bi ksur tal-Kodiċi tal-Etika tal-Ministri għax hu ipprojibit għall-Ministri tal-Kabinett li jaċċettaw dawn ir-rigali. Meta inħadem, l-arloġġ, kien stmat li jiswa’ €20,000 (għoxrin elf euro). Illum jiswa’ ħafna iktar.

It-tieni, jekk ir-rigal fil-fatt ingħata, jfisser li hemm rabta viċina bejn Joseph u Yorgen. Kemm hi viċina ma nafx. Forsi l-Ispettur Keith Arnaud jkun jista’ jeżamina l-laptop u l-mobile ta’ Joseph u (forsi) jkun jista’ jgħidilna iktar dwar kemm il-kriminalità daħlet il-ġewwa, fil-fond, fil-Berġa ta’ Kastilja.

Is-suspetti ilhom għaddejjin. Sfortunatament il-Pulizija lebsin ingwanti fini u qed jagħlqu għajnejhom.

Il-bieraħ stess tlabt lill-Kummissarju dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika Dr George Hyzler biex b’referenza għal dan ir-rigal jiftaħ investigazzjoni fuq il-Prim Ministru Joseph Muscat u l-osservanza minnu tal-Kodiċi tal-Etika applikabbli.

Ħaġa waħda għad mhiex ċara: jekk l-arloġġ li rċieva Joseph hux falz bħaċ-ċertifikat ta’ Egrant “iffirmat” minn Jacqueline Alexander.

Il-Lobbying u l-eżerċizzju tal-poter

Meta niddiskutu l-politika dwar ir-regolamentazzjoni tal-lobbying bosta drabi jqum l-argument dwar dawk il-politiċi li hekk kif jispiċċaw mill-politika attiva jingħataw responsabbiltajiet f’azjendi kbar. Din nirreferu għaliha bħala politika tar-“revolving door”, imsemmija għall-dawk il-bibien tal-lukandi li jduru u li hekk kif tidħol fiċ-ċirku tagħhom, malajr tispiċċa ġewwa.

L-eżempju klassiku li jissemma hu l-ingaġġ ta’ Josè Manuel Barroso li sa ħames snin ilu kien President tal-Kummissjoni Ewropea mill-bank multinazzjonali Goldman Sachs. Il-kumitat tal-etika tal-Unjoni Ewropea kien iddeskriva l-imġieba ta’ Barroso bħala waħda li kienet etikament ħażina avolja kien konkluż li ma kien hemm l-ebda ksur tal-Kodiċi tal-Etika.

Imġiba bħal din hi meqjusa bħala parti integrali mill-proċess tal-lobbying li jeħtieġ li jkun regolat b’mod adegwat.

F’Malta dawn l-affarijiet nagħmluhom “aħjar” minn hekk għax l-anqas regoli dwar imġieba ta’ din ix-xorta ma għandna! Fost oħrajn, dan huwa riżultat tal-fatt li ma kienx hemm qbil bejn Gvern u Opposizzjoni fil-Parlament dwar ir-regolamentazzjoni tal-lobbying meta kienet qed tkun diskussa il-liġi dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika. Allura ipposponew id-diskussjoni billi tefgħuha f’ħoġor il-Kummissarju dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika George Hyzler, bl-inkarigu li jkun hu li jabbozza r-regoli proposti dwar il-lobbying f’Malta.

F’Malta dan fil-fatt seħħ ukoll fil-passat riċenti mhux biss meta John Dalli kien ingaġġat mal-Grupp tal-Marsovin imma ukoll meta l-Grupp Corinthia, fi żminijiet differenti, ingaġġa kemm lis-Sur Dalli kif ukoll lill-Karmenu Vella, li għadu kif temm perjodu ta’ ħames snin bħala Kummissarju tal-Unjoni Ewropea. Ma nkisrux regoli minħabba li l-imġiba etika f’dan il-pajjiż hi ġeneralment injorata. Ir-reazzjoni lokali għal dan l-ingaġġ ta’ politiċi ġeneralment kienet: għala le?

Hu loġiku li nikkonkludu li jekk f’Malta niġu naqgħu u nqumu milli nirregolaw kif fid-dinja tan-negozju u l-industrija jingaġġaw malajr politiċi li jkunu għadhom kif spiċċaw mill-ħatra, aħseb u ara kemm ser nagħtu kaz meta nies tan-negozju jiġu ngaġġati huma stess f’posizzjonijiet viċin il-politiċi biex b’hekk jinfluwenzaw u jirregolaw l-aġenda pubblika.

Wara skiet twil, f’wieħed mill-messaġġ qosra, qishom it-talba ta’ filgħodu, li qed jippubblika fuq facebook, Varist Bartolo, qalilna kemm hu perikoluż li nies tan-negożju jkunu viċin iżżejjed tal-poter. Probabbilment li qed jitkellem mill-esperjenza, wara li hu u sħabu fil-Kabinett kienu qed jiffaċċjaw lill-Keith Schembri għal kważi seba’ snin sħaħ fl-Uffiċċju tal-Prim Ministru. U dan mhux l-uniku kaz.

Meta l-Kummissarju dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika ikollu l-ħin biex ifassal regoli dwar il-lobbying, dan kollu, bla dubju, jkun wieħed mill-punti fundamentali li jkunu meħtieġa illi jkunu indirizzati. In konformità ma dak li jiġri band’oħra, probabbilment li jikkonsidra regolament li ma jippermettix li l-qabża mis-settur politiku għal dak kummerċjali jseħħ immedjatament. Dan ikun ifisser li ħatriet ta’ din ix-xorta jkollhom jistennew bejn sena u nofs u sentejn minn meta tkun ġiet fi tmiemha l-ħidma fis-settur li fiha l-persuna tkun ħadmet l-aħħar. Dan isir bl-intenzjoni li jkun imnaqqas l-impatt negattiv tal-lobbying li inevitabilment jirriżulta u li jkun intrinsikament assoċjat ma dawn it-tip ta’ ħatriet.

Qegħdin tard ukoll biex ikun regolat il-lobbying b’mod ġenerali. Ir-rimedju bażiku kontra l-impatti negattivi tal-lobbying hi t-trasparenza.

Il-lobbying, kemm-il darba jsir sewwa u b’mod etiku m’għandux iwassal għal governanza ħażina. Għax huwa perfettament leġittimu li ċittadin, gruppi ta’ ċittadini, kumpaniji u anke għaqdiet mhux governattivi jfittxu li jinfluwenzaw it-teħid tad-deċiżjonijiet. Dan isir il-ħin kollu u jinvolvi l-komunikazzjoni ta’ informazzjoni u opinjonijiet jew veduti lill-leġislaturi u lil dawk li jamministraw minn kull min għandu kwalunkwè xorta ta’ interess.

Dan hu perfettament leġittimu għax iżomm lil min jieħu d-deċiżjonijiet infurmat bl-impatti ta’ dak li jkun qiegħed ikun ikkunsidrat. Imma huwa importanti li dan il-lobbying ma jkunx trasformat fi proċess li bħala riżultat tiegħu il-politiku jagħmel il-wisa’ u d-deċiżjonijiet fil-fatt jeħodhom ħaddieħor mid-dinja tal-business.

Il-lobbying jirrikjedi ammont konsiderevoli ta’ transpareza: hu essenzjali li jkun sganċjat mis-segretezza jew kunfidenzjalità artifiċjali. Fejn il-lobbying hu regolat dan isir billi l-laqgħat jew attivitajiet oħra li jservu għall-lobbying jingħataw pubbliċità biex b’hekk ikun possibli li jsir skrutinju mill-opinjoni pubblika. Il-minuti ta’ dan it-tip ta’ laqgħat ikunu pubbliċi kif għandu jkun ukoll kull dokument u studju assoċjat. Għandna d-dritt li nkunu nafu min u kif qed ifittex li jinfluwenza l-proċess tad-deċiżjonijiet. Dan jassigura li l-lobbying ma jkunx użat bħala għodda sigrieta biex iħarbat il-proċess demokratiku li bih jittieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet politiċi.

Din hi waħda mill-problemi ewlenin li tat kontribut biex tixxettel il-kriżi politika preżenti f’Malta: in-nuqqas ta’ apprezzament tal-ħtieġa ta’ mġiba etika korretta f’kull ħin fil-ħajja pubblika. Problema li jeħtieġilna li niffaċċjawha immedjatament.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd ta’ Diċembru 2019

Lobbying and the levers of power

When discussing the politics of lobbying regulation, what is known as the “revolving door” policy is frequently discussed. This is normally understood to mean the accelerated passage of a politician, generally from a senior political role, to a leading role in the corporate world.

The classic example of this was the recruitment by multinational investment bank Goldman Sachs of Josè Manuel Barroso, former President of the European Commission. An EU ethics panel had described Mr Barroso’s behaviour as morally reprehensible, even though it concluded that he was not in breach of the EU Integrity code.

Such behaviour is considered to be an integral part of the lobbying process which requires adequate regulation.

In Malta we do it even better than that, because no rules governing such behaviour exist! This is the result of no agreement on lobbying regulation being reached when the Standards in Public Life legislation was discussed by Parliament. As a result, they postponed the discussion and conveniently added the requirement of formulating lobbying rules to the duties of the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life, George Hyzler.

In Malta it has already happened in the recent past, not just in John Dalli’s recruitment by the Marsovin Group but also when the Corinthia Group recruited, at different times, both John Dalli and outgoing EU Commissioner Karmenu Vella. No rules were infringed, bypassed or ignored here as, to put it mildly, regulating ethical behaviour has never been Malta’s strong point. Rather, the local reaction was: why not?

It stands to reason that some would think that if Malta does not regulate the use of “revolving doors” to catapult politicians into the corporate world, why on earth should we regulate it for businessmen intending to do away with the lobbying middlemen and take the levers of power directly into their very hands?

After a long silence, it was very “thoughtful” of Minister of Education Evarist Bartolo to warn us of the perils we face in one of his recent early morning thoughts for the day posted on facebook. Together with his Cabinet colleagues he has had to face Keith Schembri for almost seven years at the Office of the Prime Minister, to name just one such appointment.

When the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life finds time to draft rules regulating lobbying, the issue of “revolving doors” should undoubtedly be high on his list of must dos. In line with lobbying regulations in other jurisdictions he will, hopefully, be proposing a cooling off period as a brake on such appointments. This would mean high-level appointments from the corporate world to the political world (and vice-versa) would need to wait until 18 to 24 months have elapsed between ceasing activity in one sector and entering the other. This is normally intended to dampen the negative lobbying impacts which such appointments lead to. It is inevitable and is intrinsically linked with these types of appointments.

It is also about time for the regulation of lobbying in general. Applying transparency to lobbying is the basic antidote needed.

Lobbying, if done properly and above board, should not lead to bad governance. It is perfectly legitimate for any citizen, group of citizens, corporations or even NGOs to seek to influence decision-taking. It is done continuously and involves the communication of views and information to legislators and administrators by those who have an interest in informing them of the impacts of the decisions under consideration.

It is perfectly legitimate that individuals, acting on their own behalf or else acting on behalf of third parties, should seek to ensure that decision-takers are well informed before taking the required decisions. However, lobbying should not be the process through which the decision-takers make way for the representatives of corporations to take their place.

Lobbying requires a considerable dose of transparency: it needs to be unchained from the shackles of secrecy. In other jurisdictions this is done through actively disclosing information on lobbying activities, thereby placing them under the spotlight of public opinion. The timely publication of minutes, as well as documents and studies relative to meetings held by holders of political office, is essential. The public has a right to know who is seeking to influence the decision-taking process. This helps ensure that lobbying is not used as a tool to secretly derail or deflect the democratic process leading to political decisions.

This is one of the major issues resulting from the political crisis currently engulfing the Maltese islands: essentially an absence of ethics in the public sphere which should be addressed forthwith.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 15 December 2019