Standards fil-Ħajja Pubblika: għadna nistennew

Is-sit tal-Ministeru tal-Ġustizzja jindika b’mod ċar li l-Att XIII tal-2017 imsejjaħ Att dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika għadu ma daħalx fis-seħħ. Din il-liġi irċiviet il-kunsens tal-President tar-Repubblika nhar it-30 ta’ Marzu 2017 wara li damet perjodu twil pendenti fuq l-aġenda tal-Parlament. Jidher li għad baqgħalna x’nistennew, għax il-partiti politiċi fil-parlament ma tantx jdher li għandhom għaġla.

Il-liġi tipprovdi għall-ħatra ta’ Kummissarju dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika. Dan il-Kummissarju jista’ jkun approvat biss kemm-il darba jikseb il-kunsens ta’ żewġ terzi tal-membri parlamentari. Fi ftit kliem irid ikun hemm qbil dwar il-ħatra tiegħu jew tagħha bejn il-Gvern u l-Opposizzjoni li, sa fejn naf jien, għandhom ma qablux. S’issa ħadd ma jaf xejn, l-anqas jekk ġewx proposti ismijiet, minn min u x’kienet ir-reazzjoni dwarhom.

Il-liġi approvata tapplika għall-Membri kollha tal-Parliament, inkluż il-membri tal-Kabinett. Tapplika wkoll għal dawk il-persuni maħtura f’posizzjoni ta’ fiduċja (position of trust) fil-Ministeri u s-Segretarjati Parlamentari.

Meta iktar kmieni matul din il-ġimgħa iltqajt mal-Ispeaker tal-Kamra tar-Rappreżentanti, l-Onorevoli Anġlu Farrugia, jiena emfasizzajt li dan id-dewmien biex tkun implimentata din il-liġi dwar l-imġieba xierqa tal-Membri Parlamentari u dawk maħtura f’posizzjoni ta’ fiducja qiegħed jibgħat messaġġ ċar ħafna: li l-Membri Parlamentari m’għandhom l-ebda ħeġġa biex iwieġbu għal egħmilhom.

Jiena niftakar lill-Ispeaker, xi snin ilu, jemfasizza li hu ma kienx sodisfatt mill-kontenut tad-dikjarazzjonijiet tal-assi sottomessi minn uħud mill-Membri Parlamentari. Issa għandu l-għodda biex jinvestiga dwar il-veraċitá ta’ dawn id-dikjarazzjonijiet imma sfortunatament m’huwiex jitħalla jagħmel użu minnhom! Il-Membri Parlamentari għandhom jagħtu kont ta’ egħmilhom, iżda l-fatt li l-liġi dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika għadha ma daħlitx fis-seħħ qiegħed jostakola dan milli jseħħ.

Meta tħares lejn dan in-nuqqas ta’ implimentazzjoni tal-liġi waħdu tista’ tinterpretah bħala tkaxkir tas-saqajn mill-Membri Parlamentari u l-mexxejja tagħhom li jippreferu ma jitqegħdux taħt il-lenti tal-iskrutinjun pubbliku. Imma meta dan kollu tqisu fil-kuntest tar-rapport annwali tal-Ombudsman għas-sena 2017 huwa ċar li dan it-tkaxkir tas-saqajn m’huwiex limitat iżda hu mifrux ħafna. Id-dritt tal-aċċess għall-informazzjoni dwar il-ħidma tal-amministrazzjoni pubblika qiegħed taħt assedju.

Il-kontabiltá u it-trasparenza m’humiex slogans. L-anqas huma negozjabbli. Huma valuri fundamentali li jiffurmaw parti essenzjali mis-sisien tal-istat demokratiku.

Jiena tlabt lill-Ispeaker biex jiġbed l-attenzjoni tal-Kumitat tax-Xogħol tal-Kamra li dan it-tkaxkir tas-saqajn biex ikun implimentat l-Att dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika mhuwiex aċċettabbli. Huwa essenzjali li l-liġi tkun implimentata malajr kemm jista’ jkun jekk iriduna nemmnu li għall-partiti politiċi fil-parlament il-kontabilitá tfisser xi ħaga.

B’żieda mar-responsabbiltá li jinvestiga l-imġieba kemm tal-Membri Parlamentari kif ukoll dik tal-persuni ta’ fiduċja, il-Kummissarju għall-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika ser ikollu ukoll l-inkarigu li jfassal kemm il-linji gwida kif ukoll ir-regolamenti proposti dwar l-attivitá tal-lobbying. Dwar din l-attivitá b’implikazzjonijiet etiċi sostanzjali l-partiti politiċi fil-Parlament ma qablux meta din il-liġi kienet qed tiġi ikkunsidrata quddiem il-Kumitat Parlamentari għall-konsiderazzjoni tal-abbozzi ta’ liġijiet. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan Il-materja intefgħet f’ħoġor il-Kummissarju dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika li meta jinħatar ser ikun hu li jkollu jfassal kemm il-linji gwida kif ukoll r-regolamenti proposti.

Il-lobbying hi attivitá essenzjali fil-ħajja pubblika. Jeħtieġ iżda li issir b’mod li jkun assigurat illi d-deċiżjonijiet mittieħda mill-politiċi jkunu kemm trasparenti kif ukoll b’rispett sħiħ lejn r-regoli bażiċi tal-etika.

Il-lobbying huwa ta’ influwenza kontinwa fuq id-deċiżjoniiet li jittieħdu. Huwa essenzjali li dan issir b’mod mill-iktar trasparenti biex ikun ċar għal kulħadd dwar liema interessi jkunu qed jiġu mmexxija l-quddiem. Dan bla dubju jfisser li ikun meħtieġ il-pubblikazzjoni ta’ ammont mhux żgħir ta’ informazzjoni li presentement hi fil-pussess ta’ membri tal-Kabinett u li ġeneralment tibqa’ fil-files – meta tkun miktuba. Din hi informazzjoni li ġeneralment tkun il-bażi għall-azzjonijiet u d-deċiżjonijiet li jittieħdu.

Bla ebda dubju, il-linji gwida u r-regolamenti dwar il-lobbying iridu jindirizzaw u jirregolaw x’jista’jagħmel membru tal-Kabinett meta jispiċċa mill-ħatra, materja magħrufa bħala revolving door policy. Dan minħabba li s-settur regolat mill-Ministru jkollu għatx għal informazzjoni (kunfidenzjali) li dan ikun kiseb kemm ikun ilu fil-ħatra kif ukoll għall-kuntatti u influwenzi akkumulati fuq dawk li jieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet. Xi drabi għaldaqstant meta Ministru jew Segretarju Parlamentari, hekk kif itemm il-ħatra tiegħu ikun offrut impieg f’dak l-istess settur li ftit qabel ikun dipendenti minnu jeħtieġ li nieqfu ftit. Dan ovvjament għax miegħu iġorr aċċess akkumulat kemm għal informazzjoni miksuba kif ukoll għal kuntatti u influwenza fuq il-proċess deċiżjonali. Il-linji gwida u r-regolamenti jridu jistabilixxu kemm jeħtieġ li jgħaddi żmien qabel ma dan ikun jista’ jseħħ. .

Huwa dan kollu li qed nistennew. Hemm ħafna li jeħtieġ li jsir imma ma jidher li hemm l-ebda impenn biex dan isir.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : 1 ta’ Lulju 2018 

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Standards in Public Life: still waiting for Godot

The website of the Ministry of Justice clearly indicates that Act XIII of 2017 entitled Standards in Public Life Act is not yet in force. This statute received Presidential assent on  30 March 2017 after an elephantine gestation period. It seems that we are in for a long wait as the parliamentary political parties do not seem to be in any hurry.

The Act provides for the appointment of a Commissioner for Standards in Public Life. The Commissioner can only be appointed if two-thirds of Members of Parliament agree with the nomination, and as far as I am aware there has been no agreement so far between Government and Opposition on the matter. The name or names proposed to date are not in the public domain.

The Act applies to all Members of Parliament, including the members of Cabinet. Moreover, it also applies to those appointed to a position of trust in Ministries and Parliamentary Secretariats.

When I met the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Hon Anġlu Farrugia, earlier this week, I emphasised the fact that the delay in implementing this legislation on the ethical behaviour of Members of Parliament and those appointed in positions of trust is sending one clear message: that Members of Parliament are not that eager to be accountable for their actions.

I do remember the Speaker – some years back – emphasising the fact that he was not satisfied with the contents of the asset declarations submitted annually by some MPs. He now has the tools to investigate the veracity (or otherwise) of such declarations but is, unfortunately, being prevented from doing so. MPs should be accountable for their actions, but the non-implementation of the Standards in Public Life Act is preventing such accountability.

On its own, this lack of implementation could be interpreted as a reluctance of MPs and their leaders to be personally placed under the spotlight of public opinion. However, when viewed in the context of the 2017 Ombudsman’s annual report, it is very clear that this reluctance is widespread. The right of access to information on the workings of the public administration is under siege.

Accountability and transparency are not slogans and, moreover, they are non-negotiable. They are fundamental values which underpin the democratic state.

I have asked Mr Speaker to draw the attention of the House Business Committee to the fact that this procrastination in implementing the Standards in Public Life Act is not acceptable. Its implementation is a must if we are to believe that the commitment of parliamentary political parties goes beyond slogans.

In addition to investigating the behaviour of Members of Parliament and that of people appointed to positions of trust, the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life will have the task of drawing up guidelines and a proposal for regulations on lobbying activities. This is another ethical minefield in respect of which there was no agreement between the parliamentary political parties when the draft legislation was under consideration in the Parliamentary Committee for the Consideration of Bills. As a result, instead of spelling out the required regulatory regime, the matter was postponed and added to the responsibilities of the future Commissioner for Standards in Public Life, whoever he or she may be.

Lobbying is an essential and unavoidable element of public life. However, it has to be placed under the spotlight to ensure a fuller transparency of the decisions taken by the holders of political office. In addition to subjecting lobbying to clear transparency rules, it is essential that the ethical issues linked to lobbying are addressed forthwith.

Lobbying continually influences decision-making. It is imperative that transparency rules are applied to lobbying so that it be clear to one and all as to whose interests are being advanced and defended. This would undoubtedly include the publication of a substantial amount of information to which Cabinet Ministers are currently privy, which information (generally) forms the basis for their actions and decisions.

Undoubtedly, lobbying guidelines and regulations have to address the issue of revolving doors recruitment, as a result of which politicians may be available for sale at the taxpayers expense. A policy addressing the issue of revolving doors recruitment would also regulate the cooling-off period required for a Minster or Parliamentary Secretary to take up employment (after termination of office) in the sector which was subject to his regulation authority.

This is what we are waiting for. Like Samuel Beckett’s characters in his “Waiting for Godot”. Godot never arrives.

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 1 July 2018

For sale : access to the decision-taking process

 

 

The Lowenbrau saga has raised another issue as to the extent that revolving door recruitment should be regulated. By revolving door recruitment I am referring to the movement from government service to private sector lobbying and vice-versa of holders of political office as well as of senior civil servants. As a result of such recruitment, an investment is being made in the access to the decision-taking process which is purchased or offered for sale.

Last Sunday, The Malta Independent on Sunday understandably raised the issue with reference to former Minister John Dalli in the article Revolving doors: John Dalli denies conflict of interest in Lowenbrau deal  (TMIS 22 January). However, the issue is much wider. It is a matter which is of concern in respect of the manner of operation of lobbying which in this country is largely unregulated. It has already happened not just in Mr Dalli’s recruitment with the Marsovin Group but also when the Corinthia Group recruited both Mr Dalli as well as current EU Commissioner Karmenu Vella.

It concerns both holders of political office as well as senior civil servants, including senior officers of authorities exercising executive authority.

There is much to learn from foreign jurisdictions as to the manner in which such recruitment should be regulated. A recent example which made the international headlines was the recruitment by Goldman Sachs of Josè Manuel Barroso, former President of the European Commission.  An 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.

Corporate Europe Observatory had then commented that the Barroso recruitment had “catapulted the EU’s revolving door problem onto the political agenda, causing widespread jaw-dropping and reactions of disbelief, making it a symbol of excessive corporate influence at the highest levels of the EU.”  Corporate Europe Observatory had also referred to the recruitment of other former European Commissioners by various corporations and emphasised that it is hard to avoid the conclusion that as a result of this behaviour European politicians are seen to be acting for private interests over the public interest.

This is the real significance of revolving door recruitment:  it needs to be ascertained that the potential abuse by holders of political office of milking public office for private gain is regulated. It is not just another layer of regulation or unnecessary bureaucracy.

The issue is however more complex than the recruitment of holders of political office at the end of their political appointment. It is also of relevance even when such holders of political office are appointed to such office from the private sector as can be ascertained through the current hearings by the US Senate of the Trump administration nominees. It is also applicable to senior civil servants from the wider public sector.

Parliament is currently debating a Standards in Public Life Bill, which at this point in time is pending examination at Committee stage. Unfortunately, revolving door recruitment as well as lobbying have not been considered by the legislator!   Revolving door recruitment is an exercise in selling and purchasing access to the decision-taking process. It is high time that it is placed under a continuous spotlight.

published in The Malta Independent: Wednesday 25 January 2017

Revolving doors: John Dalli and beyond

 

 

The Lowenbrau saga is developing further, much beyond its original obvious intent. The new twist is whether, and to what extent, the use of revolving doors by politicians as soon as their political office draws to an end is permissible.

The use of revolving doors is a reference to the practice of some politicians to join the Board of Directors or team of advisors of business/industry in an area which they would have been responsible for regulating when in office.

The practice in the EU and some other countries is to postpone the possible entry of former Commissioners (holders of political office) in the areas they previously regulated by three years. This signifies that former Commissioners (or Ministers) are forbidden (unless they obtain prior clearance) from joining Boards of Directors and/or organisations  of lobbyists for a number of years.  A case in point was the recent Barroso appointment to the Goldman Sachs Board which whilst being considered as being morally reprehensible was not deemed to be a breach of the EU integrity code.  

As far as I am aware, the Standards in Public Life Bill currently pending before Malta’s Parliament does not address the issue. The issues to be addressed are various. Primarily, however, it is urgent to establish a cooling-off length of time during which time persons active in public life should not take up posts in the private sector in order to ensure the observance of an ethical benchmark.

John Dallis taking up the post of Chairman of Marsovin is only one example. There are various others amongst which the posts which John Dalli himself as well as Karmenu Vella (present Commissioner and former Minister for Tourism) had taken up with the Corinthia Group in the past.

In fairness the applicability of such an ethical standard should also be considered for top civil servants, who should approach the use of revolving doors with extreme caution.  

Through the revolving door: politicians for sale at a discount

Barroso.GoldmanSachs

 

US Investment Bank Goldman Sachs announced last week that it had “hired” former EU Commission Chairman Josè Manuel Barroso as an advisor and non-executive Chairman of the Goldman Sachs International arm.

The New York Times quoting co-CEOs of Goldman Sachs International Michael Sherwood and Richard J. Gnoddle explained the relevance of the appointment as being “Josè Manuel’s immense insights and experience including a deep understanding of Europe”. Earlier this week, the EU Observer  further commented that Goldman Sachs hired Barroso “as it struggles with the fallout from Britain’s vote to leave the EU”.

Based in London but offering services across Europe, Goldman Sachs may be faced with limited or no access to the EU’s single market as a result of Brexit. Hence the need to hire Barroso as an advisor and lobbyist as the United Kingdom and the European Union prepare for the negotiations leading to the UK’s exit from the European Union which can be triggered any time in the forthcoming weeks through a declaration in terms of article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

Barroso’s engagement with Goldman Sachs is one which will be much debated as, like nine other members of the Commission which he led between 2009 and 2014, he has been catapulted into the corporate boardroom through the revolving door. His value to Goldman Sachs is his knowledge of the privileged information to which he had access during his 10-year tenure as President of the EU Commission and, the influence which he may still have on a number of key EU officials.  This gives great value to his advisory/lobbying role with Goldman Sachs.

European Union regulations on the possible activities of its former Commission members draw a cut-off line after an 18-month cooling-off period at the end of their tenure when, as stated by an EU Commission spokesperson, “there is a reasonable assumption that the access to privileged information or possible influence are no longer an issue”.   This is contested by the different political groupings in the EU Parliament who maintain that the cooling-off period for EU Commissioners taking up sensitive jobs after ceasing their duties as Commissioners should be extended from 18 months to five years as the present length of time is insufficient to ensure that the EU is really the servant of ordinary people and not of multinational corporations or international financial institutions.

This debate at a European Union level contrasts to the provisions of the Standards in Public Life Bill currently being debated by the Maltese Parliament which Bill, so far, does not make any provision on the regulation of lobbying in Malta in any form or format.

It is not unheard of in Malta for politicians to move through the revolving door from the Cabinet to the private sector boardroom or its anteroom, and back again. Three such cases of former Cabinet Ministers in Malta in the recent past come to mind : John Dalli and his involvement with the Corinthia Group and later the Marsovin Group, Karmenu Vella who similarly was heavily involved first with the Corinthia Group and subsequently with the Orange Travel Group as well as with Betfair and finally Tonio Fenech’s recent involvement in the financial industry.

Being unregulated, lobbying through the revolving door is not illegal but it can still be unethical and unacceptable in a modern democratic society as it can result in undue influence of corporations over the regulatory authorities.

Piloting the debate on the Standards in Public Life Bill on Monday 11 July, Deputy Prime Minister Louis Grech recognised the deficiencies of the Bill and declared that a register of lobbyists in Malta was a necessity. While this is a welcome statement and a significant first step forward, it is certainly not enough, as a proper regulation of lobbying in Malta is long overdue. This involves much more than registration of lobbyists or even the regulation of revolving door recruitment in both the private and the public sector.

If done properly, lobbying is perfectly legitimate. It is perfectly reasonable for any citizen, group of citizens, corporations or even NGOs to seek to influence decision-taking. In fact 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, for lobbying to be acceptable in a democratic society, it must be done transparently. In particular, through regulation it must be ensured  that lobbying should not be transformed into a  process through which the decision-takers make way for the representatives or advisors of corporations to take their place. Lobbying activities must be properly documented and the resulting documentation must be publicly accessible.

Hopefully, Parliament will take note and act.

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 17 July 2016

Lobbying: influencing decision-taking

 

what to do

Lobbying risks corruption. Establishing clear standards of acceptable behaviour in public life ought to include the regulation of lobbying, yet the Standards in Public Life Bill currently pending on the Parliament’s agenda ignores this important matter completely.

Potentially, lobbying is not a dirty matter. 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. Obviously, lobbying should not be the process through which the decision-takers make way for the representatives of corporations to take their place.

I am not aware of the reason why the Parliamentary Select Committee, led by Hon Speaker Anġlu Farrugia, failed to identify lobbying as a matter which requires regulation within the framework of the Standards in Public Life Bill. Perusal of the final report dated 24 March 2014, as well as the minutes of the Select Committee, does not reveal any indication that the matter was ever even mentioned in the Select Committee’s deliberations. In fact in my opinion, perusal of Parliament’s Motion 77, which contains the Select Committee’s terms of reference, indirectly includes lobbying as one of the matters which had to be examined.

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 lobbying activities, thereby placing them under the spotlight of public opinion. The public has a right to know who is seeking to influence the decision-taking process and this helps ensure that lobbying is not used as a tool to secretly derail or deflect political decisions.

Other jurisdictions require that lobbying activities are documented and that the official being lobbied is always accompanied. Subsequently a list of lobbying meetings and the resulting documentation is released or made available. Such disclosure is normal in various democracies.

Lobbying can be regulated in two ways: by regulating the lobbyist activities and by regulating the potential recipient of lobbying.

The activities of the lobbyist can be regulated either through a compulsory registration of lobbyists or else through a regular disclosure of the names of those carrying out lobbying activities.

On the other hand, the potential recipient of lobbying ought to be regulated through a disclosure of all information related to lobbying, including minutes of meetings as well as any memoranda exchanged or submitted for the consideration of the decision-taker.

Full transparency is undoubtedly the best tool which – together with guidelines on the permissible receipt of gifts as well as whistle-blowing – will reduce the risk of lobbying being transformed into an instrument of corruption.

This is not all. Malta also requires rules that regulate the lobbying that is carried out through revolving-door recruitment. At times, this is the easiest way in which special interest groups recruit former Ministers, as well as the former high ranking civil servants regulating them, immediately on concluding their term of office. In this manner, they seek to tap contacts and quasi-direct access to or knowledge of information of extreme sensitivity. It also happens in reverse, when the public sector recruits lobbyists directly into the civil service without first having allowed sufficient time for cooling off so that former lobbyists thus recruited risk being Trojan horses in the public sector areas which previously regulated them.

If we are really serious about tackling corruption at its roots, it would be better if the need to regulate lobbying is urgently considered. Together with legislation on the financing of political parties just approved by Parliament (even if this is defective, as I have explained elsewhere), the regulation of lobbying would create a better tool-kit in the fight against corruption.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday 26 July 2015