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

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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

Sa fl-aħħar

Standards in Public Life Bill

 

Mela fl-aħħar, il-lejla, l-Parlament ta’ Malta għandu fuq l-aġenda bħala l-ewwel item l-abbozz ta’ liġi li jirregola l-imġieba fil-ħajja pubblika. Wara li dan l-abbozz ilu lest iktar minn sentejn hu ġustifikat li ngħidu “about time”. Jew forsi “aħjar tard milli qatt”!

Ir-rapport finali tal-Kumitat Magħżul kien ippreżentat lill-Parlament nhar l-24 ta’ Marzu 2014. Xahrejn wara, nhar l-20 ta’ Mejju, l-abbozz ta’ Liġi imsejjaħ Att tal-2014 dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika ingħata l-ewwel qari fil-Parlament. Wara, nhar il-15 ta’ Lulju 2014 kien ippubblikat fil-Gazzetta tal-Gvern u tqiegħed fuq l-agenda tal-Parlament fejn għandu hemm sal-lum!

L-abbozz ta’ liġi jfittex li joħloq l-istrutturi meħtieġa biex ikun possibli li jkunu investigati imġieba li ma tkunx kompatibbli mal-liġi inkella man-normi etiċi minn persuni fil-ħajja pubblika. Il-moniteraġġ ser ikun vestit f’kumitat parlamentari permanenti kif ukoll f’Kummissarju għall-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika li jinħatar bl-approvazzjoni ta’ żewġ terzi tal-voti tal-membri parlamentari.

Il-leġislazzjoni proposta ser tapplika għal żewġ kategoriji ta’ persuni fil-ħajja pubblika: il-Membri Parlamentari (inkluż il-Ministri, s-Segretarji Parlamentari u l-Assistenti Parlamentari) kif ukoll dawk impjegati fis-settur pubbliku minħabba li jgawdu l-fiduċja tal-politiċi, dawk li ħafna drabi nirreferu għalihom bħala li qegħdin “in a position of trust”.

L-abbozz jinkludi edizzjoni aġġornata tal-Kodiċi tal-Etika applikabbli għall-membri parlamentari kif ukoll għall-Kodiċi l-ieħor applikabbli għall-membri tal-Kabinett imma ma jinkludix il-Kodiċi tal-Etika applikabbli għad-Diretturi maħtura fuq awtoritajiet, korporazzjonijiet jew korpi parastatali li kien oriġinalment ippubblikat madwar ħamsa u għoxrin sena ilu. L-abbozz l-anqas ma jgħidilna dawn il-persuni ta’ fiduċja kif ser ikunu regolati!

Il-Kummissarju għall-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika ser ikun jista’ jinvestiga allegazzjonijiet dwar imġieba mhux etika kif ukoll dwar il-veraċità tad-dikjarazzjonijiet tad-dħul u l-assi li jagħmlu l-Membri Parlamentari, u l-membri tal-Kabinetti jew dawk impjegati f’posizzjoni ta’ fiduċja u dan skond kif jistabilixxu l-Kodiċi tal-Etika inkella r-regoli li jsiru taħt l-Att dwar l-Amministrazzjoni Pubblika.

Għalkemm l-abbozz huwa avvanz fuq il-qagħda attwali xorta hemm ħtieġa ta’ titjib sostanzjali fil-proposti li fih l-abbozz. Fosthom huwa neċessarju li jidħlu għall-ewwel darba miżuri li jirregolaw il-lobbying illi jsir tal-politici f’laqghat kemm formali kif ukoll informali. Regolamentazzjoni illi tista’ issir b’diversi modi.

Imma l-abbozz jinjora l-lobbying kompletament u ma jippruvax jirregolah.

Huwa essenzjali li issa l-Parlament ma jkaxkarx saqajh u li l-abbozz ikun approvat b’emendi fl-iqsar zmien possibli.

Kien hemm diversi kazi u ċirkustanzi matul dawn l-aħħar sentejn li setgħu jkunu investigati kieku liġi ta’ din ix-xorta kienet teżisti. Huwa għalhekk essenzjali illi l-abbozz ikun imtejjeb u approvat u li fl-qasir żmien jinħatar il-Kummissarju ghall-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika. Għandu jkun emfasizzat li l- Kummissarju għall-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika għandu l-inkarigu li jinvestiga mhux biss l-imġieba tal-Membri Parlamentari u l-Ministri imma ukoll, kif jipproponi l-istess abbozz, l-imġieba tal-persuni ta’ fiduċja li nħatru mill-amministrazzjoni. Huwa mehtieg li anke dawn jirrealizzaw illi anke huma jeħtieġ li jagħtu kont ta’ egħmilhom.

Anġlu Farrugia qed iħawwad

artiklu 3 Standards in Public Life

Il-Parlament il-lejla ddiskuta d-deċiżjoni li ħa l-Ispeaker Anġlu Farrugia li ma aċċettax bħala valida l-mozzjoni ta’ Marlene Farrugia għax din fittxet li tiċċensura lil Keith Schembri l-Kasco, ċ-Chief of Staff fl-uffiċċju tal-Prim Ministru.

Presentment hemm pendenti fuq l-aġenda tal-Parlament, abbożż ta’ liġi imsejjaħ Att tal-2014 dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika.

Dan l-abbozz ta’ liġi hu riżultat ta’ diskussjoni dwar l-etika fil-ħajja pubblika li saret f’kumitat magħżul tal-Kamra li fih ħa sehem ukoll l-Ispeaker Anġlu Farrugia. Punt interessanti li joħroġ minn dan l-abbozz hu li skond l-artiklu 3 tal-abbozz l-persuni “in a position of trust” huma ukoll soġġetti għal skrutinju tal-Parlament.

Anġlu Farrugia kien qabel ma dan. Allura issa għaliex bidel il-ħsieb?

Dan x‘taħwid hu Anġ?

Rigali lill-politiċi

gift

Kull rigal li jirċievi persuna fil-politika huwa intenzjonat biex jinfluwenza, fis-sens wiesa’ tal-kelma, u  dan irrispettivament mill-valur. Anke l-oġġetti ta’ bla valur jew dawk b’valur insinifikanti huma intenzjonati biex jinfluwenzaw. Issa l-influwenza intenzjonat bl-għoti ta’ diary, jew biro inkella xi flixkun inbid jew xi xarba alkoholika oħra hi bla dubju differenti minn l-influwenza b’lift f’jet privat għal partita futbol fi Spanja.

L-affarijiet żgħar li jingħataw huma ħafna drabi iktar riklami milli rigali u l-iskop tagħhom ikun wieħed ta’ nota ta’ introduzzjoni jew inkella ta’ apprezzament. Imma l-biro, id-diary u l-flixkun inbid biż-żmien jikbru ftit ftit u jsiru ikla, hampers u affarijiet oħra ukoll. Ħafna drabi t-tixħim ma jkunx f’moħħ min jagħti “token”, l-anqas f’min jagħti xi ħaġa iktar sostanzjali bħal hamper. Niftakru forsi li fis-settur privat ħafna drabi dan hu l-mod kif jingħad grazzi lil klijenti li jiġġeneraw ħafna xogħol. In-nies tan-negozju mhux dejjem jirrealizzaw li l-prattiċi tagħhom, għalkemm validi għalihom, għandhom sinifikat u implikazzjoni differenti meta applikati fis-settur pubbliku

Niftakar lil sid il-jet privat li kien stieden lil Tonio Fenech miegħu sa Spanja biex jaraw partita futbol kien qal lil waħda mill-gazzetti  li ma kellux bżonn jistenna l-partita futbol biex jiltaqa’ ma Tonio Fenech. Seta jagħmel appuntament miegħu meta ried, mingħajr l-iċken diffikulta. Kien korrett. Għalih ma kellu l-ebda sinifikat li ta’ lift lil Tonio Fenech.

Dakinhar ħadd ma qal li Tonio Fenech kien ixxaħħam bil-lift fuq il-jet privat. Imma Tonio Fenech xorta għamel ħażin bħalma kien għamel ħażin Lawrence Gonzi li għalih ukoll kien qiesu ma ġara xejn. Aċċetta rigal meta kien ipprojibit milli jagħmel dan mill-Kodiċi tal-Etika tal-Ministri u s-Segretarji Parlamentari.

Il-mod kif żviluppa l-każ ta’ Dr Joe Cassar dwar ir-rigali (karozza u CCTV) riċentement kien għal kollox differenti. Cassar inqabad bis-sunnara mingħajr ma nduna. Li l-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni ħa passi kien posittiv imma mill-Opposizzjoni ma ħtieġlu l-ebda sforz partikolari għal dan. Ovvjament qed jipprova jerġa’ jibni l-kredibilità li l-PN tilef meta kien fil-Gvern.

Ma neskludix li hemm kazijiet oħra li s’issa għadhom ma rawx id-dawl tax-xemx. Huwa importanti li meta dawn il-kazijiet tifaċċaw ikollna l-għodda lesta biex tkun tista’ issir l-investigazzjoni meħtieġa. Kien għal dan l-iskop li sentejn ilu Kumitat Magħżul tal-Parlament wara diskussjoni twila ħejja abbozz ta’ liġi dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika.

Imma jidher li l-volontà politika hi nieqsa għax dan l-abbozz għadu pendenti wara li għaddew sentejn.

L-iżbalji saru, u jibqgħu isiru. Li m’għandniex huwa r-rimedji.

Il-vakanza tal-familja Muscat f’Dubai

Atlantis-The-Palm-Hotel-Dubai

L-ispiża biex il-Prim Ministru Joseph Muscat ħa lill-familja tiegħu f’Dubai għall-vakanzi tal-Għid f’waħda mill-iktar lukandi lussuzi hi waħda sostanzjali. L-Opposizzjoni għandha dubju dwar jekk il-kont għal din il-vakanza tħallasx minn Joseph Muscat innifsu, inkella jekk din tħallsitx minn ħaddieħor.

Din hi allegazzjoni serja ħafna u teħtieġ li tkun investigata. Dan minħabba li l-ebda membru tal-Kabinett ma jista’ jaċċetta dan ix-xorta ta’ rigal. Fil-fatt, il-Kodiċi tal-Etika għall-Ministri u s-Segretarji Parlamentari jgħid hekk fir-regolament 58 : “L-ebda Ministru m’għandu jaċċetta rigali jew servizzi li l-entità tagħhom tkun tali li jistgħu jpoġġuh f’obbligazzjoni, kemm jekk din tkun reali kif ukoll jekk tidher li tista’ tkun.”

Fl-aġenda tal-Parlament hemm abbozz ta’ Liġi intitolat Att tal-2014 dwar Standards fil-Ħajja Pubblika. Dan l-abbozz ta’ Liġi ilu pendenti fuq l-agenda tal-Parlament għal iktar minn sentejn. Meta dan l-abbozz ikun approvat jagħmilha possbli li allegazzjonijiet bħal dawn ikunu investigati.

Għax filwaqt li mhux sewwa li jkun hemm min jivvinta u jaqla’ minn żniedu huwa ukoll neċessarju li fejn ikun hemm dubju anke l-Prim Ministru jkollu l-obbligu li jisjega l-imġieba tiegħu.

Mario de Marco : bejn mistoqsija u tweġiba

Mario de Marco2

Ftit iktar minn xahar ilu Mario de Marco, f’artiklu ippubblikat fuq l-Indipendent , qal li kuljum jistaqsi lilu nnifsu l-mistoqsija “għalfejn qiegħed fil-politika?” It-tweġiba li jagħti fl-istess artiklu kienet (u bla dubju għadha) is-sens ta’ dover li jħoss lejn dawk kollha li jiltaqa’ magħhom fil-ħajja ta’ kuljum. Hi tweġiba li tpoġġi s-servizz lejn il-komunità u mhux il-gwadann personali bħala l-mira tal-involviment fil-ħajja politika.

Ġimgħa ilu l-Malta Today ippubblikat artiklu ffirmat minn Salvu Balzan li fih qalet li Mario de Marco kellu kuntrattur [Redmap Construction Limited ta’ Pierre Sladden] li kien qed jagħmel xogħol ta’ alterazzjonijiet fi propjetà li hu għandu fin-Naxxar. Dan ix-xogħol, qalet il-Malta Today, ilu sejjer mill-2011 meta Mario de Marco kien Ministru responsabbli (fost affarijiet oħra) għall-MEPA.

Imma, qalet il-Malta Today, kien biss wara li faqqa’ l-iskandlu dwar Adrian Hillman [Managing Director tal-kumpaniji li jippubblikaw il-gazzetti The Times u The Sunday Tmes] li Mario de Marco talab il-kont tax-xogħol mingħand il-kuntrattur.

L-artiklu tal-Malta Today, ippubblikat lejliet id-diskussjoni fuq il-mozzjoni ta’ sfiduċja fil-Gvern jimplika li dan ix-xogħol kien meqjus bħala rigal. Kien artiklu li qanqal dubju serju sakemm Mario de Marco ta’ l-ispjegazzjoni tiegħu [fil-media u fil-Parlament] fis-sens li hu kien ilu jitlob kont tax-xogħol u li l-kuntrattur kien qed iwieġeb illi l-kont jinħareġ hekk kif jitlesta x-xogħol.

Xi ftit dubju ser jibqa’ dejjem, imma l-kredibilità ta’ Mario de Marco, fil-fehma tiegħi ixxaqleb il-miżien favur tiegħu.

Dan il-każ juri kemm huwa żbaljat il-Parlament li jħalli fuq l-ixkaffa l-abbozz ta’ liġi dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika, abbozz li ilu li ġie ippreżentat u approvat fl-ewwel qari sa mill-14 ta’ Mejju 2014. Meta l-Parlament japprova din il-liġi jkollu l-għodda biex ikunu investigati immedjatament dawn it-tip ta’ stejjer.

Għax filwaqt li tajjeb li tkun ippubblikata l-istorja fil-gazzetti, huwa daqstant ieħor importanti illi jingħataw spjegazzjonijiet minn dawk involuti. Il-mistoqsija trid issir imma għandna dritt ukoll għal risposta ċara. Għax min hu maħmuġ għandu jkun espost, imma min m’huwiex m’għandux ikun imħammeġ għal gwadann politiku tal-mument.

L-imġieba ta’ Konrad u ta’ Keith tal-Kasko

Standards in Public Life Bill

Waqt li għaddejja l-argumenti dwar il-kumpaniji ta’ Konrad Mizzi u Keith Schembri tal-Kasco fil-Panama tajjeb li nħarsu ftit lejn l-aġenda tal-Parlament.

Fiha hemm item pendenti bl-isem ta’ abbozz ta’ liġi dwar l-Istandards fil-ħajja pubblika. Dan l-abbozz ta’ liġi japplika għall-membri parlamentari [bħal Konrad Mizzi] u għal persuni impjegati in a position of trust [bħal Keith Schembri tal-Kasco].

Il-Gvern ilu kwazi sentejn ikaxkar saqajh dwar din il-liġi għax minkejja li kien hemm qbil unanimu dwarha fis-Select Committee, din baqgħet fuq l-ixkaffa.

Kieku Joseph Muscat serju u verament jemmen dak li qed jgħid, kieku din il-liġi ilha approvata.

Kieku l-liġi dwar l-istandards fil-ħajja pubblika ġiet approvata diġa inħatar Kummissarju għall-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika li għada it-Tnejn kien jibgħat għal Konrad u Keith Schembri tal-Kasco u jitlobhom spjegazzjoni dettaljata dwar il-kumpanija tagħhom fil-Panama u jiftaħ investigazzjoni immedjatament.

Imma kieku …………. jibqa’ kieku ………….. għax Joseph u l-Partit Laburista fil-Gvern għadhom qed ikaxkru saqajhom.

Ethics in Parliament: waiting for Godot?

Standards in Public Life Bill

 

The Bill regulating Standards in Public Life has been pending on Parliament’s agenda for months.

It seems that government is in no hurry to implement its provisions, notwithstanding that this Bill is the result of discussions carried out in a Parliamentary Select Committee under the Chairmanship of the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

The final report of the Select Committee was submitted to Parliament on 24 March 2014. Two months later, on 20 May, a Bill entitled Standards in Public Life Act, 2014 was given a first reading in parliament. It was subsequently published in the Malta Government Gazette on  15 July 2014 and placed on Parliament’s agenda, where – 16 months later it remains .

The Bill seeks to create the necessary structures to ensure that breeches of statutory or ethical duties by specific categories of persons in public life are investigated. Monitoring and investigation will be vested in a permanent Parliamentary Committee, as well as through a Commissioner for Standards in Public Life, who will be appointed subject to the approval of two-thirds of sitting MPs.

Two categories of persons in public life are subject to the provisions of the proposed legislation: MPs (including Ministers, Parliamentary Secretaries and Parliamentary Assistants) as well as those  employed in a position of trust in all areas of the public sector.

The proposed legislation includes updated versions of the Code of Ethics applicable to MPs and members of Cabinet but does not include the Code of Ethics applicable to directors appointed to authorities, corporations and other state-owned bodies that was first published in the early 1990s.

The Commissioner for Standards in Public Life will be able to investigate allegations regarding unethical behaviour as well as the veracity of declarations on income and assets held which are made by MPs, members of Cabinet and persons employed in a position of trust as detailed in the applicable Codes of Ethics or rules made under the Public Administration Act.

The Commissioner will not be able to investigate past transgressions retrospectively. Moreover, it is proposed that there will be a time limit of two years for action to be taken on present day breeches.

In a recent interview the Speaker of the House said he is not satisfied with MPs’ assets declarations. He also said that, as things currently stand, he does not have any authority to investigate these declarations.

The Bill currently pending on parliament’s agenda assigns this specific authority to the Permanent Select Committee, which will be chaired by the Speaker, and to the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life. Cases such as those that recently surfaced concerning former Health Minister Joseph Cassar could be considered and acted upon within this proposed framework.

An investigation has to be concluded within six months from the receipt of an allegation. When the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life has concluded an investigation, he will submit his conclusions – as well as appropriate recommendations – to the Permanent Standing Committee. The Committee will either act on the recommendations or else opt for further investigations.

In respect of non-MPs, the Committee will either take a decision, or, if the matter so requires, refer the case for further investigations by the Commissioner of Police or the Permanent Commission Against Corruption. In respect of MPs, it will refer the recommended decisions to the House of Representatives for a decision.

Most readers would  express serious doubt as to whether, given the present composition of Malta’s Parliament, it is possible to have an objective assessment of recommendations made by the Commissioner or the Standing Committee on allegations of unethical behaviour or misleading and/or incorrect declarations of assets.  It is difficult to imagine how Malta’s Parliament, divided as it is into two opposing camps, could take objective decisions on cases similar to that of former Health Minister Joe Cassar. It goes without saying that the debate and decisions would be highly charged along partisan lines.

I may be wrong, but, in my opinion, unless the decision-taking procedures proposed in the Bill Regulating Standards in Public life are heavily revisited, the proposals may not lead to an effective instrument with which to address unethical behaviour by holders of public office.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 8 November 2015