Il-Gvern iżomm l-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika ……………fuq l-ixkaffa

Standards signaturesStandards in Public Life Bill

 

Fl-24 ta’ Marzu 2014 Kumitat Magħżul tal-Parlament Malti ippreżenta lill-Parlament rapport finali dwar l-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika. Dan ir-rapport kien iffirmat mill-iSpeaker Anglu Farrugia u minn erba’ membri Parlamentari : George Vella, Justyne Caruana, Francis Zammit Dimech u Ryan Callus.

Fl-20 ta’ Mejju 2014 il-Parlament approva l-Ewwel Qari ta’ Abbozz ta’ Liġi imsejjaħ Att ta’ l-2014 dwar l-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika. L-approvazzjoni ta’ l-Ewwel Qari jfisser li l-Parlament ikun ta’ l-permess biex l-abbozz ta’ liġi ikun ippubblikat.

Fil-fatt l-abbozz ta’ liġi kien ippubblikat fil-Gazzetta tal-Gvern bħala l-abbozz numru 63 nhar il-15 ta’ Lulju 2014.

Illum għaddew sittax-il xahar, u dan l-abbozz ta’ liġi għadu fuq l-ixkaffa jiġbor it-trab.

Tafu għalfejn hu importanti dan l-abbozz ta’ liġi?

Fost ohrajn għax jekk Membru tal-Parlament [inkluz Ministru] ma josservax il-Kodiċi tal-Etika jkunu jistgħu jittieħdu passi kontra tiegħu. Per eżempju,  l-Ministru għandu l-obbligu li ma jaċċettax rigali jew servizzi jekk “l-entità tagħhom tkun tali li jistgħu jpoġġuh f’obbligazzjoni, kemm jekk din tkun reali kif ukoll jekk tidher li tista’ tkun.” (regola 58 tal-Kodiċi tal-Etika tal-Ministri)

Kien ikun ħafna aħjar kieku l-Parlament, flok ma qagħad ikaxkar saqajh approva dan l-abbozz ta’ liġi xhur ilu.

Kieku, forsi, l-Onorevoli Joseph Cassar kien ikollu jwieġeb għal għemilu fil-Kumitat Parlamentari Permanenti dwar l-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika.

Inutli li l-Membri Parlamentari fuq in-naħa tal-Gvern jgħidu li r-riżenja ta’ Cassar minn spokesman tal-Opposizzjoni dwar il-Kultura hi miżura insinifikanti. Kellhom f’idejhom miżura alternattiva b’saħħitha u ħallewha fuq l-ixkaffa. Kullma għandhom jagħmlu issa hu li jħarsu fil-mera u jgħidu: ħtija tiegħi.

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

Il-bozza l-ħamra għall-Onorevoli Ministru

warning

Meta Ministru jingħata rigal, f’soċjetà demokratika tixgħel il-bozza ħamra. Jiġifieri l-allarm. Waħedha toħroġ il-mistoqsija: għalfejn l-Onorevoli Ministru ingħata rigal?

Il-Kodiċi tal-Etika tal-Ministri [ara t-Tieni Skeda tal-Abbozz ta’ Liġi dwar Standards fil-Ħajja Pubblika – li għadu pendenti quddiem il-Parlament]  fir-regola numru 58 jgħid hekk :

“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……………… ”

Huwa għal din ir-raġuni li hawn kjass bħalissa dwar il-flat ta’ Portomaso li qed jagħmel użu minnu il-Ministru Chris Cardona. L-ewwel ġie allegat li l-flat kien misluf lill-Ministru. Il-Ministru wara ħafna ħin qal li l-flat hu mikri għandu. L-Onorevoli ipproduċa ukoll kuntratt li qed jingħad li ġie iffirmat f’Diċembru 2014, għal perjodu ta’ għaxar xhur.

Il-kuntratt, li jidher li sar bil-għaġġla, fih xi dettalji nieqsa imma fih ukoll kundizzjonijiet speċjali li jwasslu għal konklużjoni li hemm xi ħaġa li qed tinħeba. Il-kera li mistennija titħallas, skond dan il-kuntratt li ġie ippubblikat il-bieraħ fil-għaxija mid-Dipartiment tal-Informazzjoni, m’għandiex titħallas minn qabel, l-anqas xahar b’lura imma sa mhux iktar tard minn ħamest ijiem minn tmiem il-kuntratt.

Il-kuntratt ippubblikat għaldaqstant flok ma jagħlaq il-każ iktar jiftħu beraħ. Għax issa, iktar ċar minn qatt qabel trid tiġi imwieġba l-mistoqsija: għalfejn l-Onorevoli Ministru qed jingħata dan it-trattament preferenzjali?

Hemm min ser iweġibni u jgħidli li sid il-flat għandu dritt li jagħmel li jrid bi ħwejġu. Naqbel perfettament.

Id-diffikultà, f’soċjetà demokratika, hi li l-Onorevoli Ministru m’għandux l-istess dritt: ma jistax jaċċetta rigali jew trattament preferenzjali. Għax ikun qed jagħti messaġġ li għandu obbligazzjoni, inkella li bir-rigal jew bit-trattament preferenzjali qed titħallas lura obbligazzjoni. F’soċjeta demokratika, dawn l-messaġġi m’humiex aċċettabbli.

Għalhekk kien ġie ikkritikat bl-aħrax Tonio Fenech meta aċċetta passaġġ bla ħlas fuq jet privat biex mar jara logħba futbol ta’ l-Arsenal ġo Madrid. Lawrence Gonzi dakinnhar ukoll ma kienx kredibbli għax ma ħax passi.

Imma donnu li xejn m’hu xejn! Joseph Muscat miexi fuq l-istess passi etiċi ta’ Lawrence Gonzi: għan-niżla.

Wanted: an impartial regulator for political party financing

Financing of Political Parties Act

Earlier this week, Parliament’s Standing Committee for the Consideration of Bills concluded its detailed discussion on the Bill regarding the financing of political parties. I was invited by the Committee to participate in the discussion in representation of Alternattiva Demokratika.

The Bill was improved as a result of the discussion. Around 34 clauses of the Bill were, in fact, amended, most amendments receiving unanimous consent.

However Alternattiva Demokratika’s major objection to the Bill was not addressed. When the White Paper on the regulation of the financing of political parties was published with government’s initial proposals, AD was already making the point that the choice of the Electoral Commission as the regulator was not a suitable option.

This lack of suitability clearly results from the very composition of the Electoral Commission. It is composed of nine people, four of whom are nominated by the Prime Minister, a further four are nominated by the Leader of the Opposition and the ninth person is the chairman of the Commission, who occupies that post in virtue of his having been appointed by the Prime Minister as head of The Electoral Office.

How can nominees of the parliamentary political parties regulate impartially the very parties nominating them as well as other political parties? Over the years, the Electoral Commission had the responsibility of receiving and vetting the returns submitted by candidates for elections (local, national and European) in which returns the candidates should have listed the donations they have received as well as their electoral expenditure. A cursory look at the newspapers published during past election campaigns would immediately provide ample proof that a number of such returns were – without any doubt – false declarations. Over-spending and undeclared financing was rampant, yet the Electoral Commission never took any action. Had it done so, I think that quite a number of our Members of Parliament in past legislatures or MEPs would have been unseated.

Yet the Hon. Minister Owen Bonnici keeps defending the government’s political choice of selecting the Electoral Commission as the regulator. In the government’s defence, he stated that the Electoral Commission is a constitutional body entrusted with the conduct of elections which, he said, it has carried out to the satisfaction of everyone.

Minister Owen Bonnici is incorrect. The Electoral Commission, in conducting elections, does not have any elbow room. Its discretion is substantially limited by electoral legislation which is very tight and precise. And whenever the Electoral Commission had any practical room for manoeuvre it made a mess of it.  In simple words, the Electoral Commission is constructed on partisan foundations. There are historical reasons for this but it is a basic truth which cannot be camouflaged.

While the Electoral Commission’s hands are generally tied up where electoral legislation is concerned, it is a different kettle of fish when dealing with the regulation of political parties and their financing. There will be issues and submissions that require interpretation and an eventual decision.

Already, way back in February 2014, Alternattiva Demokratika had proposed an alternative regulatory authority in the person of the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life, a post resulting from a Bill which was proposed by a Parliamentary Select Committee led by Mr Speaker Anġlu Farrugia. This Select Committee concluded its work and presented its final report on 24 March 2014, almost 16 months ago. For those who seek to act in good faith there was ample time for considering the proposals made. Yet the proposed Bill is still pending on the Parliamentary agenda.

In the Bill [Standards in Public Life Bill] the Select Committee proposed that the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life should be appointed, subject to obtaining the support of two-thirds of Members of Parliament. The election of the Commissioner would thus be on a par with that of the Ombudsman: the requirement that the support of two-thirds of Parliament has to be achieved would ensure that the selected person would, irrespective of his/her views be acceptable to a very wide-cross section of society.

This is the way forward initially proposed by Alternattiva Demokratika, but supported at a later stage by the PN.

The government never spoke against the AD proposal but only stated that it preferred the Electoral Commission as the regulatory authority as it was in a hurry. Minister Owen Bonnici said many a time that the GRECO (Council of Europe – Group of States Against Corruption) was breathing down his neck and as a result he had no time to spare for institution building!

This law will most probably be applied with effect from 1st January 2016. It is generally designed on the basis of a one-size-fits-all template that does not distinguish between political parties having a turnover measured in millions of euros and others which handle just a few thousands of euros per annum.

Political parties will be required to present annual audited accounts to the regulator, which will be published. They will also be required to submit a report on donations received over a calendar year. In addition, they will be required to publish the names of those donating in excess of €7,000 in a calendar year up to the permissible maximum of €25,000.

Alternattiva Demokratika will be examining the law in detail and taking legal advice before deciding whether to initiate legal action contesting the selection of the Electoral Commission as the regulator. The proposed law is generally a step in the right direction but, unfortunately, is tainted by the lack of identification of an appropriate regulator. It is indeed a pity that, when taking such a bold step forward, the government preferred the partisan path. In so doing it has diluted the efforts of all those who have worked hard in previous years to achieve this goal.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 19 July 2015

Pass kbir il-quddiem

Financing of Political Parties Act

Fil-Parlament il-bieraħ fil-għaxija ġiet fi tmiemha d-diskussjoni dwar il-liġi dwar il-Finanzjament tal-Partiti. Dan sar fil-kumitat permanenti li jikkunsidra l-liġijiet.

F’isem Alternattiva Demokratika jiena kont mistieden nieħu sehem f’din id-diskussjoni li ilha sejra diversi ġimgħat. F’din id-diskussjoni l-abbozz ta’ liġi ġie analizzat kelma kelma. Forsi virgola, virgola ukoll.

Għalkemm hemm affarijiet fil-liġi li setgħu saru aħjar, inkluż uħud li għal Alternattiva Demokratika m’humiex aċċettabbli, fi tmiem id-diskussjoni l-abbozz ta’ liġi  xorta hu wieħed aħjar milli kif kien imfassal oriġinalment.

L-oġġezzjoni prinċipali ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika hija dwar ir-regolatur. Jiġifieri dwar min ser ikollu l-awtorità li jara li l-liġi taħdem sewwa u li tkun osservata. Sa mill-bidu nett tad-diskussjoni l-Gvern ippropona li din l-awtorità regolatorja tkun il-Kummissjoni Elettorali.

L-oġġezzjoni ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika hi ibbażata fuq il-mod kif inhi magħmula l-Kummissjoni Elettorali. Din fiha 9 membri. Erba’ minnhom jaħtarhom il-Prim Ministru. Erba’ oħra jaħtarhom il-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni. Id-disa’ membru jaħtru l-Gvern tal-ġurnata għax ikun l-impjegat tal-Gvern li jmexxi x-xogħol amministrattiv kollu tal-Kummissjoni Elettorali. Il-Kummissjoni Elettorali, mela, hi magħmula minn rappreżentanti taż-żewġ partiti fil-Parlament.

Diġa hi problema kbira li ż-żewġ partiti fil-Parlament għandhom f’idejhom kontroll esklussiv tal-proċess kollu elettorali. Problema li tittaffa ftit bil-fatt li l-liġijiet elettorali jidħlu f’ħafna dettall u ankè jorbtu idejn il-Kummissjoni Elettorali kważi f’kollox.

Imma fil-każ tal-finanzjament tal-partiti ser ikun hemm ħafna affarijiet li ser ikunu jeħtieġu diskrezzjoni. Ser ikun hemm bżonn interpretazzjoni u ser ikun hemm bżonn deċiżjonijiet. Kulħadd hu tad-demm u l-laħam u wisq nibża’ li dan ser ikun rifless fid-deċiżjonijiet li jittieħdu.

Kien ikun ħafna aħjar kieku flok il-Kummissjoni Elettorali bħala awtorità regolatorja intagħżel il-Kummissarju għall-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika, kariga li ser tinħoloq permezz ta’ liġi oħra li għadha pendenti fuq l-aġenda Parlamentari. Min jokkupa din il-kariga ser jintagħżel mill-Parlament u biex jintagħżel ikun jeħtieġlu l-appoġġ ta’ mhux inqas minn żewġ terzi tal-Membri tal-Parlament. B’dan l-appoġġ, min ser jokkupa din il-kariga bil-fors li jkun persuna li tispira fiduċja u għaldaqstant tkun persuna aċċettabbli ukoll biex tkun l-awtorità li tieħu ħsieb l-amministrazzjoni tal-liġi li tirregola l-finanzjament tal-partiti politiċi. Din kienet il-proposta ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika, li iktar tard kisbet ukoll l-appoġġ tal-Partit Nazzjonalista.

Il-Gvern qatt ma qal li ma jaqbilx mal-proposta ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika. Qal biss li kien jippreferi li l-awtorità regolatorja tkun il-Kummissjoni Elettorali għax kien mgħaġġel. Kellu l-GRECO tal-Kunsill tal-Ewropa (Group of States Against Corruption) jiġri warajh u għaldaqstant ma kellux ċans joqgħod jibni l-istrutturi (institution building)!

Il-liġi probabbilment li tibda taħdem ftit xhur oħra. Il-partiti ser ikunu meħtieġa li jkollhom il-kontijiet tagħhom ivverifikati (audited). Ser ikun meħtieġ ukoll li kull sena jippreżentaw rapport dwar id-donazzjonijiet li jirċievu. Iridu ukoll jippubblikaw l-ismijiet ta’ dawk il-persuni li  fuq perjodu ta’ tnax-il xahar ikunu taw donazzjoni lill-partiti politiċi bejn €7,000 u €25,000. Ħadd ma jista’ jagħti donazzjoni ta’ iktar minn €25,000 f’sena, u għaldaqstant l-ebda partit politiku ma jista’ jaċċetta donazzjoni ta’ din ix-xorta.

Il-kontrolli, rapporti, verifiki u poteri tal-Kummissjoni Elettorali li tinvestiga huma kollha intenzjonati li jkun assigurat li jkun hemm trasparenza sħiħa fil-finanzjament tal-partiti politiċi u li din it-trasparenza twassal ukoll għal politka iktar nadifa.

Naslu? Issa naraw. Imma nemmen li bil-mod il-mod naslu ukoll.

Nemmen li bid-difetti b’kollox li fiha l-liġi din hi pass kbir il-quddiem.

Il-finanzjament tal-partiti politiċi: Ħtieġa ta’ kunsens wiesa’

Hisilicon K3

L-editorjal tat-Times tal-lum jitkellem dwar is-sorveljanza tal-finanzjament tal-partiti politiċi. Suġġett traskurat għal snin twal u li llum dwaru fil-Parlament għaddejja diskussjoni dwar abbozz ta’ liġi. Dwar dan l-abbozz, u l-fatt li wasalna sa hawn, kif diġà għedt drabi oħra, għandu mertu kemm Franco Debono kif ukoll il-Gvern tal-lum.

Alternattiva Demokratika ilha ukoll is-snin titkellem dwar il-materja. Dan għamlitu sa mill-ewwel programm elettorali tagħha fl-elezzjoni ġenerali tal-1992, l-ewwel darba li kkontestat elezzjoni ġenerali. Bħala AD ppubblikajna żewġ dokumenti dwar il-proposti li għandu quddiemu llum il-Parlament. L-ewwel wieħed kien dokument bir-reazzjonijiet ta’ AD għall-White Paper. Sussegwentement ħejjejna u ppubblikajna wkoll dokument bi tweġiba għall-proposti kif dettaljati fl-abbozz ta’ liġi.

Fil-prinċipju l-abbozz ta’ liġi ppreżentat hu tajjeb imma jirrikjedi diversi emendi.

Preżentament, fil-fatt, l-abbozz qiegħed jiġi diskuss fil-Kumitat Parlamentari dwar il-Liġijiet. Jiena qed nieħu sehem f’din id-diskussjoni u dan għax intlaqgħet it-talba ta’ AD għal parteċipazzjoni f’din id-diskussjoni u ġejt mistieden biex inkun nista’ nieħu sehem fiha.

Id-diskussjoni fil-Kumitat Parlamentari issa waslet bejn wieħed u ieħor sa nofs l-abbozz tal-liġi u nista’ ngħid li f’ħafna każi l-abbozz ġie mtejjeb billi ġew ikkunsidrati bis-serjetà d-diversi proposti li saru. Dan iżda ma sarx għall-iktar punt importanti tal-liġi. Il-Gvern, permezz tal-Ministru Owen Bonnici, ma jridx jiċċaqlaq mill-proposta li l-awtorità li tirregola l-finanzjament tal-partiti politiċi tkun il-Kummissjoni Elettorali.

Alternattiva Demokratika ilha xhur twal issa li għamlet il-proposta li flok il-Kummissjoni Elettorali l-awtorità regolatorja għandha tkun f’idejn il-Kummissarju tal-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika, uffiċjal parlamentari li dwaru hemm abbozz ta’ liġi pendenti fuq l-aġenda parlamentari. Hu propost f’dan l-abbozz li dan l-uffiċjal jinħatar bil-kunsens ta’ żewġ terzi tal-membri parlamentari. B’hekk ikun hemm kunsens wiesa’ fuq il-persuna li tinħatar li bla dubju taġixxi lil hinn mill-influwenza tal-partiti politiċi kollha.

Kien għalhekk ta’ sodisfazzjon li sussegwentment anke l-Partit Nazzjonalista adotta l-istess pożizzjoni u insista fuq dan waqt id-diskussjoni fil-Parlament.

Imma l-Gvern ma jaqbilx ma’ dan għal żewġ raġunijiet. L-ewwel qed jgħid li l-Kummissjoni Elettorali hi struttura eżistenti u għalhekk għax hu mgħaġġel biex iħaddem il-liġi l-ġdida [għax qed jiġri warajh il-GRECO mill-Kunsill tal-Ewropa: GRECO = Group of States Against Corruption] jippreferi jagħmel użu mill-Kummissjoni Elettorali. It-tieni, il-Gvern qed jgħid li l-Kummissjoni Elettorali hi korp kostituzzjonali li diġà in parti għandu responsabbiltajiet dwar il-finanzjament tal-politika u dan għax “suppost” li diġà jissorvelja l-infiq tal-kandidati fl-elezzjonijiet diversi.

Sfortunatement il-Gvern qed jinjora l-fatt li kif komposta l-Kummissjoni Elettorali, għal raġunijiet storiċi, hi dominata minn rappreżentanza tal-partiti politiċi fil-parlament [4 mill-PN, 4 mill-PL u Chairman miċ-Ċivil magħżul mill-Gvern tal-ġurnata]. Dan ifisser li l-partiti politiċi fil-parlament għandhom aċċess għall-informazzjoni fuq il-partiti l-oħra li mhumiex u per konsegwenza kontroll sħiħ fuq il-proċess kollu.

Jagħmel tajjeb il-Gvern kieku jfittex kunsens anke fuq dan il-punt, kif wara kollox għamel b’suċċess fuq partijiet oħra tal-liġi.

ippubblikat fuq iNews l-Erbgħa 1 ta’ Lulju 2015

Swiss cheese

Swiss cheese 2

Michael Falzon and Ninu Zammit, retired for some years from politics, are back in the news for the wrong reasons. Tax evasion and false declarations.

They have tried to give some explanations. Michael Falzon has attributed his accumulated investments in HSBC Geneve to his professional earnings from overseas clients between 1975 and 1985. Zammit went one further: in addition to professional earnings in approximately the same timeframe, he has stated that they have also accrued as a result of his land dealings.

It is news that Ninu Zammit had substantial earnings from his profession. Back in the 80s, in his income tax return he used to declare that he barely earned a minimum wage. Way back in the 80s a thick book used to be published by the Commissioner of Inland Revenue listing the income declared and the income tax paid in Malta by all taxable persons. I distinctly remember  that the book used to indicate that Ninu Zammit was one of the poorer chaps on the island then!

I do remember some years back reference to the company LENI Enterprises Co Ltd co-owned between Ninu Zammit and another member of his family. Maybe some enterprising journalist could carry out searches into the assets and liabilities of LENI Enterprises Co Ltd which could  possibly lead to some very interesting results.

Politics and dealings in land were never a good mix. History has proven time and again that such a mix generally produces the worst possible cocktail.

Both Falzon and Zammit have avoided criminal proceedings by making use of one of the amnesties launched over the years. By paying a fine and repatriating their Swiss funds they have been absolved of criminal action relative to tax evasion and infringement of currency rules.

Michael Falzon, when cornered,  admitted his role and in anticipation of the full story in the Sunday papers published his side of the story. Ninu Zammit, on the other hand, was arrogant and argued that his financial affairs were now in order and that as he was no longer in politics he should be left alone.

Both Falzon and Zammit occupied ministerial office. Falzon was minister for nine years between 1987 and 1996. Zammit was parliamentary secretary for nine years (1987-96) and a minister for another ten years (1998-2008). During these years, as from 1994, they filed annual declarations in terms of the Ministerial Code of Ethics supposedly declaring their assets. These declarations were filed in the Cabinet Office and subsequently the Prime Minister notified Parliament by presenting a copy of such declarations for its scrutiny.

It now results that Michael Falzon and Ninu Zammit through false declarations misguided Prime Ministers, Cabinet and Parliament.  No amnesty has or will absolve them of this.

Up till the time of writing, no public apology has been made by either Falzon or Zammit.

It is also unfortunate that so far, Parliament has no available remedy for  this serious breach of the Ministerial Code of Ethics by these two former Cabinet members.

Pending on Parliament’s agenda is a Bill entitled Standards in Public Life Bill. When approved into law this Bill will provide for the appointment of a Commissioner and a Standing Committee with the authority to investigate breaches of statutory or ethical duties of persons in public life.

In its present format, this Standards in Public Life Bill provides for investigations into ethical breaches such as those committed by Michael Falzon and Ninu Zammit only when the persons committing such breaches are still Members of Parliament.

Article 13 of the proposed Act in fact authorises the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life to examine declarations made pursuant to the Ministerial Code of Ethics. Unfortunately, the proposed Act does not contemplate action against former Members of Parliament.  Nor does it empower investigations on misdemeanours  going back more than two years.

Hopefully Parliament will revisit the Bill and amend it to empower the Commissioner and the Standing Committee to investigate similar cases. Falzon and Zammit should be made to pay for their false declarations to Cabinet and Parliament by being stripped of their Ministerial pensions. Anything less will make the Ministerial Code of Ethics resemble Swiss cheese.

published on The Malta Independent: 25th February 2015