The Commissioner for Standards in Public Life has said in a report that politicians should avoid crossing the line between supporting private initiatives and providing legitimate assistance to private entities.
Commissioner George Hyzler was referring to Tourism Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli’s appearance in a video by a firm – Chetcuti Cauchi Advocates – promoting the sale of Maltese passports.
Her participation was the result of ‘a lack of thought’ from her part, rather than through bad faith, Hyzler decided. He warned, however, that if a Minister wanted to provide aid for the private sector, the politician must make sure that this help was adequate and should not happen if that help was being used to give advantage to a private firm.
He pointed out that the Minister was not directly involved in the production of this video by Chetcuti Chauci Advocates. This same firm recently had its licence to sell passports suspended.
The Commissioner for Standards was asked to investigate the case by a member of civil society organisation Repubblika following the publication of an interview with French media. Professor Vicki Ann Cremona, representing the group, argued that the video gave the impression that the firm in question was being given an advantage over other companies. She also argued that it amounted to misuse of public funds.
Farrugia Portelli had featured in the three videos produced by Chetcuti Cauchi and uploaded online. Echoing Repubblika’s concern, Commissioner Hyzler said the video gave the impression that the firm in question was well connected with the local authorities. This was made even more evident by the fact that the videos were filmed at the Office of the Prime Minister.
“There is a fine line between promoting a government scheme and giving preferential treatment. I believe that, in this case, this line has been crossed,” the Commissioner said.
The Minister said she had taken note of what the Commissioner said and highlighted the fact that the report stated there had been no bad intentions on her part. Then she went on to refer to a part of the conclusion that said that her instruction of have the videos removed served as sufficient remedy.
Calls for resignation
Following the publication of this report, Repubblika called for the immediate resignation of Minister Farrugia Portelli. The group referred to the fact that the Commissioner found that the video gave the impression that the firm in question was close to the administration (ta’ ġewwa).
They also referred to the fact that the report mentioned how the police failed to take action and investigate the allegations and said they expected the government to take the necessary actions. The group said they will keep on working against those who abuse their power.
The Nationalist Party has also joined the call for the Minister’s immediate resignation. The PN said that following the publication of the report, the Minister’s position was untenable.
The Opposition’s spokesperson for Public Service Reform Karol Aquilina said this was a clear case of political misconduct. “This is another opportunity for Prime Minister Robert Abela to show that his words will follow with the required action by having the Minister shoulder political responsibility.”