Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi today submitted a Private Member’s Bill which seeks to make it a crime for government officials to use personal emails to conduct government work.
Specifically, Azzopardi’s Bill proposes that public officials or servants using unofficial or unauthorised electronic communications shall be subject to prison terms of one to eight years.
“Every public official or servant who makes use of unofficial or unauthorised electronic resources for the purposes of committing acts in furtherance of, or in the exercise of, any public office or employment, shall, on conviction, be liable to imprisonment for a term from one year to eight years.”
Azzopardi’s Bill has been proposed following numerous incidents in which communications between the government and private entities was carried out using personal emails, often resulting in controversial dealings which would have remained hidden, if not for investigations by journalists.
This included the negotiations which took place when preparing the Cafe Premier contract, in which the government paid €4.2 million for property in Valletta. The Auditor General had found insufficient justification for the cafe’s bailout.
Joseph Muscat, who was Prime Minister at the time when the agreement for the property in Valletta was struck, had communicated about the matter through his personal email.
“He kept on using his personal email until January 2020, so as not to leave any traces of his actions,” Azzopardi wrote on Facebook, following the presentation of the Bill.
Muscat and other Cabinet members continued using their personal email accounts, despite a warning by the NAO following this scandal.
Daphne Caruana Galizia’s sister, Corinne Vella, had submitted email exchanges during the public inquiry looking into the murder of Caruana Galizia, showing that Joseph Muscat, his former chief of staff Keith Schembri and personal assistant Ray Barbara made widespread use of their personal emails.
Using a private email, as opposed to an official government email, results in these communications remaining out of reach for NAO investigators and other forms of scrutiny. It is also considered to be unethical when occupying a public post.
Testifying in court last Friday during the public inquiry into the murder of Caruana Galizia, spokesperson for Reporters without Borders Pauline Adès-Mével confirmed that the government corresponded with the NGO using personal email accounts.
Back in May 2017, Caruana Galizia had published an exchange of emails between Muscat, Schembri, Owen Bonnici and the Chairman of Henley and Partners, Christian Kalin, in which they discussed filing a lawsuits against her. The government have the go-ahead.
The purpose of the lawsuits was to stop Caruana Galizia from investigating the controversial scheme to sell EU passports throughout the world. Also, on this occasion, public officials at the Office of the Prime Minister made use of their personal email accounts.