Malta’s Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis is insisting that parliament should not punish disgraced former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat over an apparent breach of the law.
Parliament’s Standards in Public Life Committee last Monday discussed the conclusions of an investigative report by the Standards Commissioner on whether there was an abuse of power with regards to a €90,000 MTA consultancy contract given to former Minister Konrad Mizzi.
In an exclusive last week, The Shift revealed that it was Muscat who instructed MTA chief Johann Buttigieg to give Mizzi the lucrative consultancy contract two weeks after he was forced to resign from his role as Tourism Minister.
The report by the Standards Commissioner has not yet been made public, but the Justice Minister insisted on shielding Muscat from any form of sanction during the debate in the parliamentary committee last Monday.
Zammit Lewis insisted that Muscat – whom he described as “the subject of this investigation”- should not be punished.
The justice minister argued that since Muscat had resigned from his parliamentary role 50 minutes before the report was presented, he was no longer a member of parliament and therefore should face no repercussions.
“I want to make it clear that since Joseph Muscat resigned from parliament before this report was sent to the Speaker, no sanctions could be applied against him as he is not a member of the House any longer,” the Justice Minister argued.
During the meeting, Zammit Lewis asked for the exact time when the Standards Commissioner communicated his report to the Speaker. When it resulted that it was some 50 minutes after Muscat’s resignation from parliament last week, a visibly relieved Justice Minister insisted:
“That means that Dr Muscat was not a member of parliament any longer and no sanctions can be taken against him.”
PN MP Karol Aquilina disagreed, stating that what the Justice Minister was saying did not make any sense. He said that politicians remain responsible for all their actions committed while in office even after they resign.
So far, the conclusions of this investigation have been kept under wraps. The report is now expected to be published during a meeting of the committee today (Wednesday).
Though the report’s conclusions are still unknown, Zammit Lewis’s defence at the committee last Monday let the cat out of the bag as it clearly indicates that Muscat has been found guilty once again.
If Commissioner George Hyzler’s latest investigation finds that Muscat abused his power, it will not be the first.
Last summer, following shocking revelations in the media that Muscat had accepted expensive gifts from Yorgen Fenech, accused of the assassination plot of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, the Standards Commissioner had concluded that the former Prime Minister breached the law.
He said that accepting a Bvlgari watch and expensive bottles of Petrus wine breached the ministerial code of ethics. It was only when the press outed Muscat that the latter said that he had returned the gifts to the State.
Another report by the Commissioner, which had investigated Muscat’s trip to Dubai in December 2019, confirmed findings by The Shift that the €21,000 flight tickets for Muscat’s entire family were purchased in Jordan by a third party at a time when he was still acting as prime minister.
Hyzler did not name the individual who bought the tickets for Muscat and the Commissioner faced criticism for concluding there was no breach of ethics.
“The host of the visit could not have intended to influence Dr Muscat’s decisions as prime minister since he had already announced his resignation and he had only two weeks remaining in office,” the Commissioner’s report concluded.
Muscat was forced to resign from office last year after his closest collaborators were associated with rampant acts of corruption and embroiled in the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.