The Commissioner for Standards in Public Life has concluded that a press release issued by Economy Minister Silvio Schembri on the removal of 10,000 dormant companies from the Malta Business Registry was in breach of the principle of political impartiality in public service.
In the report, Commissioner George Hyzler pointed out that Schembri had failed to respect the separation of his roles as Minister and Party member.
It was Prof Kevin Cassar who filed the complaint with the Standards Commissioner, pointing out parts of the statement issued by the DOI on 17 July 2020 which claimed “the PN statement aims to cause harm” and accusing the Opposition of being “deliberately deceitful”.
“The deplorable attack is yet another example of how the Opposition strives to harm the country continuously… While it is a fact that the current leader of the Opposition is ashamed to say that he is Maltese, such a stance does not give him the prerogative to harm the country,” the DOI statement adds.
The statement referred to some 10,000 companies struck off the business registry. Yet The Shift later revealed that the Ministry had in fact purged the system of at least 30,000 companies.
The move, which is highly unusual, wipes out all information available online on those involved in dodgy deals and their connections. The Economy Minister had blamed Moneyval for the purge.
The Nationalist Party had issued a statement criticising the removal of this data saying it worked against transparency.
In his complaint on the DOI statement, Cassar referred to a previous report by the Standards Commissioner in which he had explicitly ordered that “Ministers should not issue partisan statements” and that “Ministers shall keep their roles as Ministers and members of political parties separate” and “Ministers shall respect the principle of political impartiality of the public service”.
Hyzler said such a statement should not have been published by the DOI in the first place. Yet the department’s failure to request a revision of the section containing partisan and political statements does not relieve the Minister from his obligation to ensure that only statements with comprehensive and meaningful information on government policies, services and activities as well as on matters of public interest are referred for publication by the DOI.
“DOI statements should be as factual, non-partisan and as authoritative as possible,” the report states.