The new draft code of ethics for Malta’s members of parliament contains no provisions for sanctions and their effective enforcement in the case of violations, according to a follow-up report published on 31 May by the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO).
It is one of the examples used in the report by the Council of Europe’s anti-corruption body to underscore that, to date, only four of the Council of Europe’s nine recommendations have been adequately implemented.
The Council of Europe’s latest publication (an addendum to GRECO’s second compliance report) found that Malta continues to lag behind when it comes to fully implementing the nine recommendations that deal with “corruption prevention in respect of members of parliament, judges and prosecutors”.
In its recommendations for members of parliament, the report notes that although the Maltese government has adopted the Act on Standards in Public Life and a Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards has been appointed, the review of the code of ethics has not yet been completed, while the Act on Standards in Public Life does not provide sufficiently discouraging sanctions in the event of violations, neither does the revised code of ethics.
The Maltese authorities have argued that despite the lack of sanctions for infringements of ethical rules, the mere mention by the Standards Commissioner that an MP is in violation of these rules constitutes a “reputational damage” and is in itself a dissuasive effect. The Council of Europe replied in no uncertain terms that sanctions were specifically indicated in the relevant recommendation and further stated that “it is not convinced that the “reputational damage” alone is equivalent to “effective, proportionate and dissuasive sanctions”.
The Council of Europe concluded that ensuring appropriate supervision and enforcement of rules on declaration of assets, interests and outside activities through effective, proportionate and dissuasive sanctions was still needed. Moreover, confidential counselling for MPs on ethical questions, conflicts of interest, and financial declarations still need to be established.
With regards to the Council of Europe’s recommendations for the judiciary, the report welcomed the fact that disciplinary proceedings, including dismissal of judges, is no longer within the competence of parliament and the report was satisfied with the measures taken to strengthen the system of judicial independence and accountability by making the Commission for the Administration of Justice in charge of judicial discipline procedures. Yet it also noted that no tangible steps have been taken to improve the transparency of such procedures in the judiciary.
It also found that the recommendations of an induction training programme for newly appointed judges still need to be implemented, covering judicial ethics, as does a regular in-service training programme, targeted guidance and counselling on corruption prevention and judicial ethics should be established for various professionals of courts.
The government has been invited to publish and translate the report and to submit to the Council of Europe further information on the five partially implemented recommendations by no later than 31 March 2022.