Parliamentary committees only work as intended if MPs don’t seek to ‘delay’ or ‘obstruct’ – Gonzi

Former PM Lawrence Gonzi weighs in on functions of parliamentary committees introduced during his second term as Speaker of the House


When asked to assess the importance of parliamentary committees in the House of Representatives, introduced during Lawrence Gonzi’s second term as Speaker of the House, the former prime minister described them as the “single most important tool that our democracy has available,” yet they become “stultified” if participants attempt to “delay, obstruct” proceedings.

The Shift spoke to Gonzi to ask whether he believes the PAC and other parliamentary committees are operating as originally intended. Gonzi replied that parliamentary committees must ensure “political accountability”.

“Of course, this role becomes stultified if the powers that be invent all sorts of excuses to delay, obstruct or veto the presence of officials who have a moral, ethical, political and possibly constitutional duty to answer questions that are put to them by our elected representatives,” he added.

Asked what would make the committees function more adequately, the former prime minister referred to a revision of the current procedures and added pressure on the Speaker of the House to “defend the proper functioning of these committees”.

Speaker Anġlu Farrugia should be “taking whatever steps are necessary” to favour “transparency over secrecy, accountability over irresponsibility, and honesty over dishonesty”, Gonzi said.

“If they are allowed to work as they should, then Parliamentary Committees become the single most important tool that our democracy has available to it in order to reach acceptable levels of transparency and accountability,” Gonzi said.

”But they can only function if and when the government of the day accepts the fact that transparency and accountability are not concessions but responsibilities – political, ethical, moral and constitutional,” he added.

During his second term as Speaker of the House, from 1992 – 1996, Gonzi, along with then-deputy prime minister Guido de Marco and then-opposition spokesperson for parliamentary affairs and current president of Malta, George Vella, pioneered the committees as we know them today.

A request for comment was also sent to the President of Malta, but no replies were forthcoming at the time of publication.

The Shift’s questions to the former prime minister were made in light of the myriad issues which have been highlighted with some of the parliamentary committees, especially the Public Accounts Committee and the Standards in Public Life Committee, which was created under different legislation in 2017.

The Public Accounts Committee, known as the PAC, has spent the last two years holding hearings related to the Electrogas deal alone, a process that was often further slowed down by partisan bickering between PL and PN MPs and delaying tactics from uncooperative witnesses like disgraced former energy minister Konrad Mizzi.

The Standards in Public Life Committee, set up to fulfill a role similar to other parliamentary committees but specifically focused on ethical standards of MPs, was bogged down by similar issues, with government MPs shedding doubts on reports implicating their colleagues, including Labour MP Rosianne Cutajar and disgraced former education minister Justyne Caruana.

Ironically, Caruana herself had played a major role in the legislative drive that led to the setting up of the same committee which was later tasked with discussing a report on her own ethical breaches. Following the discussion, Caruana filed court proceedings against the office of the Standards Commissioner.

According to the former prime minister, who now works as an international consultant, such committees can only work if the intent of all participants is to preserve transparency and accountability.

“If transparency and accountability are stultified, in one way or another, then inevitably our democracy fails and our electorate is betrayed. We all know what the consequence of this failure is,” the former prime minister said.

He explained how, before 1996, parliamentary committees did not exist, and were introduced with the intent of modernising parliament and allowing for more time to be dedicated to discussions about specific policy and legislation areas.

While some committees are there to facilitate, strengthen and support the formulation of legislation, others are there to scrutinise the functioning of the executive and are given wide-ranging powers to do so.

“But the most important achievement – which I cherish as a milestone in my political career – was to persuade the then-Nationalist government (in 1996) to accept the setting up of a Public Accounts Committee that would be chaired by a senior member of the Opposition,” Gonzi said.


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1 month ago

Dr. Gonzi assumed that MP’s are honorable gentlepersons ? The unfortunate practice with lawyers that Failure Mode Analysis of the laws they pass is never made. The “What IF” questions are passed off by those themselves that intend to do their damned best to screw the Laws and the Investigative bodies. With Labour , as it has been seen on DAY 1 , crooks came back to Malta , the message was around “Make Hay While the Sun Shines” and in 8 years Labour Government has borrowed and burnt away €10,000 MILLION. The Biblical 7 years of Fat Cows is being followed by 7 years of lean cows. This government instead of storing the wealth , burnt it off. Now there will be dead cows.

1 month ago

Miskin l’onest u viva l-korrotti. M’hemmx fejqan ghal din il-gzira maffjuza. It-taxxi tal’onest imorru ghand erba frodisti,korrotti w hallelin. L-anzjani minsijjin u ghall-marid nghmlu gabra. Gvern korrott u poplu gifa.

Joseph Tabone Adami
Joseph Tabone Adami
1 month ago

Not only the Public Accounts Committee, but the whole Parliamentary system – nay, even the nation’s Supreme Law – are meant to be used correctly and not to be stone-walled or otherwise thwarted by misuse or, even more, by deliberate and planned obstruction.

Last edited 1 month ago by Joseph Tabone Adami

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