PM insists on ‘indecent proposal’ to get his choice of standards commissioner

Robert Abela wants Joe Azzopardi as Standards Commissioner, so he re-introduced Zammit McKeon as Ombudsman after first rejecting his nomination


In his latest manoeuvre to ensure the ‘institutions are working’, in his favour, Prime Minister Robert Abela has for the past weeks been insisting on the nomination of his preferred retired member of the judiciary, Judge Joe Azzopardi, as the country’s new Standards Commissioner, The Shift is informed.

While Abela had originally shot down the Opposition’s suggestion to nominate retired Judge Joseph Zammit McKeon as the new Ombudsman when the constitutional position became vacant over a year ago, he now appears to have had a sudden change of mind and has offered what he sees as the less important role of Ombudsman to the Opposition as long as his own preference is installed as the new Standards Commissioner.

Sources familiar with the ongoing discussions, which have been dragged out by the Prime Minister so as to be able to strike a trade between the two vacant constitutional roles, have told The Shift News that Abela is adamant it is now the time to have ‘a Labour nominee’ as the Standards Commissioner.

While during behind closed doors meetings Abela rubbishes his predecessor Joseph Muscat’s decision to have named former Nationalist Party Parliamentary Secretary George Hyzler as Malta’s first-ever Standards Commissioner, Abela is now adamant that he will ‘not repeat Muscat’s mistake’.

Playing with the Constitution

In his long-planned political chess game intended to outmanoeuvre the Opposition, which he requires in this case as two-thirds of Parliament are needed to appoint the Ombudsman and the Standards Commissioner, Abela has left the position of the Ombudsman vacant since March 2021, for over a year and a half.

In the meantime, futile discussions between the Labour and Nationalist leaders were held, with the Opposition having suggested as Standards Commissioner retired Judge Joseph Zammit McKeon, who is known for his competence and impartiality despite the fact that he occupied various positions during PN administrations.

Abela rejected the nomination and instead proposed Joe Azzopardi – a former Chief Justice and Labour election candidate who is known to be somewhat Labour-leaning.

While Abela understood that a consensus could not be reached, he orchestrated George Hyzler early retirement by making him an offer he couldn’t refuse – a nomination to the European Court of Auditors with its attractive financial package.

Taking the bait, Hyzler left the Standards Office before the end of his term. The position was left vacant and Abela achieved the desired result – a lack of a watchdog over the conduct of his Cabinet.

As the two positions became vacant, Abela started off another ‘consultation’ with the Opposition and is now offering a trade-off while making it look like some sort of compromise.

“Abela is now suddenly accepting Zammit McKeon after having rejected him,” one source speaking to The Shift News said. “However, he only wants him as an Ombudsman and not as Standards Commissioner.

“At the same time, he wants the Opposition to accept Joe Azzopardi as Standards Commissioner. This was his wish from day one and now he will say publicly that the Opposition does not want to compromise.”

Labour has been ignoring the Ombudsman for a long time as the law allows the government to basically ignore his decisions. At the same time, the Standards Commissioner’s conclusions are much more enforceable and the government simply cannot ignore a Cabinet member being found in breach of the code of ethics.

Sources told The Shift News they expect Abela to keep dragging the process out so the post of Standards Commissioner remains vacant for as long as possible with oversight being applied to his conduct and that of his Cabinet. In the meantime, pressure is being piled on the Opposition to accept the PM’s terms.

Appointed as Chief Justice by a Labour Administration at the age of 63, two years before his retirement, Joe Azzopardi is described by his colleagues as an honest and affable man with strong Socialist values.

With a ‘don’t rock the boat’ attitude, Azzopardi has become the favourite retired judge for independent inquiries every time the government feels the need to have one carried out.

Since his retirement in 2020, Abela asked Azzopardi, a good friend of his father, former President George Abela, to preside over a number of inquiries.

These include inquiries into the departure of office of the Attorney General lawyer Charles Mercieca to become a lawyer in the Yorgen Fenech case; the release of an inmate before his prison sentence had been served; the scandal the Malta Financial Services Authority when its CEO Joseph Cuschieri and Edwina Licari had taken a trip to Las Vegas footed by Yorgen Fenech; and an inquiry into the acquittal of two lawyers after the AG filed erroneous charges.

Azzopardi was also tasked by Abela to chair a working group on the demerger of Transport Malta, which was never implemented, and a task force related to the fight against human trafficking, which was also never put in place.

Court sources have told The Shift News, in fact, that it is has become “quite obvious” that Azzopardi has taken Philip Sciberras’ place as the Joseph Muscat government’s go-to man whenever it needed to cushion the impact of an embarrassing situation.


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6 months ago

The opposition should expose the stupidities and obvious cranky decisions and missing in action decisions by Joe Azzopardi in Parlament. The 2/3 approval requirement is there to protect such appointments from political subservient persons. The PN should stick to its guns and prove in Parlament why Azzopardi does not have their respect. Abela had no qualms describing Dr. Gonzi as divisive.This was the PM who put his father , a Labour MP as President during the PN government. Robert Abela is nothing less than a sick man.

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