Prime Minister Robert Abela is willing to risk publicly humiliating former Chief Justice Joe Azzopardi by insisting on tabling a parliamentary motion to appoint him Standards Commissioner despite a veto from the Opposition.
Abela needs a two-thirds majority in parliament to appoint Azzopardi, which he knows he cannot achieve without the Opposition’s consensus. Yet he went ahead and tabled a motion to appoint his preferred Judge.
While consensus has been reached on the nomination of retired Judge Joseph Zammit McKeon to fill in the vacancy of Ombudsman, no agreement has been reached on Abela’s insistence on the former Labour candidate and Chief Justice occupying the watchdog role over his Cabinet.
“Abela is trying to force in his candidate even though he knows perfectly well that he needs a two-thirds majority, and there isn’t one for Joe Azzopardi. But, to try to score political points while showing his undemocratic credentials, he is using the former Chief Justice as a pawn, risking humiliating him publicly for his own political ends,” law experts told The Shift.
Insisting that Joe Azzopardi can never be a good option for a post that requires someone ready to take immediate and bold action, Court sources said this was also Abela’s opinion until a few months ago.
“Knowing that Joe Azzopardi was not performing during his short stint as Chief Justice – which lasted less than two years – Abela waited for his retirement before moving forward long agreed changes to the law, extending the retirement age of Judges,” the sources said.
In fact, Abela specifically waited for Azzopardi to reach 65 and retire in April 2020 before increasing the retirement age of Judges up to 68.
This was done just a few weeks after Azzopardi’s departure from the Bench, even though consensus had been reached with the Opposition on this change for a long time.
“It is an open secret in the corridors of Court that Abela did not want Azzopardi to stay. That is why he waited for his retirement before extending the judiciary’s statutory retirement age,” one source said.
“Whoever knows Azzopardi, a very nice but ineffective guy, knows perfectly well that he is not fit to be Standards Commissioner and Abela knows that very well. It’s exactly why he wants him,” another source added.
The Shift has already reported how Abela left the Ombudsman’s nomination vacant for over a year while he manoeuvred to get rid of George Hyzler to create a new vacancy.
He aimed to trade the two positions in negotiations with the Opposition, offering the less politically loaded one to the Opposition and keeping the potentially more politically-damaging position of Standards Commissioner to himself.
The Opposition did not bite the bullet and insisted that the new Standards Commissioner should be appointed by consensus, according to law.
While agreeing with the Prime Minister that Judge Zammit McKeon should become Ombudsman, the PN said it wanted more discussions on the Standards Commissioner.
The motion is expected to be discussed on Monday.