Former Chief Justice Joe Azzopardi, the person Prime Minister Robert Abela is insisting on as the new Commissioner for Standards in Public Life despite the Opposition’s steadfast objections, has told The Shift he is not concerned that almost half of Parliament opposes his nomination.
Speaking to The Shift on Monday, the former Chief Justice said, “In the past, there were Presidents of Malta who were elected with a simple majority. I don’t see any issue if this also happens in my regard. All that matters is that once I take my oath of office, I follow to the letter what is expected of me.”
Asked whether he would accept the nomination without consensus in the House, Azzopardi insisted that “if elected according to the law, then I will accept to carry out the job”.
Azzopardi, however, stressed the only thing bothering him about the ongoing controversy over his nomination was his being described as “inefficient”.
“It is a complete lie that I am not efficient. In my 17 years as a Judge, I decided 3,713 cases. That is quite a record,” he stressed.
“It is also a lie that the number of appeals increased when I was Chief Justice. This is not true, as during my tenure, the Court of Appeal was the most efficient court in many years. So, whoever is saying that I’m not efficient is wrong and is lying.
“In this whole debate, I really cannot understand why the Opposition is ready to accept me as an Ombudsman but not as Standards Commissioner,” Azzopardi remarked in a dig at the Nationalist Party, whose MPs will also be subject to his scrutiny should his nomination go through.
According to the current Standards Commissioner law, the person nominated to the position is to be appointed by a two-thirds vote in Parliament.
However, in a twist being deemed as anti-democratic, Prime Minister Abela is now proposing to change the law to allow for a simple majority vote, which is always won by the government, if two-thirds of MPs are unable to agree on the nomination on the first two attempts.
This would effectively pave the way for Azzopardi – a former Labour Party election candidate – to be installed as Standards Commissioner.
Asked whether he had reached some deal with the Prime Minister over the appointment, Azzopardi said, “The only deal I ever made in my life is with my wife.”
Azzopardi, who spent less than two years as Chief Justice, is known for his ‘don’t rock the boat’ approach.
The government increased Judges’ retirement age from 65 to 68 after Azzopardi’s retirement, and he was later handpicked by the government to handle a number of potentially embarrassing inquiries.
Azzopardi’s role will be to investigate complaints against Abela’s Cabinet members, and the job comes with a financial package of over €100,000, plus perks. This will top the pension he already enjoys as a former Chief Justice, which, unlike other pensions, is uncapped and pegged at two-thirds of the sitting Chief Justice’s salary.
The PN, which has opposed Azzopardi’s nomination from day one, has proposed three nominees for the post, including a former Labour speaker, as alternatives. They have all, however, been rejected by the Prime Minister.