Opinion: A cunning plan

Speaker Anglu Farrugia and Standards Commissioner Joseph Azzopardi hatched a cunning plan. They’ve given MPs carte blanche to mislead the house to their hearts’ content. To the rest of us, that means lying – the death knell of our democracy.

After conniving with the Speaker, Commissioner Azzopardi issued another bizarre ruling.  He’s decided he won’t get involved when MPs lie in parliament.

He won’t bother with complaints about MPs lying, even though Article 4.3 of the Ethics Code states that “ministers shall provide correct information to parliament”.

The two schemers agreed that the Speaker would police Article 4.3. Farrugia told the Commissioner in typical pomposity: “All matters relating to the House… should remain under the control of the Chair” – that’s him.

“On issues relating to misleading of the house (sic) and the intent – mens rea – the Chair did not hold back from pronouncing itself and giving direction,” he added.

That direction involved asking Silvio Schembri very politely “to consider whether his reply was incomplete and, in that case, whether he has any corrections or additional information to add”.

But in his ruling of 6 December 2021, Anglu Farrugia made it categorically clear that “under the standing orders, the Chair has no power to monitor the minister’s reply”. There you have it.

The Commissioner won’t investigate MPs lying to the House. And the Speaker has no power to ensure ministers tell the truth.  He certainly has no desire to discipline those who mislead the house with lies, half-truths, incomplete information or wrong data.

Without correct information, parliament cannot hold the executive to account.  Without truth, there is no trust.  Without trust, there is no democracy.

Robert Abela, through the appointment of two dangerous individuals to the key offices of Speaker and Standards Commissioner, eroded further what was left of our democratic institutions.

What Abela fails to grasp is that Labour won’t be in power forever.  When power alternates, as it inevitably will, he’ll have gifted the other party the power to withhold accountability and transparency.

He would have allowed the other party to choose its Standards Commissioner without consultation. He would have established a precedent for selecting the most partisan of speakers.  The loser will be Malta and its democracy.

Nobody would have known about this devious scheme were it not for Arnold Cassola, who published the Commissioner’s secret ruling. Once again, the Commissioner found some new excuse not to investigate another Labour minister.  This time, it was Education Minister Clifton Grima who repeatedly misled parliament over the American University of Malta (AUM).

On 14 October 2022, Grima was asked to publish the audit report based on which AUM’s licence was extended by five years. He replied that the information requested was already published on the MFHEA website.

The truth was that two audits were conducted.  One conducted in October 2020 was only published in July 2021, on the MFHEA website. But the second audit, conducted in April 2022, wasn’t. It was only published in December 2022, following a Freedom of Information request by The Shift.

Yet Minister Grima disingenuously failed to mention the second audit. That audit found that AUM only met three out of 11 standards.

MFHEA must have considered the second audit when it issued a five-year extension to AUM’s licence. The MFHEA’s licensed institutions database lists AUM’s licence as indefinite, and the documents supporting that licence include both audits.

AUM’s licence was extended in October 2022 after the second audit was completed and well after the 2020 audit. Yet Clifton Grima failed to mention the second audit in his reply.

On 8 November 2022, Grima was asked PQ 3098 on where the most recent audit could be found, as the only one published was from October 2020.  “The last audit was concluded in October 2021… and therefore the published report is the most recent”.  He lied on two counts.

That audit was conducted in October 2020, not 2021. And the published audit was not the most recent.  Yet the Standards Commissioner leapt to the minister’s defence: “This Office understands that the minister was referring to the report of October 2020”.

Why does the Commissioner keep making excuses for Labour’s ministers?

Grima was given another opportunity to correct his ‘mistake’. On 25 November 2022, he was asked PQ 4449. MP Rebekah Borg asked whether an AUM audit was conducted in 2022.  Grima misled the House again. He referred to his previous answer: “That reply is correct where the institutional audit, based on which the licence was issued, was and remains online”.

Grima didn’t answer the question.  An audit had been conducted in 2022. He conveniently hid it. He could have corrected his ‘mistake’. He didn’t. That was no mistake. Grima was shielding the AUM.

He was given another chance on 27 April 2023.  In answer to PQ 8329, Grima replied, “The licence was extended based on the institutional audit that was conducted in July 2021”. There was no audit in July 2021. Grima misled the House again.  And once more, the Commissioner covered up for Grima: “This office understands that here, too, the minister was referring to the report of October 2020”.

These weren’t genuine mistakes. They were a willful effort to conceal the truth. Grima knew about the 2022 audit. He hid it because it was so damning. AUM failed to meet most standards. But Robert Abela was busy handing over more land at Smart City to AUM for peanuts instead of withdrawing AUM’s licence. And Grima had to keep that shocking audit secret.

Grima knew he was at fault. When the Standards Commissioner wrote to him about the complaint, Grima challenged the Commissioner, telling him it was none of his business and insisting it was the Speaker’s job.

Twice, Grima refused to reply to the Commissioner’s questions – on 28 March and 27 April 2023. And Grima got his way.  The Standards Commissioner colluded with the Speaker. He not only let Grima off the hook but also made sure no MP would ever be investigated for lying to parliament.

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Anne R. key
Anne R. key
22 days ago

And yet deathly silence amongst the populace prevails……Is it the lull before the storm? Or the emptiness in hope?

22 days ago
  1. Fantastic role model for each and everyone currently receiving formal education on these islands (!).
  2. Superb self-important Speaker of the House with an expertise at pointimg out the facts and non-facts to MPs.
  3. And, not least, a Commissioner who has a firm grasp of the importance of his role and who passionately upholds all principled and right minded considerations.

A round of applause for these three very upstanding jesters.

saviour mamo
saviour mamo
22 days ago

What does Erskine May tells us about MPs who lie or misguide the parliament?

22 days ago

Then the Opposition should shout lier to the lying Minister and refuse the Speakers decisions forcing the PN to shut up. The speaker should be told that he has just given up his duty to regulate parlament the first time parlament meets.

22 days ago

The Members of parliament took an oath of office. Lying breaks this oath. The Opposition should take this problem to the constitutional court.

16 days ago

Take the speaker and the commissioner to the constitutional court. Nobody has the right to resign his responsibilities without resigning his position. The population expects protection by its learned lawyers.

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