The Committee for Standards in Public Life decided on Tuesday to adopt the conclusions of an investigation which found that Parliamentary Secretary Michael Farrugia lied to journalists about a March 2014 meeting with businessman Yorgen Fenech.
The investigation, conducted by the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life Joseph Azzopardi, concluded that Farrugia “fell short of saying what’s right”. Farrugia had claimed he “never had such meeting” when asked by journalists.
Following Farrugia and Fenech’s meeting, Mrieħel was included as an area where high-rise developments are permitted, accommodating the Quad Towers buildings, a project part-owned by Fenech.
The Commissioner’s report was adopted following a vote which saw Parliamentary Secretary for Social Dialogue Andy Ellul and Justice Minister Jonathan Attard abstaining, with Opposition MPs Mark Anthony Sammut and Ryan Callus voting in favour.
Ellul and Attard abstained from voting on the grounds that the committee should hear Farrugia’s version of events, a decision which could only be taken once the committee decided to adopt the Commissioner’s conclusions according to the Standards in Public Life Act.
The Labour MPs claimed they could not “in good conscience” vote on whether to adopt the conclusions without first hearing from Farrugia. House Speaker Anġlu Farrugia said, “the law is clear, the person involved can only be asked for once the report [and its conclusions] has been adopted.”
The Standards in Public Life Act article 28 says that after the committee finds that there has been a breach of the Code of Ethics, through the adoption of the commissioner’s report, they can “grant the person concerned the right to make submissions”.
Following this, the committee may decide to admonish the person investigated or escalate the matter to higher authorities.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Sammut proposed reopening the investigation into Farrugia’s meeting with Fenech, claiming Commissioner Azzopardi failed to investigate the matter fully.
The Shift has reported how Commissioner Azzopardi said he ‘felt no need’ to ask Farrugia for pertinent details on the March 2014 meeting. Azzopardi chose not to investigate who else attended the meeting and did not ask for minutes taken by Farrugia’s secretary at the meeting or for the secretary’s name.
Azzopardi relied on Farrugia’s testimony about what occurred during the meeting, claiming he was “adamant” that high rises were not discussed, giving no details on who else was present.
The Standards Commissioner’s investigation into Farrugia and Fenech’s 2014 meeting was initiated by a complaint by independent politician Arnold Cassola.
The complaint by Cassola was submitted at the time George Hyzler was commissioner. He chose to shelve it pending a separate investigation by the Permanent Commission against Corruption.
Commissioner Azzopardi subsequently took up the report and concluded that Farrugia lied. His report was submitted to the Standards Committee for deliberation and has now been adopted.
Recently, The Shift reported how Commissioner Azzopardi adopted a more timid approach to investigations since his appointment last March through controversial ‘anti-parliamentary deadlock’ legislation quietly passed two days after Christmas.