Clayton Bartolo has done it again, messing up so badly that even Speaker Anglu Farrugia had no choice but to rule against him.
Farrugia ruled that Bartolo breached protocol and was “incorrect” when he failed to follow procedure in a rare condemnation of a minister from his own party. But up popped Prime Minister Robert Abela insisting that Bartolo “is doing his work as an MP well, to add to the good work he is doing as tourism minister, and he definitely has my full support”.
We’re all used to Abela’s antics now.
When Ian Borg suspiciously passed on the names of driving test candidates to Transport Malta officials, Abela insisted Borg was doing his job. When Silvio Grixti provided false certificates for his constituents to defraud the state, Abela rewarded him with an OPM consultancy. When Rosianne Cutajar’s “everybody pigs out” chats leaked, Abela defended her, insisting she had already paid a political price.
Now that even the speaker condemned Bartolo, Abela commends his minister for his diligence.
“I want to see members who scrutinise the subjects they have in front of them, members who prepare themselves for their work, who show enthusiasm, and that’s what Clayton Bartolo showed”, Abela said.
Abela’s being disingenuous. Bartolo didn’t prepare himself well, he didn’t prepare himself at all. He seems to have no clue what his role on the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is or what the protocol states. If he did, it means he willfully violated it.
Minister Bartolo, “on his own initiative” gave indicative questions to a PAC witness ahead of the sitting and behind the committee’s back. That constitutes unauthorised disclosure to a witness by a government minister.
Speaker Farrugia tried to minimise Bartolo’s breach. He stated in his ruling that he’d listened to the PAC hearing “and noted that Gordon Cordina (the witness) did not seem threatened, scared or to be withholding or providing false evidence during the sitting”.
What does that have to do with the price of eggs? Of course, Cordina didn’t seem threatened or scared. Why would he be scared if he knew all the questions well before the hearing? Being forewarned by the friendly Clayton, Cordina was perfectly at ease answering those questions. He had time to prepare the answers, rehearse them and possibly even discuss them with the minister.
Minister Bartolo acted in bad faith. He knew full well that what he was doing was wrong and that’s why he kept his unauthorised disclosure to Cordina secret. He never informed the committee of what he’d done, he was caught.
Even Anglu Farrugia was compelled to admit that Bartolo was in the wrong. “An individual member of the committee should not give a PAC witness an indication of the line of questioning in advance”, the speaker ruled.
The leader of the opposition called for Clayton Bartolo’s resignation from the PAC after his breach was exposed.
“I have a question for the tourism minister”, one journalist asked Bartolo. “After the Speaker’s ruling, the PN is asking for your resignation from the PAC. Will you resign?”.
As Bartolo grinned childishly in the background, Prime Minister Robert Abela rushed to his defence. “I can answer that question because as prime minister and party leader, it is my responsibility to appoint members to the PAC”.
“What the Speaker said was that MP Clayton Bartolo had every right to prepare questions and send them to the witness”. That was not what the speaker said, Abela was trying to deceive.
The speaker’s ruling categorically stated that the committee can give an informal indication of the line of questioning to a witness, provided this is done by the committee and not on the individual initiative of a committee member.
According to Abela, Bartolo’s only transgression was sending the questions to Cordina directly when he should have sent them through the committee secretary.
Abela has lost all sense of reality. He viciously attacked the opposition for their “populist partisan” call for Bartolo’s resignation. He accused the opposition of misinterpreting the speaker’s ruling even as he distorted that ruling himself beyond recognition. “What the speaker said in his ruling and how the opposition interpreted it shows what an extremist opposition we have, always choosing extremism and exaggeration”.
Calling for the minister’s resignation from the PAC is not extremist. Even the speaker himself noted that ministers should not be part of the PAC, which is meant to scrutinise the work of the executive.
It is completely out of order for ministers to sit on a parliamentary committee that scrutinises their own work. And there’s undoubtedly nothing extremist in demanding the resignation of Clayton Bartolo, who is either totally ignorant of the committee’s rules or arrogantly disregards them. It’s undoubtedly not extremist to ask an MP who betrayed the trust of his colleagues on that committee to step down.
The House of Commons Committee on Standards’ document “Sanctions and Confidentiality in the House’s Standards System” states, “Following unauthorised disclosure of information, the commissioner should be empowered to investigate the disclosure…and to consider disciplinary action”.
That document proposes various sanctions depending on the seriousness of the unauthorised disclosure. They include requiring the MP to attend training, to write an apology to the house or to make a personal statement of apology. They include withholding allowances or the salary of the MP, suspension, expulsion and dismissal from the committee.
That’s precisely what the opposition is demanding. There is nothing extremist about that. In normal countries, that’s the expected sanction for unauthorised disclosure by an MP, let alone a government minister.
But this isn’t a normal country – certainly not as long as we have a prime minister who praises wrongdoing, exalts corruption as a political system and praises ministers found in breach of protocol.