Aqra traduzzjoni ta’ din l-opinjoni bil-Malti.
Independent politician Arnold Cassola has revealed that Standards Commissioner Joseph Azzopardi is pinning the blame on Parliamentary Speaker Anglu Farrugia for the impunity afforded to Prime Minister Robert Abela and his Labour Party ministers.
Once again, Azzopardi decided he wouldn’t investigate and wouldn’t publish the report into the alleged abuse of public funds – this time by the prime minister himself.
That report would have remained secret, but the Commissioner was legally obliged to send a copy to the complainant, Cassola, who made it public, exposing the comical games Farrugia plays to keep Labour ministers and their prime minister off the hook.
Thanks to Cassola, we can read the Commissioner’s denunciation of the Speaker for his shameless protection of ministers found to be in breach of ethics.
Time and time again, Farrugia personally intervened to delay or reject the adoption of the Commissioner’s reports and to spare ministers and parliamentary secretaries from being sanctioned.
On 18 July 2023, Azzopardi wrote to Anġlu Farrugia, telling him, “This situation should be addressed with urgency”, but the speaker ignored him. Six months later, he’s still taking no action. That’s only the latest in the speaker’s catalogue of devious stunts to protect Labour’s cabinet.
In April 2021, the standards commissioner found Minister Carmelo Abela in breach of ethics when he spent over € 7,000 of public funds in a series of adverts featuring a massive photograph of himself. “It was neither informative nor of interest to the public”, the commissioner commented, recommending Abela repay the public funds spent on his self-promotional adverts.
But when the report came before the parliamentary committee, Labour’s Glenn Bedingfield and Edward Zammit Lewis voted against adopting the report because “there were no clear guidelines regulating such a situation”.
Farrugia “did not feel that there was a breach of ethical guidelines” and abstained.
His non-vote stalled the report’s adoption, and Carmelo Abela was exonerated. Farrugia declared that “guidelines should be drafted”.
So Commissioner George Hyzler drew up comprehensive “Guidelines on Government advertising and promotional material”. Anġlu Farrugia would have no excuse next time.
That next time came around pretty fast. In June 2022, the standards commissioner found that 18 ministers, former ministers, and parliamentary secretaries had violated Articles 4.9, 4.10, 5.3 and 7.4 of the code of ministerial ethics.
They spent over €16,700 of public funds on 28 pages of adverts in Labour’s newspaper supplement, marking Robert Abela’s second year as prime minister. To add insult to injury, many of those adverts were partisan and included photos of the ministers themselves, in breach of the guidelines on advertising.
When the report came before the Parliamentary Standards Committee, Labour’s two MPs voted against adopting it, while the opposition’s MPs voted in favour. That left Farrugia with a casting vote, and this time, he didn’t abstain.
He voted against adopting the report, absolving Labour’s ministers and parliamentary secretaries. He had the guidelines now, so what was his excuse this time?
“I personally agree with them, en bloc, totally, which means there is no argument over any detail, but obviously, when you need to impose guidelines, they need to be part of the law,” Farrugia said.
Farrugia is always a step ahead with a new plan for defying justice. “I am not going to be presumptuous when we have a standards commissioner. I agree with the guidelines themselves as providing direction and recommendations, they’re telling each MP – this is the position I would take. But now, it’s not what position I would take, but we’re talking about applying the law. This is my position,” the Speaker wrote in what must be the most incoherent report ever, and that’s just a taste of the Speaker’s 13 pages of muddled rambling.
“I am voting no,” Farrugia declared “on the legal principle that you cannot apply something when it isn’t part of and supported by written law”. How convenient.
Those guidelines were issued on 22 June 2021, over three years ago. That’s plenty of time to enshrine them in law. All it takes is a legal notice issued by the minister responsible, and within 28 days, barring any challenges from MPs, they’re law.
But of course, Labour’s too busy enacting legislation to make 16-year-olds mayors, and the Speaker is too busy travelling the world.
Now, even Labour’s chosen standard commissioner has lost his patience. “The (parliamentary standards) committee effectively created a situation where it is unable to take any action against such breaches,” Azzopardi told Farrugia.
Everybody can see through the Speaker’s shenanigans. Even the commissioner has realised that the Speaker has only one objective – to make sure no Labour ministers or parliamentary secretaries ever get sanctioned, no matter how atrocious their ethical breach.
Azzopardi lambasted the Speaker and the Standards Committee – “The standards committee is not ready to adopt the Ministerial Code of Ethics, and neither refers to the guidelines when considering allegations of breach of ethics relating to advertising paid from public funds”.
“I am formally recommending,” he told the Speaker, “that paragraphs 1.10 up to 3.11 of the Guidelines on Government Advertising and Promotional Material are included in the Standards Act. In this way, the guidelines will be given a legal basis, and every doubt about their validity will be eliminated”.
The commissioner might have the power to recommend, but Farrugia can ignore him. Farrugia hasn’t lifted a finger to implement the commissioner’s recommendations in six months. He’s probably devising new ingenious ways of circumventing them.