Disinformation Watch: Yes, Cabinet does need to declare spouse’s assets

Prime Minister Robert Abela’s denials in the press last week in response to an article by The Shift that pointed out discrepancies in his ministerial declarations renewed questions on whether ministers must declare their spouse’s assets.

In a follow-up article, the Standards Commissioner confirmed to The Shift that all members of Cabinet, including the prime minister, must list their spouse’s assets in their annual declarations.

The requirement is listed in a ‘Manual of Procedures’ attached to the Code of Ethics for Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries.

The Shift has published an excerpt from the manual which clearly states declarations “should include the property of the husband or wife of the minister [including prime minister and parliamentary secretary].” The only exception is for married couples with prenuptial agreements.

The declarations template clearly states that the PM was obliged to declare his wife’s assets, including bank deposits

The confirmation prompts questions on where the belief that spousal assets were exempt from ministerial declarations may have originated. Many have claimed ‘a law’ passed by disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat had introduced the exemption and that Abela was now taking advantage of it.

The ‘law’ in question was an update to the Ministerial Code of Ethics in August 2014 by the Muscat administration. Among other changes, the update had moved explicit mentions of the requirement for spousal asset declarations to a separate ‘Manual of Procedures’ for cabinet members.

In 2015, at the time the changes were revealed, former principal permanent secretary Mario Cutajar said, “The manual [of procedures] is still part and parcel of the Code.”

The creation of a separate manual has allowed for the obfuscation of ministerial obligations and the abuse of ethical requirements.

In 2022, The Shift reported how the same manual had been discretely altered to allow the Office of the Prime Minister to employ more political appointees. Again, former principal permanent secretary Mario Cutajar made the alterations upon the instruction of Prime Minister Robert Abela, then just a few months into his new role as prime minister.

Subsequent reporting by newsrooms and bloggers has further obfuscated the facts surrounding the issue. Reports have claimed the requirement no longer existed, while others confused the ministerial declaration of assets with that made by members of parliament.

While members of parliament are also required to declare their assets, their declaration is not published and must be viewed in person. Ministerial declarations of assets are published each year around March.


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