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Talks over standards commissioner start but no dates yet set

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat promised last June that the vacant post would be filled by the end of summer.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat promised last June that the vacant post would be filled by the end of summer.

Having failed to appoint a commissioner for standards by the end of last summer, as the Prime Minister had promised, the government now says the post will only be filled when there is agreement with the Opposition.

However, the Nationalist Party was formally approached on the matter only a few days ago.

After sleeping on it for almost a year, the government is now trying to blame the Opposition for the delay

Though enacted in March last year, the Standards in Public Life Act has still to come into force because, for some reason, the legal notice implementing it has not been published.

The new law provides for the appointment of a commissioner whose remit is to investigate breaches of an ethical nature committed by members of Parliament and civil servants engaged on a position-of-trust basis. It also provides for the establishment of a parliamentary committee empowered to propose sanctions against offending legislators, even though MPs would have the final say on what course of action to take, if any.

Addressing Labour’s general election victory celebration in Gozo last June, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat promised that the vacant post would be filled by the end of summer.

His pledge came in the wake of a call made the day before by the PN, which had said it was favoured talks on the matter with immediate effect. Although at the time Simon Busuttil was on his way out as leader, the party had insisted the transition should not affect the matter and called on Dr Muscat to refrain from further procrastination.

Read: PN calls for appointment of Commissioner for Standards in Public Life

Even the Democratic Party has encouraged the government to act.

Read: ‘Public life standards commissioner a must’- PD

Asked about the delay, a government spokesman replied: “The government is currently holding consultations with the Opposition on the appointment and the legal notice will be published once an agreement on the appointment is reached.

He would not give any details or timeframes but pointed out that the move would be a strong measure to promote transparency and accountability in administration, following many others implemented by the Labour government over the past five years. These, he noted, included the recent law empowering Parliament to scrutinise the appointment of ambassadors and chairmen to key regulatory authorities.

The PN’s reaction was also sought but no comments were forthcoming by the time of writing. However, party sources told the Times of Malta the government’s invitation to nominate a candidate for commissioner for standards was only made a few days ago. “After sleeping on it for almost a year, the government is now trying to blame the Opposition for the delay,” the sources said.

The idea of having an ethical behaviour watchdog for MPs goes back to the final days of the PN government in 2012, when then deputy prime minister Tonio Borg presented a Bill in Parliament. However, the dissolution of Parliament a few months later meant the Bill could not move ahead, until, in May 2014, the Labour government made its own proposal, which was very similar to the PN’s draft law.

Following a three-year wait, the Bill cleared all parliamentary hurdles on March 30, 2017, but has still to be implemented.

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