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Official edicts in print

There may not be an ‘organic’ law regulating it but it is widely accepted that The Malta Government Gazette is the country’s official journal. It appears there is no need to define it because it is easily recognisable. Indeed, the 1980 Statute Law Revision Act assumes that everyone knows what “the Gazette” is and where to find it.

Many laws - both main and subsidiary - as well as other instruments, ranging from circulars to internal memos, may require the prior publication of notices in “the Gazette” before any official order acquires the force of law or can be acted upon.

In a way, it is an official record of the government’s executive and legislative action. It goes beyond publishing the text of new laws, legal notices and regulations. Official appointments, calls for public tenders and for the filling of public offices and information on public spending, including contracts awarded, also feature.

Because of the nature of the publication, one rightly expects that the information appearing in “the Gazette” is both timely and correct. Any mistakes should be corrected immediately and clearly.

Against this background, the statements made recently by a senior Cabinet member and a junior minister are very worrying, especially if they reflect the views of the government as seems to be the case since they have not been publicly corrected.

Like Louis XIV, the government appears to be arguing that, since it is the State, it is only what the Prime Minister and his direct delegates say that matters. All else – including its own gazette - should be taken with a pinch of salt or discounted as a mistake.

Comparing a notice appearing a few weeks ago on “the Gazette” listing the duties falling under the various ministries with a similar one published a year earlier, this newspaper realised that financial services regulation now falls under the Office of the Prime Minister rather than the Finance Ministry.

When Times of Malta pointed this out, a Finance Ministry spokesman insisted that nothing had changed with regard to the portfolio assigned to the minister at the beginning of this legislature. Questions sent to the Office of the Prime Minister on what had prompted the change and whether the move suggested the Prime Minister was unsatisfied with the Finance Minister’s performance remain unanswered.

It got even worse when the Parliamentary Secretary for People with Disability and Active Ageing declared that a notice on “the Gazette” on the €274-million direct order in connection with an extension at St Vincent de Paul Residence was a mistake. “We have been informed by the management that publishes The Malta Government Gazette they misplaced the notice, which should have been printed in another column not related to direct orders,” he told this newspaper.

But the Department of Information, which publishes “the Gazette”, denied there was any such mistake and a spokesman insisted the department published what government entities submitted.

It would be inconceivable that such a serious blunder on the government’s official journal should remain unnoticed for so long and is only picked up by the media. But it is diabolical that what a junior minister describes as a “mistake” is immediately denied by none other than the Department of Information.

The Sun King would have been proud of this government.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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