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MPs to finally get some added oversight

Six years after being proposed, Standards in Public Life Act to become law

George Hyzler, Malta’s first Commissioner for Standards. Photo: Mark Zammit Cordina

George Hyzler, Malta’s first Commissioner for Standards. Photo: Mark Zammit Cordina

A law meant to add a new layer of scrutiny and accountability for members of Parliament is finally set to come into force after an 18-month wait.

The Standards in Public Life Act, which had been in the pipeline since 2012, was approved by Parliament in March last year but a legal notice to implement it was only published a few days ago.

The law will come into force on October 30, with former Nationalist parliamentary secretary George Hyzler set to be appointed Malta’s first Commissioner for Standards. His nomination was announced last month following talks between the government and the Opposition.

This law will empower the commissioner to look into breaches of ethics committed by MPs and those appointed on a position-of-trust basis within the public service.

It also provides for the establishment of a parliamentary committee that would propose sanctions against offending legislators. MPs themselves would have the final say on what course of action to take, if any.

The idea of having an ethical behaviour watchdog for MPs goes back to the final days of the Nationalist government in 2012, when then deputy prime minister Tonio Borg presented a Bill in the House of Representatives. However, the dissolution of Parliament a few months later meant the Bill could not move ahead. Then, in May 2014, the Labour government made its own proposal, very similar to what the Nationalist administration had submitted.

The Bill cleared all parliamentary hurdles on March 30, 2017 but it took a further year and a half to come into force. The government had justified the delay saying it would only move ahead once an agreement was struck with the Opposition on who would occupy the post of commissioner, a post that requires the approval of two thirds of MPs.

As months dragged on with no developments being registered, both parties were increasingly being criticised of having cold feet about a law that would increase public scrutiny of their conduct.

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