Integrity in public life
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Integrity in public life

Those serving in public life, whether as politicians or as officials in the public service, know that they are in a position of trust. They are just stewards of the processes that ultimately serve society. Public figures are expected to abide by high standards of exemplary behaviour that are characterised by selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership.

Recent revelations about the behaviour of a member of Parliament and a high-ranking public official can raise legitimate questions as to whether these public officials are committed to the principle of integrity. These two incidents have similarities but are also different in some ways.

Labour MP and chairman of Heritage Malta Anton Refalo was charged in court with assaulting his son after he allegedly spread revenge porn of his ex-girlfriend. The Magistrates’ Court acquitted Dr Refalo as the prosecution failed to provide sufficient evidence to prove its case. So an alleged case of domestic violence by a member of Parliament produced no sanctions because of insufficient criminal evidence.

The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education and former Rabat mayor Frank Fabri was investigated in 2006 for alleged corruption relating to a cleaning service contract that was awarded by the Rabat council at the time that Mr Fabri was mayor. The police charged the service provider who was subsequently cleared by the court but never charged Mr Fabri for allegedly accepting bribes from the cleaning contractor. 

The public is justified in asking whether these two incidents confirm that some public figures feel not bound by the principle of integrity in public life. Integrity means following your moral and ethical convictions and doing the right thing in all circumstances, even if no one is watching you. Having integrity means you are true to yourself and would do nothing that demeans or dishonours you. 

Dr Refalo is a public figure, and people expect him to walk the talk when condemning domestic violence. The circumstances of the alleged incident with his son would make any parent hot under the collar as revenge porn is disgraceful behaviour that should never be tolerated. Dr Refalo was justified in feeling betrayed by his son’s behaviour. What was wrong was that he did not do the right thing when he had a physical altercation with his son. 

Mr Fabri was already a public official when he allegedly accepted a bribe from a contractor. His appointment as Director General in the Ministry of Education in 2013 raised serious doubts about the fit and proper scrutiny that the government adopts before appointing senior officials in the public service. The police have so far failed to give a convincing explanation as to why Mr Fabri was not charged for allegedly accepting bribes from a contractor.

The quality of public governance also depends on the tone set at the top by the political leadership of the country. Members of Parliament and public servants should never allow themselves to be tainted with allegations that reflect lack of integrity. 

Doing what is right at all times does not just mean not breaking the law. It means setting the best example to the public of how public life duties should be performed. Trust in public officials can only be earned through the absolute integrity of the servants of the people.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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