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MALTATODAY 23 October 2022

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6 maltatoday | SUNDAY • 27 MARCH 2022 OPINION 2 maltatoday EXECUTIVE EDITOR Matthew Vella Letters to the Editor, MaltaToday, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann SGN 9016 E-mail: Letters must be concise, no pen names accepted, include full name and address maltatoday | SUNDAY • 23 OCTOBER 2022 Government's contempt for Parliament knows no bounds Editorial JUST over a year ago – on 15 September 2021 – the Commission For Standards in Public Life launched a project entitled "Improving the Integrity and Transpar- ency Framework in Malta": aimed, among other things, at "introducing better practices for lobbying transparen- cy, and [parliamentary] asset declarations." More recently, the OECD's Carissa Munro told this newspaper that her organisa-tion is now preparing an- other report on the rule-of-law situation in Malta – the fifth in as many years – this time, specifically "about conflicts of interest, and the assets-declaration system." To these warning signals, we must also add the repeat- ed concerns expressed by the Venice Commission and the European Parliament (among others), about the lack of transparency within Malta's institutions: Parliament included. Clearly, then, we are dealing with a situation where government's 'lack of trans-parency' is impacting Mal- ta's reputation, as a European democracy; moreover, the secrecy that still reigns supreme over such matters, also raises legitimate doubts as tp whether the current government – or any of its members - 'has any-thing to hide'. As such, it is manifestly within Prime Minister Robert Abela's own interest to en-sure that his Cabinet – start- ing with himself – allay these concerns, by immediate-ly complying with its most basic obligations. These include the obligation to publish a full declara- tion of assets and interests each year: if nothing else, to reassure the public that there are no hidden 'conflicts of interest' to further pollute the political establishment. And yet, unaccountably, the Prime Minister has consistently done the opposite in recent years. In 2019, Standards Commissioner George Hyzler felt compelled to seek 'clarifications' from several Government MPs. Among them was Robert Abela himself: who had quan- tified his own income for that year, simply with the word: 'Salary'. To call this 'unacceptable' would be an understate- ment; but Abela chose to take his defiance of Parliamen- tary rules even further still. This time, neither the Prime Minister, nor any of his Cabinet ministers, have submit- ted any asset declarations at all, for 2021…. a full year after the expiry of the deadline. Yet even this display of arrogance pales to insignifi- cance, compared to how Abela's government responded – in Parliament – to questions about this issue. Government whip Andy Ellul took more than five minutes to answer a PQ, by his colleague Davina Sam- mut Hili, about the 'Worker of the Year Award' – which is an important matter, no doubt; and one which fully deserves attention. Meanwhile, however, Ellul only found 30 seconds to address three Opposition PQs about the far more urgent issue of his government's consistent flouting of Par- lia-mentary rules. And not only did he fail to produce a single justification for this un-acceptable delay… but he openly mocked the questions with partisan 'digs' at the Nationalist Party. "This side of the House has no problem with submit- ting their asset declarations," Ellul told Opposition MP Ivan Castillo: even though, quite frankly, its failure to ever do so, in 11 whole months, strongly suggests that the very opposite is true. Moreover, his non-replies also betray a truly shocking disregard for the Parliamen-tary process itself. "How can you [Beppe Fenech Adami] come here asking about asset declarations? The Prime Minister is not mine, but the country's prime minis-ter with the biggest majority in history…" Aside from the unmistakable note of arrogance in that statement – which ironically calls to mind the very same 'arrogance' that Labour had once so loudly decried, when coming from past Nationalist governments – El- lul's childish outburst only il-lustrates exactly why it is so important, to take these obligations more seriously. It is precisely because this government has 'the big- gest majority in history', that it is vital for it to be 100% open and transparent in all its dealings with the public. For not only do 'large majorities' entail 'large political responsibilities'… but they also translate into 'large amounts of political power' (which - as history time and again proves, tends to eventually 'corrupt' even the best-intentioned of governments). The issue, however, raises other concerns beyond se- crecy, and lack of transparen-cy. If nothing, it illustrates – yet again – why it is so important for the Standard Commissioner's recommendations to be taken on board, once and for all. For even if the government does, belat- edly, submit its asset declarations: the system itself still allows its members to be 'economical with the truth'. This is, in fact, the substance of the concerns ex- pressed by the OECD, the Stand-ards Commission, and so many other institutions. As this newspaper pointed out in 2015: "The entire exercise should be revised to maximise transparency at all lev-els. […] all too often, ministers limit themselves to financial declarations, property and business interests – omitting other assets that would be regarded as compul-sory in most Europe- an countries, including possessions valued over a certain amount." The system also needs to be beefed up with regard to enforcement: here, the Speaker of the House should be taking centre-stage on such an important matter. But these targets will forever remain out of reach, if government persists in treat-ing Parliament with such open contempt. Any such reform will have to start with a single, all-important step: the immediate publication, without further delay, of the present government's full assets and interests. 23 October 2012 MaltaToday features in EP report on investigative journalism AN experts' report for the European Parlia- ment's budgetary control exclusively features Mal-taToday for its investigative journalism. MaltaToday's investigative journalism were the sole examples featured in an experts' report for the European Parliament's budgetary con- trol committee that tackled issues of financial control and auditing of EU funds and national taxpayers' money. MaltaToday's uncovering of an EU media contract to the Nationalist Party, which was subse-quently repealed; its exclusive reports in the €3.8 million in direct orders awarded by the Office of the Prime Minister to Group 4 and Mekanika for services on Mater Dei Hospital; and the re-cent exposure of the way Malta's em- bassy to the EU in Brussels paid its locally-em- ployed per-sonnel, were the sole examples of investigative journalism from Malta in a report which oth-erwise insisted that "such journalism was practically non-existent" on the island. In 2005, MaltaToday revealed that the Nationalist Party had been awarded a major €565,000 contract from the EU to provide a daily press review to the European Commis- sion. But following the report, the contract was terminated by European Commissioner Mar- got Wallstrom, due to the ethical questions that such a press review in the hands of a political par-ty raised. Then in 2008, MaltaToday revealed the spec- tacular payment of over €2 million in a direct order from the Office of the Prime Minister, then responsible for the construction of Mater Dei Hos-pital, to Group 4 Services. The compa- ny, previously employed by Swedish construc- tion firm Skanska, was allowed to continue providing security services by the government in a direct or-der. The OPM also proceeded to give G4S the operation of the Mater Dei car park in a deal that would be later criticised by the Auditor General. The report was followed by revelations of a similar direct order of €1.8 million to Mekanika for maintenance services at Mater Dei, when a maintenance staff-complement of 64 at the for- mer St Luke's Hospital were already conducted the same services for the state. ... Quote of the Week "I'm of the opinion that, in delicate moments like in the past days, you can't have a vacuum in the leadership of the prison." Home Affairs minister Byron Camilleri when asked if he would suspend prisons director Robert Brincau after he was charged in court for threatening an ambulance driver with a weapon MaltaToday 10 years ago

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