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MALTATODAY 8 January 2023

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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 • 8 JANUARY 2023 Deadlocked by political bickering Editorial APPOINTMENTS to sensitive positions – such as the President of the Republic; the Ombudsman; and in the most recent case, the Standards Commissioner – have traditionally been the subject of much controversy. Until recent legislative changes, all such appointments (including the judiciary) were usually decided upon by the Prime Minister – as a rule, 'after consultation with the Opposition leader' – and ratified by means of a sim- ple majority in the House of Representatives. Given that the government had no legal obligation to follow any advice given by the Opposition, the upshot was that the government of the day could always simply appoint any person of its own choosing: even to positions which are technically supposed to scrutinise government itself. In theory, this loophole was supposed to have been addressed in the legislation to introduce the Office of the Standards Commissioner: set up in 2018 to investigate claims of ethical breaches by MPs and persons of trust; and where the office-holder must be appointed by a two- thirds majority. Nonetheless, the post has been vacant since the end of September – when George Hyzler resigned, at the end of his term, to take up his post at the European Court of Auditors – and talks between government and opposi- tion have so far failed to reach consensus regarding his successor. Prime Minister Robert Abela proposed former chief justice Joseph Azzopardi; but the nomination was re- jected by Opposition leader Bernard Grech, who had proposed Judge Joseph Zammit McKeon – the latter was refused by Abela who then proposed he would be Ombudsman if Grech accepts Azzopardi as Standards Commissioner. Ostensibly, it was to resolve this impasse that Abela took the controversial step of proposing an anti-deadlock mechanism to appoint the Standards Commissioner through a simple majority, if the nomination fails to gar- ner a two-thirds majority in two previous voting rounds (moreover, government requires only a simple majority in the House to change the law appointing the Standards Commissioner: allowing the Prime Minister to effectively steamroll the amendment through Parliament). A similar situation had developed over the nomina- tion of the new Ombudsman, after incumbent Anthony Mifsud's term ended in March last year. The Ombuds- man, which is a constitutional role, also requires a two- thirds majority; and there is no anti-deadlock mecha- nism currently in place. On its part, the government is keen to argue that, under the Opposition's former leadership in 2015, the anti-deadlock mechanism had been proposed not just for the appointment of the President of the Republic, but even for a swathe of other roles the PN wanted appoint- ed by a two-thirds backing: the Commissioner of Police, the AFM Commander, the head of the civil service, the Central Bank Governor, and various others. Beyond the PN's arbitrary choice of senior government roles that should require the House's say-so (why not carry out annual scrutineering by MPs in committees, rather than attempt to impugn each single government appointment?), the Standards Commissioner is in itself a 'special' role. Special because, just like the Ombudsman and the Auditor-General, it is an officer of Parliament whose scrutineering and investigative faculties are essential for the health of Maltese democracy. It stands to reason that, by using the proposed an- ti-deadlock mechanism to usher in a new Standards Commissioner, the Labour government could easily undermine the moral authority of someone whose deci- sions on complaints of impolitic behaviour are necessary for the demands of probity and good governance, and whoe requires citizens' utmost confidence in the role. Just like the PN's one-time demand for an anti-dead- lock mechanism would have easily forced all major ap- pointments into a parliamentary squabble between gov- ernment and Opposition – for the latter's convenience to call out the implacability of the government – so too will the Standards Commissioner now be borne of similar circumstances. Such an important appointment should be free of this kind of parliamentary feuding, however. The Prime Minister himself should be mindful that, given the over- weening power of any party-in-government (Maltese democracy remains unshackled by a rigorous system of checks-and-balances, that is par for the course in ad- vanced EU member states), magnanimity should prevail on the appointment of the Standards Commissioner. The role is, after all, meant to keep those in power on their toes and accountable for their peccadilloes; and not to apply some conveniently 'docile' interpretation of public standards rules. Equally, the Opposition should show intellectual hon- esty in its nominations. George Hyzler, though a former Nationalist member of government, proved to have various qualities necessary for the role: judiciousness; a thorough appreciation of what the law permitted him to do; a sensitivity to the scrupulousness demanded from citizens of MPs; but also imperviousness to the sympa- thies of party politics. In the same way that no 'puppet of the state' should be expected to be nominated to the role by the Labour government, the Nationalist Party should not opt for a 'witchfinder-general' who, in the eyes of the public, might be easily prone to partisanship. Clearly, there must be some form of mediation – ideal- ly provided by the President, as well as other parliamen- tary officers – to impart upon both sides the necessity of appointing someone with similar qualities to the example set by Hyzler in his term in office; and with the necessary verve to take the public's complaints on board with a dispassionate pursuit of truth, integrity and good governance. We cannot, in a word, allow political bickering to 'deadlock' the system. 7 January 2013 'I'll support anyone but Gonzi' – Franco Debono demands PM's resignation THE Nationalist Party will be discussing the latest political crisis in an internal meeting, as spokesperson for the Prime Minister has told MaltaToday. "The issues raised by Franco Debono will be raised internally in the Nationalist Party," a spokesperson said. The statement indicates Lawrence Gonzi will be calling an extraordinary general conference and seek a vote of confidence by the party councillors. Nationalist MP Franco Debono has said he is ready to support anyone at the helm of gov- ernment, as long as it was not Gonzi, whom he called on to resign at a press conference held this afternoon. "The only way out of this political crisis is for Gonzi to step down," Debono said. Debono insisted he would definitely not resign but it must be the Prime Minister to resign or call an election, as he had clearly shown that his government was totally disrespectful towards Parliament, its MPs and the people. "I have been proved right on everything I have said but the Prime Minister has chosen to be led by a clique and make himself believe to be invincible before anybody who tries to give him good advice and make the changes needed for this country to be truly democratic," Debono said. "It is ridiculous that to his defence, the Prime Minister keeps referring to the economic crisis as a scapegoat to justify or to run away from his absurd way of doing politics." Debono said jobs and factories are important, but "the fundamentals of a democracy must be in place before anything else and the Prime Minister must never compromise not even an inch of these fundamentals." Debono appealed to the Prime Minister to summon parliament as soon as possible, before it reconvenes from the Christmas recess on Jan- uary 18 and call for a vote of confidence. Debono said he will definitely vote against government, which is why he was calling on the Prime Minis- ter to either submit his immediate resignation or call an election. He also denied any communication so far with the President of the Republic in wake of the constitutional impasse where government is left without a majority. ... Quote of the Week "Out of the 2,000 or so medicines that government imports for free distribution through the Pharmacy of Your Choice scheme, only singular items have been out of stock and only for a few days," Health minister Chris Fearne on Wednesday said medicine shortages were more prevalent in the private sector MaltaToday 10 years ago

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