A golden op­por­tu­nity to clean up the House, po­si­tions of trust and lob­by­ing

The Malta Independent on Sunday - - DEBATE & ANALYSIS -

With the com­ing into force of the Stan­dards in Pub­lic Life Act at the end of the month, the coun­try will have reached a cru­cial junc­ture. The Act had been lan­guish­ing some­where on Par­lia­ment’s ta­ble for over six years now, six years in which the coun­try was in dire need of a Com­mis­sioner for Stan­dards in Pub­lic Life.

Those were six years lost but there is still plenty to do, and the Com­mis­sioner will cer­tainly have a lot on his plate once he or she is ap­pointed. Par­lia­ment had ap­proved the Act over a year ago but for some rea­son it has been do­ing noth­ing but gath­er­ing dust, most likely be­cause a suit­able can­di­date palat­able enough to the two-thirds of Par­lia­ment re­quired to ap­point the Com­mis­sioner had not yet been found.

That per­son will need to have a back­bone of steel if he or she is to per­form their duty to the coun­try with­out fear or favour, and this will cer­tainly be no mean feat.

That per­sona now seems to have been found af­ter the po­lit­i­cal par­ties reached a con­sen­sus on Cham­ber of Ad­vo­cates Pres­i­dent Ge­orge Hy­zler tak­ing the hot seat. To our mind, the man ap­pears to be an ideal can­di­date.|

He will, how­ever, need to make his mark im­me­di­ately, and take no pris­on­ers from the out­set.

The Act will ap­ply to all Mem­bers of Par­lia­ment, in­clud­ing the mem­bers of Cab­i­net. More­over, it also ap­plies to all those hun­dreds of po­si­tions of trust dished out, of­ten as no more than po­lit­i­cal favours, who many times are found to have been some­what less than de- serv­ing as far as their com­port, and wheel­ings and deal­ings, are con­cerned.

The new Com­mis­sioner will also be em­pow­ered to ex­am­ine, and if need be ver­ify, dec­la­ra­tions of in­come and as­sets or other in­ter­est or ben­e­fits of those obliged to sup­ply them, and to come down on any­one who fails to de­clare or makes an in­cor­rect dec­la­ra­tion.

The Com­mis­sioner will also be tasked with own ini­tia­tive in­ves­ti­ga­tions, or of any­one sus­pected to have breached eth­i­cal codes of con­duct.

Over and above that, the new Com­mis­sioner will also draw up guide­lines and pro­pos­als for reg­u­lat­ing lob­by­ing ac­tiv­i­ties, which are far more ob­scure and which have al­ways pre­sented a very clear and present threat to democ­racy.

Ac­cord­ing to the leg­is­la­tion, be­fore draw­ing up guide­lines and mak­ing pro­pos­als, the Com­mis­sioner will first need to see which ac­tiv­i­ties are to be con­sid­ered as lob­by­ing ac­tiv­i­ties.

The re­mit here is vast con­sid­er­ing the amount of lob­by­ing that goes on be­low the radar. It in­cludes mak­ing rec­om­men­da­tions on the ac­cep­tance of gifts, the mis­use of pub­lic re­sources, the mis­use of con­fi­den­tial in­for­ma­tion.

The Com­mis­sioner will also need to make rec­om­men­da­tions on re­volv­ing doors – lim­i­ta­tions on the em­ploy­ment or other ac­tiv­i­ties af­ter a per­son ceases to hold of­fice as a Min­is­ter, a Par­lia­men­tary Sec­re­tary or a Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment.

As such, the Com­mis­sioner will, in so many re­spects ven­ture into a no man’s land where, quite lit­er­ally, no one has ven­tured be­fore.

This is an enor­mous step for a coun­try in which stan­dards are de­lib­er­ately and con­ve­niently ig­nored on a na­tional level, and where those in pub­lic life ap­pear to be held to no stan­dards what­so­ever. The list is far too long to go into within the lim­its of these col­umns so we will not delve into par­tic­u­lar cases. They are more than ob­vi­ous and it will be quite a task for the new Com­mis­sioner to merely de­ter­mine from where to be­gin.

It is far too of­ten that reg­u­lar cit­i­zens take a page out of the be­hav­iour of those in power, and fig­ures ‘If they can do, so can I’.

This has to stop, and it has to stop from the top down. It is only when those in power shape up their acts and be­gin be­ing held to ac­count for their be­hav­iour that it will trickle down to the man in the street who finds so many in­ge­nious ways to cir­cum­vent laws, rules and reg­u­la­tions.

Peo­ple need to be led by ex­am­ple, and our lead­ers need to pro­vide those ex­am­ples, which are, sadly, very few and far be­tween. In fact, so much of that be­hav­iour has been far from ex­em­plary.

The long awaited com­ing into force of the Act may, some way down the road, pro­vide for both new and im­proved stan­dards in pub­lic life, and im­proved stan­dards for the life of the pub­lic.

We wish the new Com­mis­sioner ev­ery suc­cess. The coun­try, in so many ways, de­pends on it.

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