Opposition MPs employed in the public sector “abused” the rules set out for members of parliament to leave work in order to attend to parliamentary duties, the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life George Hyzler has found. 

The report, which was prompted after Times of Malta reported in February that MPs on the state payroll had been told to go to work or be kicked out, found that the practice was leading to MP’s “absenting themselves from work without proper control”. The system was also being used for the MPs to attend political or constituency activities, which they are not entitled to do during office hours.  

The report looked into nine opposition MPs who are employed in the public sector: David Agius, Kristy Debono, Ivan Bartolo, Robert Cutajar, Clyde Puli, Hermann Schiavone, Ryan Callus, Toni Bezzina and Mario Galea. 

“This is by no means to infer that all nine MPs covered by this report have abused the system: the facts set out earlier in this case report do not put all MPs in the same light. Nevertheless, it has become clear to me that some MPs seem to display a total lack of understanding of what constitutes their role in Parliament and the difference between this and activities, such as attending funerals, that represent a duty to voters’ families or constituency work or for instance attending programmes on the media,” Hyzler said. 

The commissioner found that the fact that the behaviour was being tolerated by government entities represented a “lack of good governance that should be addressed”. 

The report concluded that the practice amounted to misuse of public funds and abuse of the individuals' position as members of Parliament. It also undermined the trust that the electorate should have in its public representatives. 

Additionally, heads of public entities were put in difficult positions with the expectation that they should shoulder responsibility for a practice that gave rise to irregularities and compromised the independence of MPs who are public servants, by making them “less prone to government oversight for fear of losing an implicit advantage of their employment.”

The practice also effectively discriminated against MPs who were not employed in the public sector, the commissioner said. 

In his recommendations, the commissioner reiterated his call that backbench MPs be given the choice to work as MPs full time and be remunerated at a higher pay than those who opt to remain under the current parliamentary arrangement, which is part-time. 

“The role of Parliament and its backbenchers is to keep the government under scrutiny, so backbench MPs, whether they are on the government or the opposition side, should not be dependent on the government for their livelihood,” the commissioner said. 

“If such a system is introduced, the law that permits MPs to continue to work as government employees should be repealed, save that these MPs should have the right to return to their jobs when their term in Parliament ends.”

“In this way the scope for abuse would be eliminated and at the same time MPs would no longer be dependent on the government of the day.” 

Being an MP in Malta is a part-time job and elected politicians are paid half the amount of the top civil-service salary, which is currently just over €46,000. 

On top of this €23,000 pay, a further €7,000 could be earned if the MP chairs a committee. 

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