It would be a grave mistake to delay appointing a new parliamentary ethics watchdog, outgoing standards commissioner George Hyzler said on Tuesday.   

He was speaking with Times of Malta after addressing what is expected to be his last event as parliamentary commissioner for standards in public life. He will leave office formally on Friday to take up a post at the European Court of Auditors.    

The standards commissioner is appointed through a two-thirds parliamentary vote which means 66 per cent of MPs must agree on a nomination.   

Sources have told Times of Malta that no such agreement has been reached between the government and Opposition.   

Asked about this deadlock, Hyzler said he was not informed of a bottleneck but added that he lives in Malta and hears “little birds” as others do too. 

Hyzler said it would be a grave mistake to leave the office empty as there was a lot of work to do.   

He said he had discussed the matter with Prime Minister Robert Abela and he had been given assurances that a successor would be appointed as soon as possible.   

Hyzler said he had also made recommendations to the government about an anti-deadlock mechanism.    

He said that given that the parliamentary ombudsman and auditor general are nominated by two-thirds majority when there is a vacancy in one of the three offices, it could be temporarily filled by one of the other two.   

He also suggested the possibility of having a deputy commissioner as this could help in political horse-trading as both eh government and Opposition could put forward a candidate for the two roles. 

OECD presents final report on ethics upgrade

On Tuesday, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and the European Commission presented a final report to update ethics rules for public officials and appointees in Malta. 

The OECD and Brussels are proposing revisions to the code of ethics for MPs, ministers, and junior ministers. Their reports form part of the OECD’s project on improving the integrity and transparency framework in Malta which was requested by outgoing standards commissioner George Hyzler’s office and is being funded by Commission.   

Recommendations include calls for a dedicated law on lobbying and cooling-off periods for elected officials after leaving public office.    

Another key recommendation suggests introducing lay members to the standards committee, and the inclusion of an ex-judge to chair the committee.  

The committee is currently chaired by the Speaker, and includes two members each from the government and Opposition. It is tasked with meting out punishment for any MPs deemed by the commission to have fallen foul of ethical standards.  T

The last round of recommendations was launched in July with the government shunning the official event.   Julio Bacio Terracino who heads the OECD’s public integrity division gave details of the latest report.   

“As we have seen throughout the project, integrity is integral to improve trust in national authorities,” he said.   "This is why it is important to have a formalised system of integrity assurance, scrutiny, and accountability." 

He said that the moral compass of elected and appointed officials can fail.   With this in mind, they looked into how they can orient officials towards a true north of ethical behaviour, “even when no one is watching”.    

The OECD report also calls for definitions on, for instance, what constitutes a gift, what is a benefit, what is undue influence, and what is lobbying.  These definitions should then be added to a guidebook for all officials.     

Ambiguous definitions, lack of guidance, and no restrictions on post-public employment, are serious shortcomings, Terracino said.   

Preliminary data from an indicator being developed by OECD shows that in some countries as many as 1 out of 5 ministers is employed in the regulated sector after leaving public office.  This raises risks of insider trading and other possible breaches.   

Carissa Munro, OECD policy analyst said that Malta’s small size and the fact that its parliament is only operated on a part-time basis provides a particular set of challenges.   

Asked if the ethics breaches seen in Malta were in line with those seen across the OECD, Munro said that the issues of conflict of interest, lobbying, and gifts, were universal.  Malta she added, had its own particular set of realities.

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