Prime Minister Robert Abela’s maxim seems to be not to do today what he can do tomorrow.

When approached after a magistrate declared he found Transport Minister Ian Borg’s testimony lacked credibility, Abela replied he would comment only after the lapse of a 20-day window the minister had in which to appeal. For the record, the case was about a plot of land in Rabat that Borg bought from a man with mental health issues at a price below market value.

Now, Abela conveniently prefers to wait for the outcome of a decision by the commissioner for standards in public life after it emerged that parliamentary secretary Rosianne Cutajar acted as a property broker in a land purchase deal involving Yorgen Fenech, who allegedly funded Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder.

It has been reported that Cutajar, who at the time was a backbencher and commissioner for the simplification and reduction of bureaucracy, pocketed €46,500 from the transaction.

She said she always acted correctly, “legally, ethically and politically”, and is willing to defend her reputation if need be, she insists. Anybody who read the story would think there is only one way out of this.

As if accepting to deal with a person who had already been exposed as the owner of 17 Black, with its many political implications, was not bad enough, it has also been reported that the money was paid in cash during an encounter at a Valletta restaurant. And it does not appear that she bothered to include that amount in her declaration of assets as she is duty-bound to do.

The extent of the culture of impunity that prevails and the widespread abuse by people in public life beggars belief. This must be addressed and stopped forthwith for everyone’s sake, including present and future politicians. The first responsibility falls upon the politicians themselves and, more so, party leaders. Finger-pointing must be substituted by zero tolerance for such behaviour.

Determining whether Cutajar crossed the line when dealing with Fenech is an urgent matter. The evidence appears to be quite clear so far.

However, the commissioner should also delve deep and publish very clear and comprehensive guidelines as well as make recommendations on the issue of ‘gifts’ in the widest sense of the term possible.

MPs are barred from accepting “gifts from persons, groups or companies that had any direct or indirect intent in legislation before the House of Representatives”.

This is something the commissioner needs to study at some depth and give a clear interperation of what should be understood by having “any direct or indirect intent in legislation before the House of Representatives”.

There are sectors, and big business is one of them, that are likely to be affected directly or indirectly by a wide range of laws.

However, the commissioner must also go beyond and bring out the spirit of the law on standards in public life. The bar must be raised as high as possible given the sour experiences of the recent past and the present.

The message must be clear: entering public life is not a business or a job to earn a living. The substance of public life is to serve society, with all the responsibilities and sacrifices this entails.

A clear message needs to be sent out that MPs should be barred from entering any form of questionable business deals, especially if the other party happens to have been exposed as the owner of a secret offshore company.

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