Labour MP Glenn Bedingfield could have risked being unseated when he was engaged as parliamentary questions coordinator at the Prime Minister’s Office, the Times of Malta has learnt.
Doubts on his position were raised when the newspaper sought the views of two legal experts on whether his job was in breach of the Constitution.
Though not giving a definite answer, both the Dean of the Faculty of Laws at the University of Malta, Kevin Aquilina, and former European Court of Human Rights judge, Giovanni Bonello, would not exclude that Mr Bedingfield’s parliamentary seat could have been “challenged”.
Article 55(1)(c) of the Constitution lays down that the seat of an MP may become “vacant” if they are engaged on a contract of works with the government, unless exempted by Parliament.
Details of Mr Bedingfield’s employment contract were published by The Sunday Times of Malta after it filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act.
It transpired that Mr Bedingfield, who also runs a political blog with the blessing of the Prime Minister, had been engaged on the day of the June 3 general election. He became a member of Parliament later that month through a casual election to fill the seat vacated by the Prime Minister on the second district.
Mr Bedingfield also retained his post at Castille.
According to his contract, he was appointed on a position-of-trust basis until December 31, 2017, and was granted a remuneration package, including perks, equivalent to €42,000 a year.
Though the term of employment mentioned in the contract has expired, Mr Bedingfield was not forthcoming when asked whether his contract has been renewed and to declare his current occupation.
If deemed to be a contract of works, it would be valid, but his seat might be challenged
He also failed to say if he had informed the Speaker of the House of the matter to obtain a parliamentary exemption.
On the same day – last Friday – that the Times of Malta sent questions on the matter to Mr Bedingfield, the government announced that the MP would be heading a team tasked with drafting a strategy for Cottonera.
Apart from the timing of his engagement, which raised eyebrows as it happened on election day, in legal circles Mr Bedingfield’s decision to retain his role on becoming an MP raised serious doubts that it was constitutional.
Prof. Aquilina said that if the employment contract was not rescinded and Mr Bedingfield still worked as PQ unit coordinator for the Prime Minister, he could be in breach of the Constitution.
“However, if he disclosed to the Speaker the nature of the contract, then that would be another matter,” he said.
Dr Bonello pointed out that Mr Bedingfield’s contract might not fall within the definition of a contract of works under article 55(1)(c) of the Constitution, saying it looked more like a contract of services. Yet if it was deemed to be a contract of works, it would still be valid, but his seat in the House might be challenged, Dr Bonello clarified.
He noted that the Constitution required an MP who had, or planned to have, a contract of works with the government to disclose this fact to the Speaker “as soon as practicable” and the House could, by resolution, exempt the MP from the provisions of the ban.
“In default, the MP may be unseated by the court,” explained Dr Bonello.
How a contract can lead to an empty seat
Article 55(1)(c) of the Constitution says: “The seat of a member of Parliament shall become vacant if he becomes a party to a contract with the Government of Malta being a contract of works or a contract for the supply of merchandise to be used in the service of the public, or if any partnership in which he is a partner with unlimited liability or a company of which he is a director or manager becomes a party to any such contract, or if he becomes a partner with unlimited liability in a partnership or a director or manager of a company that is a party to any such contract.”
However, the article makes the following exception: “Provided that he shall not vacate his seat under the provisions of this paragraph if, before becoming a party to the contract or before, or as soon as practicable after, becoming otherwise interested in the contract (whether as a partner with unlimited liability in a partnership or as a director or manager of a company) he discloses to the Speaker the nature of the contract and his interest or the interest of the partnership or company therein and the House of Representatives by resolution exempts him from the provisions of this paragraph.”
Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.Support Us