Most politicians justify their involvement in public life on the pretext that they want to improve people’s lives. The goal of public service is indeed to advance the public good, help individuals and their communities, and make a contribution towards the betterment of society.

However, trust in those who take up positions in public service is frequently eroded by both politicians and senior public servants acting unethically.

Holding politicians fully accountable for their actions has been an eternal quest that is never fully achieved. When politicians violate the public’s trust, they violate the public’s sense of representation, undermining the institutions that underpin our democracy.

The Malta Chamber of Commerce has made a valid contribution to promoting standards of ethical behaviour by politicians with the publication of a paper authored by David Spiteri Gingell entitled ‘A Strong Transparency, Accountability and Ethical Governance Framework for Members of Parliament’. While the main focus of this document is on the behaviour of politicians, the arguments and recommendations it contains are equally applicable to senior officials in the public service.

The Chamber’s document identifies six areas that need to be addressed to build a robust framework characterised by transparency, accountability and ethical governance. These include rules that cover the disclosure of assets, second jobs taken by  parliamentarians, lobbying of politicians, the Office of the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life, the culture of integrity among politicians, and the training and counselling of MPs.

The compilation of this paper must have presented the authors with challenging questions revolving around the concepts of morals and ethics. Some would argue that morals cannot really be taught as they usually connote an element of subjective preference. However, ethics tend to suggest aspects of universal fairness – what most people understand to be good and proper behaviour – and how people make those judgments.

The Chamber’s paper contains 38 recommendations that should promote better transparency and accountability in public life if accepted and codified in a code of conduct for politicians.

This could go some way towards countering the trend of an increasing number of citizens abdicating their right and responsibility to participate actively in the electoral process. This is mainly because they have lost faith in the ability and willingness of politicians to adhere to high ethical standards and commit themselves to being held accountable for their actions.

Times of Malta highlighted specific parts of the Chamber’s report that exemplified the potential for unethical lobbying of politicians. One example was former prime minister Joseph Muscat’s role in discussions held between Steward Health Care, who are administrators of public hospitals, and the government. The Chamber’s report argues that Muscat had “no legitimate purpose” as a backbench MP to be present in these discussions. We agree. Muscat has insisted that the chamber’s interpretation is wrong as he was only acting to facilitate the “handover” process.

The Chamber has criticised Times of Malta for using this part of their report to lead its story. It argued that in the “interest of fairness”, we should not have singled out any particular example of potentially unethical behaviour.

The media has an obligation to focus on issues it genuinely believes are of particular interest to the public. Trying to strike a fictitious balance by giving equal importance to politicians from the two main political camps would reinforce the fallacy that one politician’s abuse is equivalent and no more severe than any other’s abuse. 

The Chamber report is an important one in pointing the way towards instilling more trust and responsibility in political life by promoting ethical conduct.  

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us