Three institutions have consistently proven to work – independently and autonomously of government – and to reliably take the side of the citizen. These are the commissioner for administrative investigations, better known as the ombudsman, the auditor general and his national audit office, and the commissioner for standards in public life.

Yesterday’s long overdue resignation of Justyne Caruana as education minister is the result of an investigation carried out by the standards commissioner into a bogus contract she awarded to a friend.

It is to the credit of those at the helm and their loyal staff that these three institutions have not been subsumed in the “climate of impunity, generated from the highest levels at the core of the administration at Castille and spreading its tentacles to other entities such as regulatory institutions and the police, which led to the collapse of the rule of law” – as the public inquiry into Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder put it.

Ombudsman Anthony Mifsud, Auditor General Charles Deguara and Standards Commissioner George Hyzler stand firm in their dedication to serving the country. They act only in line with their calling, not according to what they think may be acceptable to the powers that be.

All three have cast light into places which those powers would have preferred to remain in the dark. Truth is inconvenient to those whose plans do not conform with the principles of good governance and the rule of law. When the information unearthed and publicly exposed has not gone down well with the authorities, these institutions have sometimes ended up in the cross hairs of people in power who should know better.

While constructive criticism of these institutions is welcome and useful, as

it keeps even autonomous institutions on their toes, launching attacks aimed deliberately at discrediting them and the people who lead them is a disservice to the country and its people.

Likewise, it is disappointing to see reports and recommendations emanating from these institutions too often put on the back burner or blatantly ignored.

Those who follow the proceedings of the parliamentary public accounts committee, for example, must find it terribly frustrating that findings of the auditor general are discussed every year only for the same issues to recur with very little if any progress being registered.

The bitter legal battle the ombudsman had to wage against the home affairs minister of the time, to be able to probe promotion injustices within the Armed Forces of Malta, demonstrates the reluctance of people in authority to accept they can be wrong.

And the standards commissioner continues to struggle even to ensure his reports are published once completed, rather than having to see what the standards committee first decides. Not to mention the manner in which Labour MPs, including the parliamentary whip and the prime minister himself, as well as the head of the civil service, have often tried to discredit the commissioner, sometimes by casting doubts on his findings.

If politicians were genuine about their desire to raise standards in public life, about making sure citizens get a fair deal from the public administration and about ensuring taxpayers’ funds are well spent, then they would treat these institutions with the respect they deserve.

The excellent work of the ombudsman, the auditor general and the standards commissioner will continue to be essential if state capture, plundering of the country’s wealth, impunity and collusion are to be substituted by scrutiny, transparency, accountability, the rule of law and good governance.

As appropriate at this time of the year, law-abiding citizens ought to raise a glass to these three institutions. More importantly, they should resolve to defend them to the hilt.

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