The government is willing to invoke an anti-deadlock mechanism for the appointment of a new standards commissioner if no agreement is reached with the opposition, Prime Minister Robert Abela said on Wednesday. 

He confirmed a Times of Malta story which on Tuesday revealed that the two names proposed for the vacant positions of ombudsman and standards commissioner were two reputable retired judges.

Judge Joseph Zammit McKeon is being named as a possible replacement for outgoing Ombudsman Anthony Mifsud while former chief justice Joseph Azzopardi could replace former Standards Commissioner George Hyzler. 

Abela said the two had been appointed judges during a Nationalist Party administration and their reputation was untarnished. 

He said he did not know why Bernard Grech was opposing the proposal but said he was ready to solve the impasse by resorting to an anti-deadlock mechanism.

The law only allows this mechanism for the standards office. 

He did not elaborate further and neither did he give a deadline or a cutoff point.

Video: Chris Sant Fournier

It is understood that Zammit McKeon was proposed by the opposition while Azzopardi’s name was put forward by the government. 

Outgoing European Court of Auditors member Leo Brincat was also floated at some point during the discussions. 

The sources say there has been no agreement yet between the leaders and discussions will continue. 

On Monday, Abela said he was confident agreement would be reached and appealed to the opposition not to expect both positions to be filled by people of its choice. He repeated this message when speaking to journalists on Wednesday shortly after addressing the massive Sigma iGaming event in Ta Qali which attracted some 25,000 people from 80 countries.  

The offices of the ombudsman and the standard commissioner have been left in limbo for several months after the government and the opposition failed to agree on new nominees for the roles. 

Hyzler vacated the role of standards commissioner in September while Mifsud’s five-year term officially expired in March 2021 but he has remained in office until a replacement is found. 

In his annual report tabled recently in parliament, Mifsud said the failure to appoint a new public service watchdog was creating “uncertainty and demotivation” within the office of the ombudsman.“ 

In a final press conference, Hyzler warned of “repercussions” on the office’s work if no one was immediately identified to replace him.

Hyzler had told Times of Malta it would be a grave mistake to leave the standards office empty as there was still a lot of work to be done

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