Joseph Muscat did not pay for his family’s December Dubai trip, despite telling Times of Malta that he had used his “personal private funds”.
Still, the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life found that the former prime minister was not in breach of the ministers’ code of ethics.
Commissioner George Hyzler established that the visit was not paid for by Muscat but by a third party and the flights cost approximately €21,000. It appears that no public funds were used.
Muscat had dismissed questions by Times of Malta about how he funded expensive flights for his whole family during the short holiday.
'Reply should have been phrased less arrogantly'
“It is none of your business. It is my personal private funds,” Muscat had said.
In his conclusions, drawn over complaints filed by PD leader Timothy Alden and PN leader Adrian Delia, Hyzler notes: “his reply to journalists that the trip was ‘none of your business’ ought to have been phrased less arrogantly, given that politicians are accountable to the public, and particularly in light of the particular circumstances the country was experiencing.”
His declaration that he had used ‘personal funds’ for the trip can only be justified in the sense that no public funds were used, as this was not the case, the commissioner added.
Muscat provided the commissioner with a detailed explanation about the purpose of the visit and who paid for the trip.
The commissioner found no evidence to contradict the explanation given and Muscat asked for the details not to be disclosed to the public.
Since it appeared that the visit was private in nature, not related to official government business, and did not involve a breach of ethics, the commissioner accepted his request.
Hyzler concluded that the host of the visit could not have intended to influence Muscat’s decisions as prime minister, since he had already announced his resignation and he had only two weeks remaining in this role.
The host of the visit had no interest in parliamentary legislation or any commercial interest in Malta, according to the commissioner.
The flight tickets
Accompanied by his wife and two children, Muscat travelled between December 27 and 30. A couple of days later they reportedly travelled to London.
The Muscat family headed abroad one day after former chief of staff Keith Schembri took his own family abroad for a three-day getaway, reportedly to Italy.
Schembri resigned in disgrace in November, hours before he was arrested and questioned in connection with the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
The Muscats' tickets were issued in first class through a travel agent called Travel Masters in Amman, Jordan.
Each one amounted to JOD 4,152.60, then equivalent of €5,259, or over €21,000 for the four tickets.
The tickets were recorded as having been paid for in cash. This could have meant actual cash, a bank transfer, or a cheque, but excluded payment by credit card or on invoice.
The four tickets had originally been issued in business class, then cancelled and re-issued as first class within 90 minutes. However, they were charged as first class, meaning that they were not changed through an upgrade or the application of air miles.
The cost represented the system fare, meaning that tickets bought in Malta would have cost the same amount. Hence there was no possibility that the tickets were bought from Jordan to take advantage of price differentials.
What does the Code of Ethics say?
Code of Ethics for Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries
No Minister shall accept gifts, donations, hospitality or services from anyone, that may place him under an obligation towards such person or persons and this shall also apply to immediate family members of the Minister.
Code of Ethics for Members of the House of Representatives
A member of the House of Representatives who has made a visit outside Malta, financed in whole or in part by one person, group or company which has a direct interest in legislation before the House, shall declare the fact in a register purposely kept by the Speaker, and accessible to the public.
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