Outgoing Ombudsman Anthony Mifsud has called for changes to the law to stop parliament’s “lack of respect” towards his office, after it ignored all the 35 investigations he tabled in the last three years.

The Ombudsman’s office is autonomous and does not form part of the government. But he is answerable to the parliament and the office is set up to hold the government accountable to the people for its actions.

“After more than 27 years, the provisions of the Ombudsman Act (to turn to parliament for action on its investigations) remain a dead letter. There has never been the political will to discuss and even less implement them. It not only shows a lack of respect for the institution but for the very law,” Mifsud told Times of Malta when asked for comment.

Ombudsman Anthony MifsudOmbudsman Anthony Mifsud

Figures provided by his office revealed that parliament ignored all the 35 reports he had tabled through the speaker bet­ween 2020 and last year. The reports had been referred to parliament after an unsuccessful referral to the Prime Minister and after the public administration or entity involved would have rejected them or ignored them.

Not all reports are sent to parliament but only those the ombudsman believes should be considered by the country’s highest institution.

Parliament ignored eight reports sent in 2020, 18 reports sent in 2021 and nine reports sent to it last year.

Describing the situation as “regrettable”, Mifsud said it revealed parliament’s failure to correctly appreciate the statutory status of the Ombudsman as a parliamentary institution.

“It also manifests parliament’s inability to grasp the reality that through its persistent inaction, aggrieved citizens are being deprived of their right to effective access to parliament. Once the public administration fails to accept the final opinion of the Ombudsman or his commissioners and implement their recommendations, the house ultimately has the duty, by law, to consider the complaint referred to it,” Mifsud said.

Asked about what changes he would like to see even though his days in the post are numbered, Mifsud said that unless there is a statutory obligation requiring select committees of the House to consider these final opinions, no progress will be made.

Unless there is a statutory obligation requiring select committees of the House to consider these final opinions, no progress will be made- Ombudsman Anthony Mifsud

A similar position to his is that of the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life who sends his reports to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and which are then discussed by the standing committee for Standards in Public Life.

The committee includes two members of parliament from the government side and two from the opposition. It is chaired by the speaker, who holds a casting vote in cases where the two sides disagree.

Among the reports which were ignored by parliament is one on two teachers who were subjected to improper treatment at their place of work, another on illegal work carried out by Infrastructure Malta on the Marsa footbridge, unfair treatment suffered by a scholar during a scholarship interview and a case about damage sustained by cars due to seawater flooding at Birżebbuġa.

Parliament also ignored other reports on a primary school teacher who was not allowed to carry out temporary work in the private sector despite being on a career break and a case against the Land Authority, which failed to take action on sewage seeping from a garage it owns.

Mifsud’s term officially ended in 2021, although he stayed on in a temporary capacity until his replacement is in office. George Hyzler stepped down as standards commissioner last year to take up a post in the European Court of Auditors.

Although both sides have agreed on the appointment of judge Joseph Zammit McKeon as the new ombudsman, there is still disagreement over the government’s intention to appoint former chief justice Joseph Azzopardi as the next standards czar.

The government intends introducing an anti-deadlock mechanism into the Standards for Public Life Act, effectively allowing parliament to appoint a standards commissioner through a simple majority if two votes fail to yield a two-thirds majority.

The Nationalist Party is objecting to Azzopardi’s nomination and is also dead-set against the anti-deadlock proposal, with party leader Bernard Grech declaring the idea “undemocratic”.

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

Support Us