Updated 11.27pm -

The government is studying the Standards Commissioner's report which lashed out against government jobs for MPs, but Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said on Sunday that one also needed to consider counter-arguments. 

The Commissioner, George Hyzler, on Saturday hit out at the practice of granting government jobs to backbench MPs, saying it undermined their independence and that of parliament.

It also went against the Code of Ethics of Public Employees and Board Members and the underlying principles of the Constitution.

Dr Muscat, speaking in a radio interview, did not mention the counter-arguments he was referring to, but said there could be room for further study. This, he said, was a situation which had started under previous governments. 

But in a reaction, Opposition leader Adrian Delia said it was the Labour government which, since 2013 had changed the law to enable more backbench MPs to hold government positions including consultancies and positions of trust. The PN had voted against.

In a statement, he also observed that the remarks by the Commissioner of Standards were similar to recommendations by the Venice Commission.  

He therefore appealed to the government to take actions which would safeguard  the independence of MPs and parliament itself.

He said the time had come for MPs to be offered the option to work full-time  while distancing themselves from conflicts of interest. 

PM urged to act

Following the publication of the report, Partit Demokratiku MP Godfrey Farrugia had called for  “immediate action” to address issues it flagged.

Dr Farrugia said the report confirmed that the parliamentary system and its capability to enforce checks and balances had been weakened. So much so that the scrutiny by backbench MPs of the Executive had been “severely compromised, especially in recent years”.

Dr Farrugia said he now expected the Prime Minister not to procrastinate with
the excuse that the report is being studied, as has become common practice,
since the problems were clearly highlighted by Dr Hyzler.

On his part, the Speaker, as chair of the Standing Committee for Standards in Public Life, should call a meeting at once to discuss and give a conclusive
direction on the matter, Dr Farrugia said.

The report, he went on, also confirmed “without a doubt” both the Greco report
and that by the Venice Commission, which referred to the appointment of backbenchers to paid posts with government entities and the conflict of interest of MPs.

“Parliament’s credibility needs to be restored. This situation is unacceptable
in a democracy,” he said.

On whether he believed the report will result in any changes being implemented,
Dr Farrugia said: “God forbid if no effective and conclusive action is taken”.

“The Commissioner was clear in his report that if the action taken does not
yield the necessary results, he is ready to take up the task of remedying the situation himself,” he said.

When asked whether he would be taking the matter to the Constitutional Court if no action is taken, Dr Farrugia stated that he is "open to all possible measures being taken.

“It is high time that we take the bull by the horns and set things right,” he said.

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