A project has been launched to improve integrity standards among all those who hold public office, including members of cabinet and parliament, with the aim of restoring public trust in the policy-making process.

The project was requested by the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life and is fully funded by the European Commission with the expertise of the OECD.

Its goal is to restore public integrity, an important element of good governance which helps make economies more productive, public sectors more efficient and societies and economies more inclusive, it was explained at the launch of the project on Wednesday.

The project is called 'Improving the integrity and transparency framework in Malta'.

It is intended to strengthen the commissioner’s oversight and effectiveness, and improve the process by which his office collects and verifies declarations about assets and conflicts of interest.  

Other aims are to strengthen the code of ethics of MPs, ministers and parliamentary secretaries and improve the policy framework for responsible lobbying.

A steering committee will be set up, made up of representatives from the office of the standards commissioner, the parliamentary groups, justice ministry and civil society.

The resulting report will make recommendations for changes to the Standards in Public Life Act.

The project has the backing of the government, with Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis insisting during the launch that the government was committed to improving standards of integrity in public life.

The government, he said, was focusing efforts on strengthening the rule of law, transparency and accountability.

He said a lot had already been done on this front but more was needed.

He mentioned as examples changes to the method of appointing the President of Malta and achieving more transparency in appointments to the judiciary. 

The government, he said, had introduced more checks and balances for the different institutions.

He called for a “mentality shift” in the decision-making process and for an improved culture of accountability and scrutiny.

The project will include discussions with stakeholders, such as political parties, the Office of the Prime Minister, the police Economic Crimes Unit, Commissioner for Revenue, State Advocate, Chamber of Advocates, Chamber of Commerce and civil society, as well as international stakeholders such as the EU, GRECO and the OECD.

‘I have always managed to leave baggage behind me’ – Standards czar

Fielding questions from the media, Standards Commissioner George Hyzler rejected suggestions of bias, saying he was proud that his reports were never criticised because of their content but rather because of his political past.

“I am proud that every report has not been criticised on its merits but the accusation levelled at me for my political past. I’ve had no problem rising above my past and leaving this baggage behind me,” Hyzler said when asked for a reaction to requests for him to step aside because of his political allegiances in the past.

Hyzler was a junior minister during the Nationalist Party administration.

He said there were judges who had a political past but these always rose to the occasion.

“This post requires unanimity. If you don’t want someone with a political past in the role then simply don’t appoint them. I did not nominate myself to this position,” he said.

Replying to a question about the social media standards for parliamentarians which he had proposed, Hzyler said these standards “by and large” were being respected.

Asked about the refreshed code of ethics he had proposed, he said this was “stuck in the parliamentary process”. 

He added that the project will address this issue, as well as transparent lobbying, as a matter of priority.

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