In late 1960, Philip Landy, considered a Commonwealth authority on parliamentary law and procedure, wrote that the prestige of the Office of the Speaker of the House of Commons is “hardly less exalted than that of the Sovereign herself”.
“The independence of the chair is the guarantee of the rights of minorities and it is considered imperative that the high standards of fairness and impartiality which have come to be associated with the speakership of the House of Commons should be perpetually emphasised. Everything possible is done, therefore, to maintain and enhance the dignity of the office,” he added.
Anġlu Farrugia was just five at the time and, thus, too young to comprehend the significance of what Landy meant. But he is now 66, practised law for 21 years and has occupied the speaker’s chair of the Maltese parliament – modelled on the House of Commons – since 2013.
Sadly, he still fails to fully understand what his role as speaker entails and to what extent he is expected to go “to maintain and enhance the dignity of the office”.
Throughout the past eight years, Farrugia demonstrated himself unwilling or unable to keep high standards of fairness and impartiality. It seems that, to him, heeding ‘his master’s voice’ outplaces a speaker’s mission of protecting and promoting the independence of the office.
In terms of law, ethics and abuse of power, MPs are overseen by the commissioner for standards in public life. However, it is MPs themselves and, of course, the speaker, who have the final say on what happens within the precincts of the house.
Regrettably, the efforts being made by the standards commissioner to raise the bar are not complemented by the government and the speaker’s credentials in this regard are abysmal. He prefers to embarrass himself, demeaning his office and, consequently, parliament, in the process, not to put the government in a spot. Here are some examples.
Earlier this week, after a tie, Farrugia voted for Labour MP Rosianne Cutajar’s conduct to be investigated further before a final decision is taken by the standards committee on whether she should face sanctions.
The standards commissioner found that, on a balance of probabilities, Cutajar breached parliamentary ethics when she acted as a broker in a multimillion euro property deal involving murder suspect Yorgen Fenech and failed to declare the income.
In their argumentation, the speaker and the two government MPs on the committee appeared to be adopting the role of a court of law, demanding evidence beyond reasonable doubt, even if at stake is political responsibility and unethical behaviour. Indeed, the standards commissioner did not go into the tax issue but left that to the competent authorities.
Earlier this year, Farrugia refused to provide the tax assessment Prime Minister Robert Abela filed in 2017, citing legal advice.
The following month, he abstained from casting a deciding vote during a parliamentary committee meeting, again stalling the adoption of a report by the standards commissioner finding OPM Minister Carmelo Abela in breach of ethics.
Earlier, he had rejected a motion for an urgent debate on the political implications of developments in the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder investigation.
On another occasion, Farrugia would not allow questions on the offshore accounts of Joseph Muscat’s former right-hand man, Keith Schembri or on the Egrant inquiry.
Rather than guaranteeing the rights of minorities, Farrugia prefers to behave as the government’s gatekeeper, a watchman.
Moving to set the ball rolling to find a suitable, competent replacement would not be out of order.
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