George Hyzler had barely settled into his new role, and the talk was already about what he could not do, rather than what he could.
“I overemphasised the limitation of my powers, but that’s what the law is,” Malta's first parliamentary commissioner for standards in public life says with the benefit of hindsight.
Dr Hyzler can expect to face a fair few more headwinds in the coming years if he begins to shine light into nooks and crannies politicians would rather keep undisturbed.
But concerns that his own political past – he served as a parliamentary secretary in a PN administration 15 years ago – will be used against him are not causing him sleepless nights.
“In the context of a government which is putting itself under scrutiny, it makes sense to have chosen someone who is not biased in its favour,” he says in a Times Talk interview.
“I will certainly try to be as unbiased as possible, but nobody can accuse me of being biased in favour of government”.
"This does not in any way mean I will be biased against [the government]," he quickly adds.
The very fact that you have a report stating something is wrong is in itself of value.
Dr Hyzler has five years to entrench the newly-established office in Malta’s political system, flesh out rules MPs and persons of trust must abide by and investigate politicians’ questionable behaviour if and when it arises.
His recommendations will then be taken to a parliamentary committee, with his office working in much the same way as the UK model it is built on.
Dr Hyzler adopts a glass-half-full approach to suggestions that he risks ending up as a paper tiger, with recommendations ignored or glossed over by MPs.
“The very fact that you have a report stating something is wrong is in itself of value,” he argues.
“If I come up with proposals and those are not accepted by MPs, people will look at those parliamentarians in a certain way,” he adds.
And while it is still too early for Dr Hyzler to draw lines in the sand or lay down hard-and-fast rules, he already has some ideas of what will or won’t be permitted.
MPs’ declarations of assets, for instance, will not be made available for the public on the Commission’s website.
On the other hand, the commissioner is more willing to consider returning to a previous system which required politicians’ spouses to declare their assets, too.
As for allegations of misconduct or impropriety, the decades-long lawyer would rather politicians took the high road.
Members of a politician’s staff who are under investigation should step aside until they clear their name, he says, before qualifying that statement. “Though it depends on the nature of the investigation”.
Watch the full Times Talk interview with George Hyzler in the above video.
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