1. Skip to Menu
  2. Skip to Content
  3. Skip to Footer

Welcome to StateCareAndMore.eu

White Paper on the Maltese Parliament

Government has, on 15 September 2012, published a White Paper on the Maltese Parliament. It proposes the establishment of a parliamentary service and a Parliamentary Commissioner on Standards.

Both are very laudable steps in the right direction. In so far as the establishment of a parliamentary service is concerned, this measure will rightfully detach the administration of the House of Representatives from the public service so that the administrative arm of the House will enjoy full autonomy from the Executive and be answerable to the Speaker. Indeed, one must credit the current Speaker, the Hon. Dr Michael Frendo, for having taken a number of initiatives which affirm Parliament’s autonomy from Government. One such instance is the removal of ‘gov’ from the address of the House of Representatives’ website. Cosmetic as this measure might appear to be, it is fully impregnated with significance. Further, for the first time in Parliamentary history, the House of Representatives is publishing Parliamentary Notices (as distinct from Government Notices) in the Government Gazette. The White Paper continues to develop this much needed thinking to strengthen the House of Representatives’ autonomy from the Government in the interests of a proper functioning separation of powers doctrine. Government must therefore be given due credit for this commendable initiative.

In Malta we already have a number of services. The public service, the security service and the military service (the Armed Forces of Malta) are all established by different laws. The White Paper is now proposing to add a Parliamentary Service which will enjoy a separate and distinct legal personality. This Service will ‘provide administrative and support services to the House of Representatives’, its members and committees.

The White Paper also proposes the establishment of a Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. Again, this is a much desired measure. Being a consultative document, I will propose six ways how the Bill can be further improved.

First, article 133 of the Criminal Code concerning the disclosure of secret information is referred to in clause 32 of the Bill. However, article 133 of the Criminal Code, although still extant on the statute book, has been superseded over time, and in particular, to a very great extent, by the Official Secrets Act, Chapter 50 of the Laws of Malta. Hence, the reference in clause 32 of the Bill needs updating.

Second, if a Member of Parliament is found to be in breach of the Code of Ethics, only three sanctions can be applied in terms of the Bill: (1) a severe reprimand and admonition by the Speaker; (2) censure by the House; and (3) suspension for one month from attending House sittings. I totally disagree that an M.P. in breach of the Code of Ethics should be suspended from attending House sittings because it is an inderogable duty of a Member of Parliament to participate fully in House business. Such a ‘punishment’ will only be to the benefit of those MPs who irresponsibly absent themselves from House sittings. In the latter case it would constitute more of an award to them, a prize, rather than a punishment. Hence this third measure should not be considered as a form of punishment. If at all, attendance for Parliamentary sittings should be set out in the law as an inderogable duty an MP owes to his/her constituents. A Member of Parliament should not be required to miss any sitting of the House and M.P.s who do not attend regularly sittings should be invariably punished. A pecuniary punishment should instead be applied for non-attendance of House business. If no pecuniary punishment is inflicted, the two other punishments listed in the law would probably enjoy no deterrent effect.

Third, the Speaker should instead be empowered by law, even if need be through an amendment to the Constitution of Malta, to withhold a Member of Parliament’s honorarium up to one year, depending on the gravity of the case, and should the Member of Parliament fail to attend on a regular basis the sittings of the House or a Committee/s thereof when his or her honorarium is withheld, s/he should be made to refund the equivalent amount of honorarium for all those sittings missed.

Fourth, as Members of Parliament, including Ministers, sometimes fail to attend House business, and this is evidenced when a quorum is called and the House adjourns for lack of a quorum, the Members of Parliament who would have skipped a sitting should be fined five hundred euro for each sitting missed. After all, this is why MPs receive an honorarium and that is what accountability is all about. This measure will undoubtedly introduce rectitude and seriousness in the House. Exceptions to this rule should be only when the defaulting Member of Parliament has written beforehand and obtained the Speaker’s approval to absent him/herself from a sitting for a very valid and exceptional reason such as ill health certified by a medical practitioner on oath before the Speaker. Pairing should not be introduced as a measure to skip House business. The law needs to ensure that the house – which is already handicapped as it is a part-time parliament – functions properly and efficiently. It must be made clear to all MPs that attending Parliamentary sittings is not something capricious but a duty owed to the electorate and absence amounts to dereliction of duties which should be punished accordingly with the severity that it merits.

Fifth, a Member of Parliament who is repetitively found to be in breach of the Code of Ethics should be expelled from membership of the House and not allowed to candidate him/herself in any election either indefinitely or for a period of time, say, at least, ten years. Consequential amendments to the Constitution of Malta would be required in this respect. The same applies for MPs who fail to file their annual financial returns by the due date.

Finally, the Committee of Privileges should not be the decision making body for breaches of the MP’s Code of Ethics. This is because, being a Committee of the House, members will vote not in terms of their objective evaluation of the matter but in terms of their respective whip’s directions. In this case, the decision will end up being a political partisan decision and each time an MP is accused before the Committee of Privileges, the MPs pertaining to his/her party will be more interested to exculpate and defend their fellow MP rather than seeing that justice is served in the public interest. Unfortunately, it will not be the public interest that will prevail within the House Business Committee but party political partisan interests and considerations. One cannot expect a contrary behaviour in view of the institution of the whip. This is all wrong and the matter should not be allowed to degenerate this way. Otherwise, the punishment meted out would end up being a very feeble and ineffective one. This will bring about a mockery of the institution of Commissioner for Standards with the latter Officer of Parliament being considered a toothless and totally useless and irrelevant institution. The seeds of failure of this office have unfortunately already been ingrained in the Bill. Any accusation of breach of the Code of Ethics of Parliamentarians, to be successful and proper, should be decided by the organ of the state which is competent to decide these matters. And this is not the House of Representatives or a Committee thereof. Justice is administered and dispensed by the courts and it should be the Constitutional Court, the highest court in Malta, as a court of original jurisdiction, to ensure that an accused MP is afforded a fair trial and that s/he is not judged by his or her peers on purely political partisan grounds with the attendant injustice that this will bring about to the due and proper administration of justice in Malta. Procedures which are doomed to fail from the very outset should be avoided. It is better not to have a Commissioner for Standards than to have a dysfunctional one, just for the sake of boasting of having one.

Who's Online

We have 58 guests and no members online