The Commissioner for Standards in Public Life has written to the Speaker to express his concern over delays by Parliament’s Standards Committee in publishing case reports that are referred to it by the Commissioner.
The Commissioner’s letter follows the suspension of a Committee meeting because the two members nominated by the Prime Minister failed to attend. The Committee was due to discuss the Commissioner’s report on case K/028, concerning alleged public funding for political advertisements. The two members in question boycotted the meeting in protest because, they claimed, the report had been leaked to the media.
In his letter the Commissioner assured the Speaker that documents in his office were held under strict security and the report on case K/028 had not been leaked from his office.
The Commissioner noted that he presented reports on three kinds of cases to the Committee: cases in which he found no breach of ethics; cases in which he found a breach of ethics but it was remedied through action taken with his agreement; and cases in which he found a breach that could not be remedied in this manner. Reports on the first two types of cases were published by the Commissioner and referred to the Committee for information purposes only. Reports on the third type of case were referred to the Committee for its further consideration, and it was the Committee that decided on the publication of such reports.
The Commissioner pointed out that this procedure was resulting in the suppression of case reports. This was creating unnecessary polemics, went against the principle of transparency, and had no basis in law. The Commissioner took the view that he should have the responsibility to decide on the publication of his own reports, as did the National Audit Office and the Ombudsman.
The Commissioner also stated that there was nothing to indicate that his report on case K/028 had been leaked. In its story of 8 April 2021, Newsbook drew the obvious conclusion that the Commissioner had found a breach of ethics since he had referred the case to the Committee. The Newsbook story used the words “blatant self-promotion”, which did not appear in the case report. Moreover, Newsbook sought information from Minister Carmelo Abela about the cost of his publicity campaign – information which was available in the case report.
The Commissioner’s letter can be downloaded from here.