The Commissioner for Standards in Public Life has concluded that Minister Carmelo Abela misused public funds when he commissioned a full-page newspaper advertisement featuring a prominent photo of himself. The advert was published in most Sunday papers on 18 October 2020, and it was evidently a form of self-promotion since it contained minimal information.
The Commissioner for Standards conducted his investigation following a complaint about the advert by Dr Robert Aquilina, President of the NGO Repubblika.
The Commissioner investigated the complaint in terms of the provisions of the Code of Ethics for Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries. The main issues were those of the separation between the role of a minister and that of a member of a political party; respect for the principle of impartiality of the public service; and diligent use of public resources.
The Commissioner noted that the Minister attempted to defend the advert by calling it an “advertorial”. However, the advert did not merit this description given the scant information it contained and the use of a half-page photo that served no purpose other than to boost the Minister’s image. The Commissioner also concluded that it was inappropriate for the Minister to request career civil servants to approve such expenditure.
The Commissioner submitted his report to Parliament’s Standing Committee for Standards in Public Life on 17 March 2021, and the Committee authorised its publication on 14 April 2021.
The Committee for Standards may adopt or reject the report. It is at the discretion of the Committee to consider what remedy is appropriate if it upholds the report. However, the Commissioner for Standards noted in his report that in the UK, members of Parliament who are found to have misused public resources are required to refund the cost of those resources to the state. In this case the cost of the advertising campaign commissioned by Minister Carmelo Abela amounted to €7,012.97.
The Commissioner’s report is available from here.