Dr George Hyzler, Commissioner for Standards in Public Life, has published a consultation paper setting out proposals to regulate lobbying. This is in keeping with the Standards in Public Life Act, which obliges him to make recommendations concerning the regulation of lobbying.
The term “lobbying” refers to efforts by private individuals and entities to influence government decision-making in their favour. Lobbying is a concern in many countries because, if it is not regulated, it can result in private interests gaining excessive influence over government decision-making, to the detriment of the general public.
The Commissioner’s consultation paper reviews the approaches taken by different countries in the regulation of lobbying and sets out proposals on how this should be done in Malta. The aim is to increase transparency and improve standards of governance. The regulation of lobbying should also serve to minimise trading in influence, which is a crime.
The Commissioner is proposing that lobbying should be regulated by means of a new law to be titled the Regulation of Lobbying Act. This Act would define lobbying as any “relevant communication” on “relevant matters” to “designated public officials”. The consultation paper proposes detailed definitions for all three terms.
The paper proposes that all individuals and bodies that carry out lobbying should be governed by a code of conduct. In addition, some of these individuals and bodies should be required to register in a Register of Lobbyists that would be maintained by the Commissioner for Standards. These lobbyists should submit regular returns on their activities.
Furthermore, the paper proposes that ministers, parliamentary secretaries, and the heads and deputy heads of their secretariats should register all relevant communications (including meetings) in a Transparency Register which would be accessible to the public. This builds on the practice recently adopted by Dr Aaron Farrugia, Environment Minister, who has committed himself to publishing a register of his meetings with stakeholders.
The Commissioner is also proposing that ministers, parliamentary secretaries and some other designated public officials should be barred from acting as lobbyists for a specified period after they cease to hold office. This would prevent private actors from gaining privileged access to government decision-making through senior officials who have recently left office.
Finally, the paper proposes that there should be a minister responsible for the administration of the Act, in keeping with normal practice, but the Act should be enforced by the Standards Commissioner. The Commissioner should have the power to impose administrative penalties, subject to review by the courts.
The consultation paper can be downloaded from here. Anyone can submit their views on the paper to the Commissioner during the consultation period, which will remain open until 30 April 2020. The Commissioner will revise his proposals as necessary on the basis of public feedback. He will present the revised proposals as formal recommendations to the government in terms of the Standards in Public Life Act.
Photo: the Parliament building in Valletta.