The Commissioner for Standards in Public Life, Dr George Hyzler, has said that “It inevitably raises suspicions if a minister meets a person with extensive business interests, on his own, informally and with too much familiarity.” In such cases it would be more advisable to hold a formal meeting with officials present.
The Commissioner for Standards made this statement after considering a case in which entrepreneur Luke Chetcuti appeared in a video clip saying that he had met Minister Chris Cardona and sought his help in obtaining a beach concession at St George’s Bay. The video clip was broadcast by a French television station as part of a documentary about corruption in Malta.
In the video clip Mr Chetcuti alleges that Minister Cardona immediately sent a message to Minister Konrad Mizzi asking him to intervene because the Chetcuti family “always helped us”. Dr Mizzi, who was Minister for Tourism at the time, allegedly replied saying “The beach is small but we will see what we can do to enlarge it.”
This video clip prompted Prof Arnold Cassola to submit a complaint to the Commissioner against Ministers Cardona and Mizzi on the grounds that they were willing to give preferential treatment to an entrepreneur at public expense because he had given assistance to their political party.
In his report on this case, the Commissioner found that the alleged exchange of messages between Ministers Cardona and Mizzi represented a potential breach of ethics on the part of Minister Cardona but not Minister Mizzi. In his alleged reply, Minister Mizzi did not commit himself in favour of the beach concession. He said only that a concession was not possible with the beach in its present state, and he did not make a commitment to enlarging the beach.
However, neither Mr Chetcuti nor the ministers involved admitted that the exchange of messages had taken place. Mr Chetcuti stated that he had been bluffing when he made the claims in the video.
The Commissioner found these denials unconvincing, but he was unable to obtain any proof of the exchange of messages. The law does not provide for the content of such messages to be retained, and such details as are retained can be disclosed only for the purpose of the investigation or prosecution of serious crimes. The Commissioner therefore felt that he did not have sufficient evidence to conclude that former Minister Cardona had committed a breach of ethics.
The Standards Commissioner noted that this case shows there is a need for rules to regulate lobbying. The Commissioner intends to present proposals about this in the coming days.
The Commissioner’s report on this case is available from here.
Photo: the beach at St George’s Bay.