The Commissioner for Standards in Public Life has issued a report calling for an end to the practice of giving backbench members of Parliament jobs or consultancies with the government. The report describes the practice as “fundamentally wrong”.
The Commissioner concluded that this practice dilutes Parliament’s role of scrutinising the executive; goes against the underlying principles of the Constitution; goes against the code of ethics for public employees and board members; places MPs in a position of financial dependence on the executive and hence reduces the independence of MPs; discriminates between government and opposition MPs and gives government MPs an advantage over opposition MPs; overly politicises statutory bodies and distorts their independence from the government of the day; exacerbates the questionable practice of appointment of persons of trust, that possibly goes against article 110 of the Constitution; and creates unnecessary jobs, or else fills genuine vacancies with persons who are not necessarily best suited for that job, against principles of transparency and meritocracy.
Moreover, the engagement of MPs as persons of trust possibly constitutes a breach of article 55(1)(g) of the Constitution, although this would need to be determined by the Constitutional Court.
The report was instigated by a complaint from the Hon. Godfrey Farrugia MP, who requested the Commissioner to investigate whether MPs who served as employees of or consultants to the government had a conflict of interest. The complaint concerned backbench MPs, that is to say those who do not hold office as ministers or parliamentary secretaries. However, the report does not deal with individual MPs but with the general principles involved.
In the course of his investigations, the Commissioner found that all backbench members of Parliament on the government side have been employed or engaged with the government, directly or indirectly, and some opposition MPs are regular employees of government departments or agencies.
In most cases, MPs were employed or engaged with the government after being elected to Parliament. Such MPs hold appointments as “persons of trust” or on “contracts of service” in government ministries, or as chairpersons or members of the boards of directors of public authorities, or else they have been given consultancy contracts with ministries or public authorities.
The Commissioner noted that giving backbench MPs jobs with government is widely perceived as a means of appeasing those who are not appointed as ministers or parliamentary secretaries, or as a means of compensating them for their low salaries as MPs. He called upon Parliament to address the issue of low remuneration of MPs.
The Commissioner declared his intention to revisit the issues raised in his report in due course in the light of any action that may be taken in the meantime.
The report is available here.
Photo: Detail of the exterior of the Maltese Parliament building.