Jobs for MPs

I have always been against MPs, who are not part of the executive, to be full-time employees

Rosianne Cutjar (File photo)
Rosianne Cutjar (File photo)

Last Tuesday, the Standards in Public Life Committee of Malta’s House of Representatives adopted a report that found Labour MP Rosianne Cutajar in breach of ethics. It was a rare occasion in which MPs from both sides agreed to censor a government MP.

Standards Commissioner George Hyzler had come to the conclusion that former Parliamentary Secretary Rosianne Cutajar had violated the code of ethics by acting as a broker in dealings with Yorgen Fenech for the sale of an Mdina property and subsequently not declaring her income from it.

Hyzler had concluded that the evidence he had available, points out that Cutajar was ‘more likely than not’ to have received a brokerage fee. Cutajar has denied receiving the money, but admitted to have received €9,000 in cash from Fenech as a birthday gift.   

Charles Farrugia, known as it-Tikka, sent a letter to Speaker Anglu Farrugia, saying that Cutajar did not benefit from any of these payments to him and he had pocketed the entire brokerage fee and had also amended his tax return to this effect.

Tax Commissioner Marvin Gaerty confirmed that the tax investigation surrounding the sale of an Mdina property which allegedly led to Rosianne Cutajar being paid a brokerage fee, is still ongoing. The tax chief made it clear that he is not able to give any details about the investigation as he is prohibited from doing so by law.

Discussions on sanctions are still to be heard.

The issue of part-time work by MPs has, at about the same time, been a hot subject in the UK. The other week, Conservative MPs were ordered to back the creation of a Tory-led committee to look at disciplinary case involving former cabinet minister Owen Paterson. Paterson was in October found to have broken lobbying rules when earning his £110,000-a-year from private sector work.

But after a backlash from all quarters, the Boris Johnson government performed a U-turn and Paterson subsequently resigned from the House of Commons.

Unlike what happened in Malta in the case of Cutajar, in the UK the matter has brought up a wider discussion about what MPs should and should not be allowed to do in their spare time while in office, especially if having ‘part-time’ jobs that involve lobbying.

One of the MPs who have recently been shown as having earned the most apart from his salary is former Attorney General Sir Geoffrey Cox, who according to the members’ register of interests, has received more than £900,000 since the beginning of 2020 for providing legal services.

So now in the UK, media attention has moved from Paterson to Cox.

In the UK, the Opposition has called for a standards investigation into a possible rule breach by Sir Geoffrey Cox – after a clip appeared to show him using his MP’s office to carry out private work for an inquiry in the British Virgin Islands – something that was described as a brazen breach of the rules. In the UK, MPs cannot use anything that is funded by the taxpayer – including their parliamentary offices – for outside work; and MPs are forbidden from using any ‘public resources’ to confer ‘personal or financial benefit on themselves or anyone else’.

For the Labour Opposition and the British tabloids, any situation in which the rules are thought to have been breached is ‘Tory sleaze’.

The issue raises interesting questions – especially about the idea mooted by many – that Maltese MPs should be full-time. Does this mean that they would not be able to work part-time?

British MPs are full-time but many take up part-time work, most of it without any breach in ethics. So British MPs having another job is not prohibited, as many seem to think.

I have always been against MPs, who are not part of the executive, to be full-time employees. The issue of full-time MPs being able to carry out part-time work never figured in this discussion. If any naive observers think that full-time MPs in other countries do not have part-time jobs or some other declared – or undeclared – sources of income, they should do some home-work.

Moreover, this sort of restraint will only attract to politics people who find it difficult, or well-nigh impossible, to pursue a successful career in society... and the country will be poorer for it.

COP 26

COP26 – the Glasgow climate conference – has released its proposed final text. One hope it will form the basis of an agreement on Friday night signed by all the countries attending.

This text should form the basis for an agreement that all countries plan to sign. It will set the global agenda on climate change over the next decade. Although the document is not final at the time of writing, it gives us an indication of the different priorities of different countries, and where they have agreed – but also where they have not.

Leaders from more than 100 countries, representing about 85% of the world’s forests, promised to stop deforestation by 2030. Trees can absorb vast amounts of carbon dioxide – one of the key greenhouse gases adding to global warming and ending deforestation is seen as a vital way to tackle climate change.

However, it is unclear how this pledge will be policed or monitored.

The plan includes a scheme to cut 30% of current methane emissions by 2030 that has been agreed by more than 100 countries. Methane is one of the most potent greenhouse gases. The big emitters China, Russia and India haven’t joined – but it is hoped they will later.

Coal is the single biggest contributor to climate change. Although progress has been made in reducing its use, it still produced about 37% of the world’s electricity in 2019. More than 40 countries - which include major coal-users including Poland, Vietnam and Chile – have agreed to shift away from coal. But some coal-dependent countries, including Australia, India, China and the US, haven’t signed up. And the agreement doesn’t cover other fossil fuels such as oil or gas

The big problem remains: any commitments made at COP will have to be self-policed and only a few countries are making their pledges legally binding.