[WATCH] Parliament debates Speaker’s behaviour: Opposition wants overhaul of Standards Committee

Deputy Speaker Claudette Buttigieg rules that a motion presented by Bernard Grech for an urgent debate on the Speaker’s behaviour can go ahead • Debate requested following Speaker's letter to Matthew Caruana Galizia

Opposition leader Bernard Grech
Opposition leader Bernard Grech

Anglu Farrugia’s legal letter to Matthew Caruana Galizia was “unacceptable” in a democratic society, Bernard Grech said accusing the Speaker of undermining parliamentary standards.

The Opposition leader called for a radical overhaul of the Standards Committee, which should not be chaired by the Speaker.

Grech said the parliamentary Standards Committee should have five members - an appointee by the Prime Minister, an appointee by the Opposition leader, and three members approved by a two-thirds majority in parliament with the chair appointed from these three.

The Opposition’s proposal was made in reaction to what Grech described as the Speaker’s partial attitude in defence of government MPs.

Grech was speaking after presenting a motion on Monday requesting an urgent debate without vote to discuss Speaker Anglu Farrugia’s behaviour.

Farrugia recused himself and Deputy Speaker Claudette Buttigieg presided the sitting.

Government Whip Glenn Bedingfield objected to the motion, insisting the matter was not one of urgency since had it been so, the Opposition would have raised it at the first opportunity last week.

However, after deliberating for more than an hour, Buttigieg ruled the matter was one of urgency and allowed the debate to take place.

Grech said that Farrugia admitted in his legal letter to Caruana Galizia that his job included defending government’s interests, which goes against his constitutional role to be impartial.

The incident concerned a letter that Caruana Galizia sent the Speaker, accusing him of protecting Labour MP Rosianne Cutajar when he sent her a meek letter despite agreement in the Standards Committee that she should be reprimanded for an ethics breach.

Farrugia chairs the committee. Through his lawyer, Farrugia replied to Caruana Galizia’s letter by pointing out the correct procedure which he should have followed to address the Speaker.

“This is typical behaviour of a Speaker who has continuously defended the government side despite multiple instances where government MPs were found to have breached ethical standards,” Grech said.

The Opposition leader accused the Speaker of undermining the role of the Standards Commissioner through his actions. “Is Anglu Farrugia’s role to enable or undermine higher standards in parliament?”

In his response, Prime Minister Robert Abela insisted the government side always respects institutions. “We do not respect institutions when they rule in our favour. We respect them always and this is the difference between us and the Opposition. I might have my reservations about today’s ruling but I respect it,” Abela said.

He accused the Opposition leader of adopting the “old tactics” of his predecessor Simon Busuttil in trying to attack the Speaker.

Abela said the Standards Committee in Rosianne Cutajar’s case adopted the ethics report and reprimanded her in line with the parameters of the law.

The Prime Minister said Grech was beholden to a faction in the PN that expected to call all the shots. The comment was a clear reference to rule of law activist group Repubblika and its allies, which organised a protest outside parliament demanding Farrugia’s resignation.

Concluding the debate, Opposition leader Bernard Grech hit back, insisting the Prime Minister failed to address the core issue at stake – a proper working democracy and parliament.

Grech said the Prime Minister failed to react to the proposal for reforms to the composition of the Standards Committee: “Maybe it is because those who prepared your speech did not tell you what to say.”