Caruana ethics breach: Speaker to decide if MPs should wait for outcome of constitutional case

Nationalist MP accuse Labour of engineering delay so that former minister Justyne Caruana does not testify to ethics committee before coming general election

Government MPs in the parliamentary ethics committee are attempting to have a hearing of former education minister Justyne Caruana’s ethics breach suspended, until her court litigation on the Standards Commissioner’s ruling is settled.

A motion presented by justice minister Edward Zammit Lewis and Labour Whip Glenn Bedingfield on Tuesday was however not voted upon, since Opposition MPs Karol Aquilina and Therese Comodini Cachia asked for a Speaker’s ruling.

The Labour MPs claim permanent committees of parliament can regulate themselves, but the Nationalist MPs insist there is specific disposition at law that says such hearings have to be suspended pending court procedures.

Caruana resigned in December after she was found in breach of ethics by gifting her partner Daniel Bogdanovic, a €15,000 contract. She has also filed a constitutional case claiming Standards Commissioner George Hyzler did not give her a fair hearing before finding her guilty of the breach. The case was filed shortly after her resignation.

Her legal team has now filed a judicial protest calling on the Speaker to ensure her right to a fair hearing and due process is respected in upcoming debates on the Standards Commissioner’s report, and that these do not prejudice her constitutional challenge in court.

On Tuesday, Opposition members insisted on allowing the Standards Commissioner’s testimony to go ahead.

Speaker Anglu Farrugia, who presides the committee, argued that he would be more comfortable knowing what the court application states before proceeding, but insisted on allowing the Standards Commissioner to speak first.

Hyzler said he saw no issue with him discussing the investigation, but said it would be uncomfortable to discuss it with a challenge in court. “While Caruana’s constitutional challenge is against the law, she has alleged shortcomings on my end. I do not know where the shortcomings are, and I do not know if these details will be used against me in the case,” Hyzler said.

Whip Glenn Bedingfield interjected to say he had “a lot of questions” on the investigative procedure.

Edward Zammit Lewis argued for a clear distinction to be made between the report and the court process. “You cannot separate one from the other, and that is why we should suspend and not prejudice the case.”

Comodini Cachia warned that the committee would be treating MPs and private citizens differently. “To suspend without investigating the case as a committee, means we are abdicating our responsibilities.”

Aquilina accused the government MPs of engineering a delay so that the former minister would not have to testify before the election.

“We published the report, we had resignations from the minister and her permanent secretary. This is an unprecedented case,” Zammit Lewis said.

The Speaker will now deliver a ruling in the coming days after the committee ended.