PM, Opposition butt heads over Standards Commissioner negotiations

Robert Abela and Bernard Grech have conflicting versions of events on their negotiations to appoint a new Ombudsman, Standards Commissioner

Prime Minister Robert Abela and Opposition leader Bernard Grech have conflicting versions of the negotiations to appoint a new Ombudsman and Commissioner for Standards in Public Life.

As parliament convened to discuss the budget estimates for the Office of the Prime Minister, Grech accused Abela of being arrogant in his recent move to table two motions to appoint Chief Justice Emeritus Joseph Azzopardi and Judge Emeritus Joseph Zammit McKeon for Commissioner of Standards and Ombudsman respectively.

“We’ve spent two years extending a hand of friendship, but you’ve chosen the usual route of arrogance. This is the national unity you seem to believe in,” Grech said of Abela’s behaviour.

Grech was critical of Abela’s attempt to introduce an anti-deadlock mechanism in such appointments so he can force his choice of candidate for the position of standards commissioner.  

In this regard, Grech said that he was disrespecting democracy by employing such a tactic.

Later in the parliamentary session, Abela doubled down on Grech’s accusations. Apart from insisting that his government is leading with humility, Abela accused Grech of making a complete u-turn on these appointments.

“For him, these types of discussions centre solely around whether he can extrapolate a political win from the decision,” Abela said of Grech.

Abela claimed that Grech gave his approval to have Azzopardi and Zammit McKeon appointed to their respective positions. It was only after Grech met with his parliamentary group did he end up backtracking on the decided nominations.

The Prime Minister accused Grech of being unable to take decisions and lead his own party. He even claimed that members of the Nationalist Party met behind Grech’s back to discuss this issue.

“I will remain consistent,” Abela said. “These two positions need to be filled at the same time.”

Incumbent Ombdusman Anthony Mifsud’s term ended in March last year but he remained in office pending the appointment of a replacement. Former standards commissioner George Hyzler’s term ended prematurely in September after he took up his post in the European Court of Auditors.

Azzopardi was appointed chief justice in April 2018 at 63. He relinquished the post two years later as required by the Constitution.