Parliament decides to have standards commissioner

Parliamentary standards commissioner and standing committee set to be appointed in coming weeks.

The Parliamentary Select Committee on the appointment of a commissioner and a standing committee on standards, ethics and proper behaviour in public life, today decided to hold a public consultation process before presenting a final report in Parliament which would lead to the creation of new institutions which will oversee the upholding of standards by MPs.

The select committee, chaired by Speaker Anglu Farrugia set a 15 December deadline to table a final report and a motion which would lead to the appointment of a commissioner and permanent committee.

The preliminary committee chaired by Farrugia will receive the public's comments and suggestion by 15 November and will then hold a public meeting in which citizens and civil society representatives will discuss the commissioner and committee's terms of reference.

One of the two government representatives on the select committee, foreign affairs minister George Vella said that "the primary message that we should convey is that Parliament is eager to win the trust and enjoy the people's respect. Our aim is to bring people closer to parliament and dispel misconceptions on Parliament and politicians."

The select committee members will analyse similar committees in foreign parliaments while ensuring that the committee is accessible to the public through the creation of an email address through which the public can submit ideas, thoughts and suggestions, Speaker Anglu Farrugia said.

"This will be followed by a public consultation meeting open to civil society," Farrugia said, adding that the committee would involve stakeholders such as the electoral commissioner and the ombudsman.

Among the documents made selected by the Speaker, the committee wil eveluate recent motions tabled by deputy Prime Minister Louis Grech and Opposition leader Simon Busuttil, white papers tabled by the previous speaker Michael Frendo on the autonomy of Parliament, the UK Parliament code of conduct, the terms of reference regulating Westminster's commission of standards Westminster and other EU ethics committees in EU member states.  

The declared intention of the committee is to create a code of conduct for MPs, the appointment of a commissioner of standards who will make recommendations and whenever an MP is in breach of the code of ethics the permanent committee will take the necessary action.

Vella also proposed the inclusion of two Labour Party documents authored by former Speaker Daniel Micallef and by former MP Wenzu Mintoff on propriety in public life.

"We should keep it simple and avoid future complicatri0ons in the interpretation of regulations. This should not lead to the creation of a Parliamentary court but the commissioner and committee should act as a watchdog and only act when necessary," Vella said, adding that these institutions would only work if MPs cooperate.

Opposition MP Francis Zammit Dimech welcomed the fact that the Opposition's recommendations in the motion presented by PN leader Simon Busuttil were included in the select committee's terms of reference.