‘Rather than a grilling, what this law is proposing is slow-cooking’ – Beppe Fenech Adami

The Nationalist MP accused the government of proposing parliamentary scrutiny of ambassadors and the heads of regulatory authorities once it had already ensured that all posts were occupied by those close to it

Beppe Fenech Adami
Beppe Fenech Adami

Nationalist MP Beppe Fenech Adami has insisted that the way the government intended for parliament to scrutinise the appointments of ambassadors and the heads of regulatory agencies resembled “slow-cooking” more than it did a grilling.

Fenech Adami was speaking in parliament during the continuation of the second reading of the proposed amendments to the Public Administration Act, where he said that the procedure being proposed was nothing like the type of scrutiny undertaken in European institutions and other advanced democracies.

“Instead of a grilling we are proposing slow cooking,” he said. “Instead of being asked questions, and having to answer there and then, what we are proposing is having questions sent to the minister, who is then expected to act as a postman and deliver the questions to the candidate in question.”

“It’s the first exam I know of where the person sitting for the exam knows the questions beforehand.”

Moreover, Fenech Adami pointed out that the government was only proposing to scrutinise appointments now that it had ensure that it had complete control over all institutions and entities.

“Now that everyone has found his place…now that they’ve all taken what was due to them, now we are going to scrutinise,” he continued.

Fenech Adami insisted the Opposition would not be supporting the law since it would be achieving its stated aim.

Furthermore, he noted that it did not include appointments such as those of the leadership of the police force and the army, as well as the Attorney General.

He said that the fact that the law did not require reappointments to be scrutinised meant that those who were “already in” had nothing to worry about.

‘You had the chance to do it yourselves’

On his part, Foreign Minister Carmelo Abela questioned why - given that the Opposition seemed to be so concerned with the amendments being proposed – it had not introduced the law when it had a chance to.

Among the arguments against law which were put forward during the debate was the fact that the minister was not obliged to follow the committee’s recommendation.

Taking the United Kingdom as an example, Abela said that while members of similar gave their recommendations, the final decision was left to the minister.

Regarding criticism that there were no requirements for qualifications and experience in diplomacy, when appointing ambassadors, Abela stressed that there were many who lacked experience but were more than capable of fulfilling the diplomatic roles.

He insisted that law should have support of the Opposition because it was giving parliament more power.

Transport Ian Borg said he was proud that, as a minister responsible for a number of agencies, he would now have “the luxury” of having parliament join him in scrutinising whoever he nominated.

‘Unlimited government the chief evil for democracy’

Partit Demokratiku MP Godfrey Farrugia argued that the “chief evil for any democracy was unlimited government”, and that while the law’s aims were noble, in practice it was a far cry from that which was required to further strengthen the country’s democracy since it would not see the government truly relinquishing power.  

He questioned why the Occupational Health and Safety Authority had been omitted, while insisting that law was proposing cosmetic measures.

“Maybe it sounds harsh and maybe it wasn’t government’s intentions,” said Farrugia, given that he said he believed the government to be one that believed in simplification.

He said that totalitarian states also had different administrative layers, but none of them were there to offer real checks and balances. “This is an opportunity for us to eliminate nepotism. We can put an end to the time where people are appointed because they know someone but rather because of their capabilities”

Parliamentary secretary Silvio Schembri noted that the establishment of the committee was not taking place in isolation but followed the introduction of the Whistleblower’s Act, and the removal of prescription from the actions of politicians during the last legislature.

He said that the faith that people had in the government, as well as the fact that big international companies like Alibaba and Starr Group had shown an interest in working with Malta showed there was confidence in Malta’s governance.

Parliamentary Secretary Julia Farrugia Portelli echoed Schembri in stating that the proposed law followed the introduction of other laws related to transparency and good governance in the last legislature.

She insisted that through the law, government was relinquishing a luxury it had, and that after having given parliament its autonomy, it had no problem giving up power in the interest of transparency and good governance.

Finally, Opposition MP and Therese Commodini Cachia pointed out that despite the introduction of the Whistleblower’s Act, the government only “made use of the law when it suited it”, and that while prescription had been removed on those holding public office, for this to be useful, the police needed to prosecute those found to be engaging in corrupt practices. 

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