Consensus on parliamentary scrutiny of regulatory heads looking possible

The Opposition presented a series of amendments to the proposed law but no vote was taken in Parliament tonight as further private meetings with the government could lead to an agreement

Justice Minister Owen Bonnici will meet his political counterpart Karol Aquilina to thrash out a compromise
Justice Minister Owen Bonnici will meet his political counterpart Karol Aquilina to thrash out a compromise

Justice Minister Owen Bonnici has shown willingness to accept a key Opposition demand to have mandatory parliamentary hearings for nominees to regulatory authorities.

In what turned out to be a very relaxed parliamentary debate on the proposed law to set up a parliamentary committee that would scrutinise people nominated by the government to head regulatory bodies, Bonnici said both sides could find a compromise.

The minister said he would have to refer back to Cabinet about the matter but proposed further private meetings with Opposition counterparts to find common ground.

The government proposal is to adopt a written questionnaire model with an appearance as a measure of last resort if the parliamentary committee so desires.

A key demand of the Opposition is to adopt the model used in the European Parliament to have a written questionnaire followed by a mandatory hearing during which MPs can ask whatever they want.

Karol Aquilina, Simon Busuttil, Herman Schiavone and Mario Galea for the Opposition tonight presented a raft of amendments during the committee stage of the parliamentary debate.

Bonnici said government’s proposal was intended to prevent MPs going on a “fishing expedition” and putting people off from occupying public roles.

However, the minister insisted a consensus of sorts could be found between the differing positions and proposed further private meetings with the Opposition to formulate a common position.

Busuttil noted that both sides were not very far from each other and his colleague Aquilina, indicated that if the Opposition amendment was met it could even vote for the proposed law.

No votes were taken on each of the amendments pending further talks between both sides.

Bonnici also showed willingness to review the list of regulatory authorities to which the law would apply but insisted posts such as the police commissioner were not included because they did not have a regulatory function. Busuttil reiterated the Opposition's stand that the police commissioner and Attorney General be appointed by a two-thirds parliamentary majority, something Bonnici disagreed with.

The committee sitting was marked by friendly exchanges, including deputy Speaker Claudette Buttigieg’s announcement that Aquilina had brought two cakes to Parliament and in the spirit of the discussion at hand they should have a piece.