Speaker says citizens’ right of reply can curb MPs’ abuse of privilege

On Sette Giugno commemorative speech, Anglu Farrugia calls for revision in Standing Orders for committee witnesses

Anglu Farrugia (second from left)
Anglu Farrugia (second from left)

Speaker Anglu Farrugia has reiterated on the need to give citizens a right of reply inside the House of Representatives, in a bid to hold MPs to account and curb any abuse of their parliamentary privilege.

In his commemorate address on the eve of the Sette Giugno, the day which commemorates the death of four protestors in the bread riots of 1919 at the hands of British soldiers, Farrugia said that “it cannot be that year after year [we] remain without an established procedure which ensures that anyone guilty of abuse is held responsible for his actions.”

Farrugia said MPs should always bear the responsibility to speak honestly and in the best interest of the country and that no Member should abuse of this right. “Therefore, I believe that it is high time that the Standing Orders of the House of Representatives be revised in order to provide a remedy for those citizens who feel aggrieved by the abuse of parliamentary privilege.”

Farrugia also called for a revision of the Standing Orders after the Constitutional Court said the Speaker was not empowered to make witnesses before the Public Accounts Committee, answer questions that could incriminate them in other open court proceedings – despite already having the right to silence during committee hearings.

“It is not acceptable that, when conducting parliamentary scrutiny on the correct use of public funds, the Public Accounts Committee – a very important committee – is hindered and prejudiced by court proceedings and court judgements delivered after the legislature during which the case in question had arisen had come to an end.

“We should also consider the possibility of amending the Code of Organisation and Civil Procedure so that testimony given before a parliamentary committee cannot be considered as evidence before a tribunal or a court of justice.”

He said this would mean that like MPs, witnesses before parliamentary committees would be exempt from both civil and criminal legal action with regard to the testimony they give.

Malta celebrates the centenary of the Sette Giugno riots in 2019.

The riots were sparked by the hike in wheat prices and bread during the food shortage following the end of World War I.

Apart from that, in its first meeting of the National Assembly on 25 February 1919, a faction led by Nationalist leader Enrico Mizzi submitted a resolution calling for Malta to be granted rights in accordance with the Versailles Treaty, namely independence from the British Empire.

Days before the riots, a new governor, Lord Plumer, was assigned to Malta to evaluate the possibility of Malta getting more self-governing rights.

On 16 May, 1919, Mizzi’s followers organised a protest that led to threats of a national strike.

Four Maltese men were killed: Manwel Attard, Ġuże Bajada and Wenzu Dyer were killed by shots fired by British officers, while Carmelo Abela was stabbed with a bayonet by two arresting army officers. It is not excluded that two other Maltese citizens, Francesco Darmanin and Toni Caruana, also lost their lives as a consequence of the events.

Two years later Malta was granted a new Constitution and that same year, elections were held in October and the first Maltese Parliament was opened in November.