Giving MPs government jobs ‘fundamentally wrong’, Standards commissioner says

Standards Commissioner says the practice of giving government jobs to backbench MPs is “fundamentally wrong” and should end

George Hyzler is Malta's first parliamentary standards commissioner
George Hyzler is Malta's first parliamentary standards commissioner

The Commissioner for Standards in Public Life has issued a report calling for an end to the practice of giving backbench members of Parliament jobs or consultancies with the government. 

The report describes the practice as “fundamentally wrong”.

The Commissioner concluded that this practice dilutes Parliament’s role of scrutinising the Executive; goes against the underlying principles of the Constitution; goes against the Code of Ethics of Public Employees and Board Members; places MPs in a position of financial dependence on the Executive and hence reduces the independence of MPs; discriminates between Government and Opposition MPs and gives Government MPs an advantage over Opposition MPs; overly politicises statutory bodies and distorts their independence from the Government of the day; exacerbates the questionable practice of appointment of persons of trust, that possibly goes against article 110 of the Constitution; and creates unnecessary jobs, or else fills genuine vacancies with persons who are not necessarily best suited for that job, against principles of transparency and meritocracy.

Moreover, the engagement of MPs as persons of trust possibly constitutes a breach of article 55(1)(g) of the Constitution, although this would need to be determined by the Constitutional Court.

The report was instigated by a complaint from Democratic Party MP Godfrey Farrugia , who requested the Commissioner to investigate whether MPs who served as employees of or consultants to the government had a conflict of interest. 

The complaint concerned backbench MPs, that is to say those who do not hold office as ministers or parliamentary secretaries.

 However, the report does not deal with individual MPs but with the general principles involved.

In the course of his investigations, the Commissioner found that all backbench members of Parliament on the government side have been employed or engaged with the government, directly or indirectly, and some opposition MPs are regular employees of government departments or agencies. 

In most cases, MPs were employed or engaged with the government after being elected to Parliament. 

Such MPs hold appointments as ‘persons of trust’ or on ‘contracts of service’ in government ministries, or as chairpersons or members of the boards of directors of public authorities, or else they have been given consultancy contracts with ministries or public authorities. 

The Commissioner noted that giving backbench MPs jobs with government is widely perceived as a means of appeasing those who are not appointed as ministers or parliamentary secretaries, or as a means of compensating them for their low salaries as MPs. 

He called upon Parliament to address the issue of low remuneration of MPs. 

The Commissioner declared his intention to revisit the issues raised in his report in due course in the light of any action that may be taken in the interim.

READ ALSO: MPs employed with the state: PQs reveal salaries

In a reaction, the government noted that the same report says the Commissioner’s legal advice was that such appointments do not breach the Constitution, although the same commissioner says he has misgivings about that same advice.

“The Commissioner also says this practice should stop but that politicians salaries should increase. The government will be examining this report closely and giving a more detailed reaction.”