[WATCH] MPs employed with government: we asked them whether it is ethical

Principal Permanent Secretary Mario Cutajar has been tasked to prepare a report on the recommendations made by Standards Commissioner George Hyzler

Malta's parliament is made up of part-time MPs
Malta's parliament is made up of part-time MPs
We asked MPs, is it ethical to hold government jobs?

Standards Commissioner George Hyzler did not mince his words last week when he described giving government jobs to MPs as "fundamentally wrong".

We asked MPs on both sides of the House whether they agree with Hyzler's damning conclusion.

Hyzler's report called for an end to the practice of giving backbench members of Parliament jobs or consultancies with the government. The reason, Hyzler said, is 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 and places MPs in a position of financial dependence on the government and hence reduces the independence of MPs.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had said the practice of giving MPs government jobs started under the previous Nationalist administration and was continued by the present government. At the start of the 2013 legislature, the Muscat government had proposed legal changes to allow the appointment of MPs to the role of chairpersons in various authorities.

On Monday, the government announced that Principal Permanent Secretary Mario Cutajar was tasked to analyse Hyzler's report and recommednations. The analysis would be published.

Outside Parliament, most Labour MPs rallied behind their leader — they said that they would wait for the analysis to conclude.

Only Robert Abela said that he absolutely saw no conflict of interest. The legal firm belonging to him and his wife Lydia Abela was paid more than €500,000 by the Planning Authority and Transport Malta in legal fees and he was appointed advisor to the Prime Minister.

Asked whether he could speak objectively in Parliament about these two entities once his law firm was getting paid by them, Abela said that he was objective.

“The George Hyzler report confirms that whoever is working as consultant with the government is not breaking the law. I have no issue with being critical in Parliament and I am known to be vociferous in my criticism,” he said, adding that he had taken an oath as an MP.

Labour MP Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi, who is also the Chairman of the Grand Harbour Regeneration Corporation, simply said that the government was conducting its analysis of the Hyzler report.

Likewise, Edward Zammit Lewis argued that the government was analysing the document, adding that the situation had started back when the Nationalist Party was in government and that the Standards Commissioner wasn’t right in all his criticisms.

On the other hand, PN MPs we spoke to agreed wholeheartedly with the report.

Chris Said that there was a conflict of interest without doubt in instances when MPs were also employed by the government.

“This is something that the Opposition has been saying since 2013. The Standards Commissioner has come up with a detailed report and I expect the government to take immediate steps to correct the situation,” he said.

PN MP Jason Azzopardi agreed and went a step further to say that the Labour government had bought the loyalty of its MPs.

“More than three-fourths of MPs are employed as government consultants. What Joseph Muscat had been saying before 2013, that Labour MPs are not in it for the money, is not true. In fact, they are in it for the money,” Azzopardi said.

The matter does not only concern government MPs, with Hyzler noting that people employed in the public service before becoming MPs also had to examine their role.

There are a number of MPs on the PN side who are employed by government agencies such as Kristy Debono who is employed by the Gaming Authority.

Hyzler suggested that Malta's part-time MPs become well-paid full-timers to avoid having to boost their pay through such measures.