Konrad Mizzi shouldn’t have used DOI for personal press statement - Standards Commissioner

Commissioner for Standards in Public Life says practice of ministers using DOI to issue personal or partisan press statements has to stop

Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)
Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)

The Standards Commissioner has called on ministers and the Department of Information not to issue press statements that are unrelated to official matters or that are partisan in tone.

In a report issued yesterday, Commissioner for Standards in Public Life George Hyzler said the custom of providing the DOI with statements which are connected with personal issues or are partisan should stop.

The Commissioner’s report was triggered by a complaint filed by lawyer Andrew Borg Cardona earlier this year.

Borg Cardona requested that the Commissioner determine whether a press statement on Tourism Ministry Konrad Mizzi, issued by the Tourism Ministry through the Department of Information, constituted appropriate use of public resources and an appropriate manner of behaviour by the minister concerned and his officials.

Mizzi’s press statement, published on 6 February 2019, had announced that the minister was withdrawing a number of libel cases he had instituted to contest allegations of money-laundering on his part, since these allegations had already been declared baseless in court proceedings.

In his report, the Commissioner took the view that the press statement dealt with a political issue arising from Mizzi’s personal interests and was not related to his official duties.

“Mizzi instituted the libel cases in his own name and damages would have been awarded to him personally had he pursued the cases to a successful conclusion,” the Commissioner noted in a press release on Saturday.

“Furthermore, the press statement was couched in a partisan tone. Among other things it accused members of the opposition of spinning a 'web of deceit' and 'mud-slinging'. The Commissioner finds that such terms are not appropriate for official statements issued by the DOI.”

The Commissioner also found that the practice of "feeding the DOI with such statements, whether or not the statement relates to a matter that is of interest to the public (as opposed to in the public interest), and whether or not this is a custom that is well established in the Maltese political system, is not correct and should be stopped."

“The Standards in Public Life Act provides us with an opportunity to challenge customs that are well established in the Maltese political system if such customs fall short of the standards that we collectively aspire to embrace,” the Commissioner highlighted.

He went on to underscore that the DOI should be “jealous of its political impartiality” and calls for a policy to be drawn up on the dissemination of press statements by ministries or possibly a wider policy on the role of the DOI in the media world.

Mizzi may have been misled

At the same time, the Commissioner acknowledged that the absence of such a policy may have misled Mizzi.

In the report, he said that, in the circumstances of the case, the appropriate remedy was for Mizzi to direct his officials to be more sensitive to the distinction between official and private or partisan matters, and not to make use of the DOI for private or partisan matters in future.

The Commissioner also noted that Mizzi had agreed to this course of action, and therefore went on to close the case.

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