PL leadership candidate says he will not accept gifts when in office

Robert Abela says gifts exceeding a certain value should not be accepted by anyone in office • Chris Fearne calls on Standards Commissioner to clarify 'uncertainties' over PM's gift 

The Labour MP and leadership candidate Robert Abela has said he will not accept any gifts as prime minister if he is elected Labour leader.

The sentiment was also shared by Abela’s leadership opponent, deputy prime minister Chris Fearne, in questions put to MaltaToday over an alleged white-gold Bvlgari watch gifted to outgoing PM Joseph Muscat by Yorgen Fenech, the man accused of being the mastermind behind the Daphne Caruana Galizia assassination.

The watch was given to Muscat five years ago in Christmas 2014, allegedly one of 25 originally acquired by Fenech’s later father and designed for Malta’s accession to the European Union in 2014.

Abela said any gifts, from whoever they may be received, exceeding a certain value should not be accepted by anyone in office, and that gifts from the business community should not be accepted.

Asked whether he would be willing to adopt a US-style system where gifts to the executive are immediately deposited with the State unless they pay its monetary value to the State to retain the gift, Abela said: “I have no problem with introducing such regulation.”

“In the circumstances the country finds itself in, I would go as far to say as that no gifts should be received by whoever is in office. Whoever wins the race, either Chris Fearne or myself, has to mean business, and this has to show with the introduction of such a regulation,” Abela said.

Abela also didn’t find any issue with introducing an annual, transparent public register which lists all gifts given to the PM, and from who they are received. “I am not in politics to receive gifts, I am in politics to serve,” Abela said.

Chris Fearne also made special mention of the Standards in Public Life Act, noting in particular Article 4.8 which precludes ministers from accepting gifts that create an impression that they are compromising their judgement or being placed under an inappropriate obligation.

“If elected Prime Minister, I will see that all the Laws of Malta are adhered to by myself and the Members of my Cabinet. In this case the Standards in Public Life Act, Chapter 570 of the Laws of Malta, is clear on the procedure which should be adopted by Ministers with regards to gifts,” Fearne said.

Fearne also called on the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life George Hyzler to “clarify any uncertainties that may arise” on the gift to the prime minister.

The United States government’s Department of State uses its Office of the Chief of Protocol to regulate how gifts are received and donated by the President and Vice-President.

Annual lists are published in the federal register denoting how received what gift, the value the gift is estimated at, who donated the gift, and the reason the gift was accepted: usually it is stated that “non-acceptance would cause embarrassment to donor and US government.”

The compilation of gifts reports both tangible gifts and gifts of travel or travel expenses of more than minimal value, as defined by law.

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