Glenn Bedingfield stood in defence of what he believes is his right to work for two institutions that are designed by our Constitution to be independent of each other and for one to keep the other in check and the other to balance out the one.
Here’s an extract from his intervention in Parliament yesterday. He challenges his critics to point out to him what legal basis exists to argue that a member of Parliament cannot work for the executive.
Well allow me to oblige.
I start by my usual caveat. I am not a lawyer and this is an amateur reading of the law. I will feel no embarassment if a professional shouts me down by some better argument. But the duties of MPs apply to lawyers and non and Glenn, like me a layman, should seek advice if he is, as he should be, in doubt.
Firstly: Article 54 (1) (b) of the Constitution provides that “No person shall be qualified to be elected as a member of the House of Representatives save as otherwise provided by Parliament, if he holds or is acting in any public office or is a member of the armed forces of the Government of Malta.”
For completeness there is also article 54 (3) which clarifies that “A person shall not be treated as holding, or acting in, a public office for the purpose of paragraph (b) of sub-article (1) of this article – (a) if he is on leave of absence pending relinquishment of a public office; (b) if he is a teacher at the University of Malta who is not by the terms of his employment prevented from the private practice of his profession or called upon to place his whole time at the disposal of the Government of Malta.”
Glenn Bedingfield is not on leave of absence, is not a teacher at the University of Malta and is not the subject of a Parliamentary resolution or specific law that excuses him from this rule.
Secondly: Parliament has indeed provided a broad exemption to this rule to a large category of public officers as it is empowered to do by those words “save as otherwise provided by Parliament” in the Constitution.
Refer then to the Members of Parliament (Public Employment) Act (Cap. 472 of the Laws of Malta) which states that “For the purposes of article 54(1)(b) of the Constitution, it is hereby provided that a public officer, whose office, substantive or otherwise, in the Public Service is not on a salary scale which is higher than salary scale 6, or such other salary scale as the House may by Resolution from time to time determine, shall be qualified to be elected as a member of the House.”
Therefore the exemption provided for by Parliament under the terms of the Constitution applies to people in public service working at salary scale 6 or lower. In 2018 salary scale 6 is topped at a maximum of 27,269 euro.
We are aware Glenn Bedingfield’s contract is at 42,000 euro which puts him above salary scale 2. Only a handful of public officers in the core civil service have a higher salary.
I wish to underline the words “substantive or otherwise”. It does not matter that Glenn Bedingfield’s contract is definite or conditional on his resignation should the government change. The law makes no such exceptions.
You can see what is going to happen now. The government will realise its error and rush through a resolution under the Members of Parliament (Public Employment) Act to raise the treshhold to scale 1 or to amend the law itself to create some absurd exceptions like closing an eye on appointees on Ministerial staff or people with contracts lasting less than 5 years.
The government has the effective political power to do this.
But it makes a mockery of a rules based system and it continues to piss on our moribund Constitution designed to separate the branches of government to protect citizens from the abuses of the powerful and used instead by the powerful to abuse the freedoms of citizens.
I want to make one further point. This is not a personal issue with Glenn Bedingfield’s seat in Parliament. He may not be Abraham Lincoln but his qualities as an MP, or lack thereof, are frankly beside the point. As far as I’m concerned he may as well be the reincarnation of Abraham Lincoln.
As I wrote yesterday he is not the only MP whose seat should be vacated on the basis of our laws.
And his is not the only exception made by the powerful to a Constitution that should restrict them. In order to sustain that I will point out, for a more detailed discussion another time, Tonio Borg’s reading of the constitution in his book about how ‘positions of trust’ are government’s excuse to dodge constitutional rules preventing political discrimination when recruiting.
There are hundreds, probably thousands of these positions now. There are people doing gardening on state payroll on the basis that they are ‘trusted’ for which read being Laburisti.
But though Labour proliferated the notion of positions of trust it did not invent it. I worked for 14 years as a public officer in a position of trust and my employment was also outside the requirements of the Constitution.
I say this because this is not about the persons but about the rules. And here therefore is my answer to Glenn Bedingfield’s question about what rules prevent him from being both a government employee and a Member of Parliament. I gave him a bonus answer on why his contract as government employee is also bogus.
That could help him make his choice.