Robert Abela thinks MPs should comply with their code of ethics and declare the gifts they get. He was giving Malta Today the quote as if they needed a reason to repeat the story on their sister newspaper Illum which on Sunday reported that Jason Azzopardi did not get a bill for using the gym at the Excelsior Hotel, that John’s Garage didn’t charge him when his driver took his car for a VRT test, and that he once got a venue owned by the Tumas Group to hold some diet coke and puffy pizza party ahead of his personal 2008 election campaign.
Jason Azzopardi should have told the Clerk of the House about those ‘gifts’ but Robert Abela is not qualified to demand compliance with the code of ethics. For starters in respect of these freebies the code of ethics is observed by MPs only in the breach and there should be an effort to change that. If there is one MP in the chamber who has never got a discount for a venue for their coffee mornings or campaign shindigs, they should stand up and say so. I am not justifying anything because everybody does it. I am challenging the prime minister’s right to sit in judgement of others.
Let Robert Abela tell us that he has personally paid in full at published card rates for every campaign event he held in 2017 to become an MP or in 2019 to become party leader. And let him tell us that he filed any discount he was given or any freebie handed to him with the Clerk of the House in the gifts register.
You know why I could never believe him if he did?
The code of ethics used to ask MPs to file a yearly declaration of what they owned so that any unexplained changes in their wealth could be captured. The rules have been in place since 2004. To make sure they don’t dodge the transparency rule by having any wrongful income passed to their spouses, MPs were obliged to declare both their assets and the assets of their spouses.
Come 2013, Labour in power removed the obligation to have spouses declare their assets. Knowing about any shift in Michelle Muscat’s personal assets could have resolved the mystery of how they travelled like the sultans of Brunei without so much of a ripple on the pristine €70,000 in Joseph Muscat’s bank account.
Commissioner for Standards George Hyzler has asked MPs to voluntarily provide him with a declaration of the assets held by their spouses and partners. PN MPs were told by their party to cough up the information, including Jason Azzopardi in case his partner got a free toy train set on her beau’s behalf.
Labour MPs are refusing to provide the information because, they say, this is an intrusion on their privacy. That’s a bit of a hollow excuse since George Hyzler promised MPs he would not publish information about their spouses or partners’ assets.
I suspect it’s the intrusion into something else altogether that Labour MPs are worried about. They don’t worry George Hyzler might come across an unpaid gym card held by a Mrs Minister on behalf of her husband so that he can crawl on the treadmill for 30 minutes before work. They worry Mrs Minister has got manifestly and inexplicably wealthier since her husband became a Minister and George Hyzler could find that out and come back with some more specific questions.
Such as for example why is it that Mr and Mrs Minister’s wedding guests have been so extraordinarily generous with their gifts? Did Mr and Mrs Minister know their guests before Mr Minister became a Minister? Why did Mr and Mrs Minister feel they needed to deposit the generous gifts they received for their wedding into accounts held by Mrs Minister alone?
This goes beyond Konrad Mizzi who is now sitting in the cold dunce’s corner of the Parliamentary chamber. This is about Ministers currently in office whom Robert Abela expects us to confirm in office for another 5 year term because, you know, Jason Azzopardi got a €25.27 bill for a VRT test waived by a local garage and we would never want to have someone so rotten in government now, would we?