George Hyzler, Commissioner for Standards in Public Life, told Speaker Anġlu Farrugia he had no authority to dismiss the Commissioner’s report that found Joseph Muscat breached ethics when he locked journalists up in Castille in 2019.
Commissioner Hyzler complained the Speaker never asked him what he thought about such a decision. “I would have expressed my profound concern that the request was an invitation to you to act in a manner that exceeds your legal powers, and this on the basis of an incorrect premise,” George Hyzler said.
In a hard-hitting letter, George Hyzler reminded Anġlu Farrugia that it isn’t up to him to interpret the law that sets up to Commissioner for Standards in Public Life. Nor is it up to him to dismiss a report prepared by the Commissioner.
The Commissioner also complained about the decision to ban the report, later leaked on various media. “It is my firm view that, for transparency’s sake, such a discussion should take place in public, and it should be preceded by the publication of the relevant report.”
George Hyzler told Anġlu Farrugia the law “does not give you the authority to make decisions in the form of ‘rulings’, or in any other form, that are binding on the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life.”
The law on the Commissioner is interpreted by the Commissioner or by the ordinary courts, not by the Speaker, George Hyzler said. “Your attention is drawn to art 13(5) of the Act, which states that in the exercise of his functions the Commissioner is not subject to the direction or control of any other person or authority. Your ruling is, in my view, in direct conflict with this provision.”
Not only does George Hyzler think Anġlu Farrugia never had the power to make the decision he took. Even if he did, the decision is based on the wrong premises. The Speaker dismissed George Hyzler’s report because the law provides that the Standards czar cannot investigate allegations that are being investigated by the police or are being processed by a court.
George Hyzler reminded Anġlu Farrugia his report did not cover anything being investigated by the police. “My investigation concerned the conduct of former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat in relation to the treatment of members of the media, specifically whether he was in breach of the codes of ethics with regards to the detention of journalists in his office. On the other hand, the criminal proceedings concerned the conduct of three individuals who allegedly physically detained the journalists without lawful authority.”
“There was no evidence in the criminal proceedings or in my investigation that linked the three persons charged in court with the former Prime Minister whose conduct was the subject of my investigation. Neither does my report consider the behaviour of the individuals who were the subject of the criminal proceedings. My report specifically excludes any question regarding alleged criminal acts or responsibility therefor by any party involved,” George Hyzler told Anġlu Farrugia.
George Hyzler acknowledged that the report Anġlu Farrugia dismissed and the Standards Committee censored, is now in the public domain anyway after it was leaked. However, the Commissioner insisted, that the Speaker reverses the decision to suppress the report and to place it in Parliament’s formal public record by tabling it in the House.