The OECD’s detailed recommendations on improving standards in public life is less than a week old. The machine hasn’t been switched off yet and I’ve started mouthing the Lacrimosa already. Ask me again in a year which of the recommendations have been taken up by the government and nothing would make me happier than to admit I buried the body before it was cold.
Consider this Times of Malta report of the publication of the recommendations which briefly quotes Minister Jonathan Attard’s intervention. Admittedly he likely spoke for longer than it would take you to read Times of Malta’s summary of his remarks, though if all he said included some form of commitment to implement the recommendations my guess is Times of Malta would have quoted that. There’s no official statement either. All there is, is the standard issue wank in front of the mirror as Jonathan Attard congratulates himself for reforms the government has already implemented.
That’s the line of the government every time it is challenged to reform laws that would restrain it: we’ve done so much already, don’t bother asking for more.
Jonathan Attard ignores the fact that whatever they have already implemented is not in the long list of recommendations from the OECD. So, he’s still got to start doing his homework assignment however proud he is that last year he was made to write 100 times ‘I will remove the PM’s power to appoint judges’ thanks to Repubblika’s case at the European Court of Justice.
Consider one recommendation the OECD makes: it says there should be an anti-deadlock mechanism to ensure Parliament doesn’t take too long to agree on appointing a Standards Commissioner, so no time is wasted to have in place an empowered official to keep ministers and MPs in check. You’d think the OECD experts weren’t reading the news. The government did introduce an anti-deadlock mechanism and that’s how we got Joe Azzopardi appointed. What’s the OECD doing recommending an anti-deadlock mechanism when we our great government has already given us one?
Look closer. The OECD recommends that if Parliament fails to agree on who the next Standards Commissioner should be, the decision should go to the Judicial Appointments Committee (judges and other officials who do not owe their authority to ministers). The logic is self-evident. If Parliament is incapable of reaching a consensus on how it regulates itself because the government controls it, then surely the choice on who should regulate the conduct of the government and Parliament should be made by someone who is neither one nor the other. That’s why we go to judges instead and let them make the choice.
That’s not what Robert Abela did. The mechanism he introduced to deal with deadlocks that he can bring about as leader of one of two Parliamentary parties is to give himself the power to choose who gets to investigate his own conduct.
By suggesting a system which would remove from government the power to appoint who would investigate them as a proper democratic process, the OECD implicitly indicts the changes the government made to the standards law as anti-democratic.
That’s what the government does. When they implemented their anti-deadlock mechanism which effectively cancelled the independence the Standards Commissioner used to enjoy, they had the audacity to tick off the long to do list that the Venice Commission gave them. Yes, the Venice Commission wanted an anti-deadlock mechanism. No, it didn’t want an increase in the powers of the prime minister, as if that is what this country needed.
This EU-funded multi-million-euro exercise to draw up 200 pages of well-studied recommendations by the OECD will be entirely wasted while Labour remains in power. And the PN is yet to commit that it will implement these measures should it get the chance.
Consider that they’ve been told to restrict the appointment of “persons of trust” to hire their closest advisers and to be transparent about the process in every international document published about the subject since 2014. GRECO have told them to do it. The Venice Commission has told them to do it. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. The European Parliament. The European Commission. You name it they said it. For some reason, though repeated and ignored so many times, the fact that the OECD said it again made news. Our collective but utterly mindless and unjustified optimism about our government’s auditory functions never fades.
The government ignored GRECO, the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe, the EC, and all the rest because the wilful appointment of an army of One TV alumni without competition and merit is at the core of what the Daphne Caruana Galizia Inquiry termed “the government within the government”.
“Government within government” is a plan on “state within a state” which is how the mafia is often described. Another term for it is state capture. They are not going to change their policy because the OECD joined a long line of independent observers who have documented the erosion of democracy in this country.
Will a criminal organisation who has captured the Maltese state commit itself to more (rather than less) binding codes of ethics as the OECD recommends? Will the party who removed the obligation to be transparent about the assets and acquisitions of spouses of ministers to hide the bribes they get in emeralds hanging around their token wives’ necks introduce any of the reforms the OECD propose?
The OECD want the government to abolish payments made to the backbenchers it asks to vote for it in Parliament. That recommendation has also been repeated in every international document that has reviewed our constitutional design since 2014. They’ve ignored them all. They’ll ignore this one too along with the newspaper front pages that reported it with endearing naivety.
The government will ignore recommendations restricting the employment of ministers after they leave office as well. Can you imagine obliging disgraced Joseph Muscat to ask the commissioner for standards whether it is ok for him to be billing the owners of VGH just days after resigning office as prime minister? Can you imagine Joseph Muscat agreeing to put the question and to submit himself to legal consequences should he ignore it?
Can you imagine Robert Abela imposing that as a law? Or can you imagine Robert Abela legislating an obligation on himself to register all his meetings and allow the public to know about his every smoked fill room pow-wow with funders of his party?
The OECD report is less than a week old. This corpse stinks already.