Chamber pushes for public access to MP asset declarations, as well as regulating lobbying

Last Updated on Thursday, 15 September, 2022 at 8:32 pm by Andre Camilleri

The Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry on Thursday released a report which suggests that Members of Parliament should have their asset declarations accessible in the public domain.

The document, entitled, “A Strong Transparency, Accountability and Ethical Governance Framework for Members of Parliament”, also calls for the regulation of the lobbying system.

The report highlights that in order to improve transparency the MPs’ declaration of assets needs to be in the public domain. Along with the declaration form, the previous year’s Income Tax form should also be submitted to the Commissioner of Revenue.

It suggests that the asset declarations should be accessible on both the website of the House of Representatives and the website of the office of the Inland Revenue Commissioner.

The chamber said it agreed with the Commissioner for Standards and recommends that the family members of ministers should also declare their assets in a Register of Interests.

However, it does not believe that this latter information should be in the public domain. For the sake of privacy, this information should only be restricted to the Office of the Commissioner.

In 2019, the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) recommended that declarations should also include family members. This information will only be public if there is proof of misconduct.

With regards to Members of Parliament and lobbying, the report agrees with the Commissioner’s suggestion that the lobbying framework should be adopted through an ad hoc Act.

It also suggests that every MP should have a Lobby Register where they include all the people and firms that meet with them for lobbying purposes, and this should be online and accessible.

The author of the report is David Spiteri Gingell, who is Chair of the Good Governance Thematic Committee.

The goal of the Chamber is that this report will entice nonpartisan discussions on key issues that have to do with rule of law, accountability and transparency in our society.

This paper is the first of another four which they are going to release up until June/July of next year. The following reports will be on the size of parliament, the role of parliament and financing.

“The Malta Chamber seeks to contribute, through this and other papers, to further positive maturing of Malta’s system of public scrutiny and oversight of Malta’s parliamentarians and, hence, to the strengthening of the rule of law and the public’s trust in our political system,” the report says.

The report identifies 6 areas where there can be improvements: Declaration of Assets, Second Jobs, Lobbying, The Office of the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life, Instilling a Culture of integrity and professionalism amongst persons who select to pursue a political vocation, and confidential counselling to MPs on accountability, transparency and ethical matters.

The report also brings up the issue of conflict of interest. It suggests that MPs are to inform the House of any conflict of interest once within 24 hours from the issuance of the Agenda. Also, if a debate arises within the house that was not on the agenda but which involves a conflict of interest amongst MPs, then they must declare their conflict of interest.

If under an investigation by the Commission it is revealed that an MP failed to declare their perceived conflict of interest, then they are subject to the highest sanction. The MP will have the chance to appeal.

It further suggests that the Commissioner should include guidelines which will preclude MPs from any second job which links to the public sector.

Having said that, the report also suggests that the Commissioner should publish clear guidelines indicating which jobs MPs can do, such as lecturing.

The report also proposed amendments to strengthen the office of the commissioner. Firstly, it suggests defining the term ‘misconduct’ with a similar definition which was given in the OECD toolkit. A version of this definition will be included in the SPLA.

It also suggests a definition of “country” which is in the SPLA so that it is made clear that any form of misconduct can be applied to the law of Malta or any other jurisdiction.

Furthermore, it is asking that the commissioner is empowered to call upon ex-MPs as witnesses to provide evidence during an investigation.

The report also recommends that there is state financing for the political party candidates to be trained in ethics.

It also agrees with GRECO’s recommendation for counselling and guidance services for MPs on ethical questions and conflicts of interest.

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