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Owen Bonnici – (Minister for the National Heritage, the Arts, and the Local Government.)

Can someone explain how a person is considered perfectly capable to fill the all important post of Chief Justice, but then, a few years down the line, that same person is deemed by the Opposition incapable of filling the post of Commissioner for Standards in Public Life?

Or can at least someone explain how a person is deemed to be good enough to be appointed Judge by the Nationalist Party in Government, but then deemed by the same Nationalist Party, now in Opposition, not good enough to serve as Commissioner for Standards in Public Life?

Also, can someone explain to me how one day the Leader of the Opposition agrees to the proposal of having former Chief Justice Joseph Azzopardi serving as Commissioner for Standards in Public Life, but then the next day that same agreement is shot down by the same Leader of the Opposition?

Why on Earth is someone who does not command the trust of the majority of the members of the Parliamentary Group of the Party in Opposition still occupying the role of Leader of theOpposition?

How is the Government expected to reach consensus with the Opposition when its Leader changes opinions and views from one day to the next on the basis of what other people who run the show tell him to do?

Can the Nationalist Party ever be taken seriously if their leader does not carry enough weight to take the necessary decisions without having to be put in a position where he has to perform a u-turn each time the proverbial push comes to shove?

Can the Nationalist Party really function if the most important decisions are taken behind the back of its so-called “Kap”?

These are some of the questions which people are asking following the dramatic turn of events which occured in the last days on the twin vacant positions of Commissioner for Standards in Public Life and Ombudsman.

Prime Minister Robert Abela explained very clearly in Parliament that both leaders had arrived to an agreement on the names of Joseph Azzopardi and Joseph Zammit McKeon to serve as Commissioner for Standards in Public Life and Ombudsman respectively. Bernard Grech, sitting on the Opposition benches, looked terribly uncomfortable during Dr Abela’s explanation in Parliament as Grech knew that the little credibility he has left was being severely challenged.

Dr Grech looked most uneasy when the Prime Minister informed him that a group within the Nationalist Party met behind Grech’s back and in his absence to take the decisions.

It is a shame that Bernard Grech backtracked on the initial agreement which was registered. I have full trust in the capabilities of Chief Justice Emeritus Joseph Azzopardi to be an excellent Commissioner for Standards in Public Life. Nominating the former Chief Justice to the post, who served as President of the Chamber of Advocates, Judge during a Nationalist Administration and Chief Justice during a Labour Administration, is an homage to correctness and impartiality.

Let me try to understand PN’s way of thinking. It is okay if a former Parliamentary Secretary (PN) occupies ths post of Commissioner for Standards in Public Life but it is not okay if that same role is occupied by a former Chief Justice. The Opposition is irresponsible to say the least!

What’s more, when Dr Azzopardi served as Chief Justice, albeit for a brief two year period, I recall words of praise for his work and dedication from all and sundry. When Dr Azzopardi retired from the bench, people at the Law Courts missed him. They missed his strong sense of dedication and beautiful approach to life in Court.

I fully concur with the Government’s view that former Chief Justice Dr Joseph Azzopardi should be Malta’s next Commissioner for Standards in Public Life.

Similarly I fully agree with the Prime Minister’s nomination of Mr Justice Emeritus Joseph Zammit McKeon to be appointed in the very important role of Ombudsman. Given his extensive experience in the field of civil and administrative law (just to name a few) Dr Zammit McKeon will be, I am sure, an excellent Ombudsman.

I had the privilege to have worked with both people very closely during my almost seven year stint as Justice Minister between 2013 and 2020 in the roles Azzopardi and Zammit McKeon occupied as Chief Justice and President of the Association of the Judiciary respectively. I have found them to be honest, hard working, respectful and most importantly loyal servants of the law.

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The Government has to take decisions, irrespective of the difficulties which the irresponsible Opposition we have today throws in its way.

In the light of the impasse which was created following Bernard Grech umpteenth u-turn, the Government presented a motion signalling the First Reading of a Bill seeking to amend the relative law regulating the Office of Commissioner for Standards in Public Life, limitedly with regards to the parts relating to the method of appointment of the Commissioner.

As explained in Parliament earlier this week by the Prime Minister it is our wish that this position is filled with the approval of two-thirds of the House of Representatives and we worked hard to put forward names of people who attract broad respect.

It was precisely for this reason that the Prime Minister put forward the nominations of people who are known for their integrity and competence both for role of Commissioner for the Protection of Standards in Public Life and the role of Ombudsman.

The amendment that the Government will present aims to create a mechanism in case the two sides of the House disagree, twice over and in separate occasions, on the appointment of a nominee.

This is not the first time that calls have been made in favour of having an anti-deadlock mechanism in the case of important appointments requesting a two-thirds majority of the House.

The Venice Commission, for instance, had clearly recommended this anti-deadlock approach with regards to other offices which similarly require a two thirds majority in the House. Furthermore, Simon Busuttil himself – the hero of the blue heroes – had also proposed an anti-deadlock mechanism when commenting on posititions which according to him should start requiring a two-thirds majority in the House.

The Government believes that in the present circumstances, common sense should prevail and when it comes to the appointment of Dr Joseph Azzopardi as Commissioner for Standards in Public Life there should be no need to use an anti-deadlock mechanism.

Such is the high repute that the former Chief Justice enjoys, that the name itself should attract unananimous support.


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