The Prime Minister’s refusal to answer parliamentary questions asking for a breakdown of expenditure by his office on advertising and communications can’t be investigated by the Standards Commissioner since the Speaker has already ruled on the matter.
He did however recommend amending parliament’s regulations in order to give the Speaker the power to decide more effectively on similar issues.
The Commissioner’s decision follows a complaint by independent candidate Arnold Cassola, who asked Commissioner George Hyzler to investigate the fact that the Prime Minister had refused to reply to a series of question by Opposition MP Ivan Bartolo, in which he asked for a breakdown of expenditure by the Office of the Prime Minister on communications.
Bartolo asked Abela to provide parliament information regarding the amount of money spent on “communications with the media and advertising, press conferences and on Facebook since 2017.
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However, Abela replied saying that he could not provide the information since it would be too expensive to compile. “The exercise of compiling the information as requested would exceed the advisory cost limit.”
A ruling on the matter was requested by Bartolo, with the Speaker declaring that he could not “in any way interfere with a reply given by a minister [or the Prime Minister”.
He pointed to the practice employed by the UK’s House of Commons, where questions requiring £850 are considered to be disproportionately expensive to reply to.
In his response to Cassola, Hyzler noted that parliamentary questions were governed by the Standing Orders of the House – the rules governing procedures in Parliament – and that it is only the Speaker who has the power to interpret them.
“If I were to act otherwise, I would in effect be overruling or second-guessing the decision of Mr Speaker to allow or disallow that conduct by members during parliamentary sitting,” Hyzler told Cassola, referring to past decisions he had given following similar requests for an investigation.
Hyzler did however question how the Standing Orders could not give the Speaker to power to decide on parliamentary questions.
“The Speaker is interpreting the Standing Orders, which are a legal mechanism regulating Parliament’s work. If the Speaker doesn’t have the power to regulate parliamentary questions, this could be considered to reflect a shortcoming with regards to the Standing Orders, in the sense that they do not afford him this power,” Hzyler concluded.
What do you make of the Commissioner’s decision?