Parliament’s Standards Committee has finally agreed to the publication of a report compiled by Standards Commissioner George Hzyler into an alleged breach of ethics by Minister Carmelo Abela.
The committee agreed that Hyzler would be asked to attend the next meeting in order to explain his findings.
The majority of today’s sitting saw MPs debating whether or not a media report published last week by Newsbook showed that the website was in possession of the Commissioner’s report.
The report is the result of an investigation by Standards Commissioner George Hyzler following a complaint by Repubblika about an advert publicising the minister which was published in local papers.
The ad did not contain any information on the ministry’s work and was described as nothing more than a public relations vehicle for the minister.
Last month, MPs representing the government on the committee walked out of a sitting that was due to discuss the report, citing the fact that Nationalist MP Karol Aquilina, who is a member of the committee, was related to Repubblika president Robert Aquilina, who had signed the organisation’s complaint.
The meeting was postponed to a later date but again had to be postponed again after government MPs claimed that the report had been leaked to Newsbook before the start of the sitting. They again chose not to attend the sitting and called for an investigation into the alleged leak by the Speaker.
This had prompted Hyzler to write to Speaker and committee chair Anglu Farrugia and threaten to go back on an agreement with the committee for him to forward reports in which a breach of ethics has been found to it for discussion before its publication. Hyzler also noted that from a reading of Newsbook’s report, it did not appear to him that the website had access to his report.
The decision was taken after about an hour of bickering between the two sides. Opposition MPs insisted that they had not leaked the report, echoing many of the Commissioner’s observations as to how anyone with a basic knowledge of the procedures adopted by the committee could easily deduce what report was being referred to and what its conclusions were.
Nationalist MP Therese Comodini Cachia in fact pointed out that it was the government’s side that had kicked up a fuss about Aquilina’s conflict of interest, making it clear which report was being referred to.
The fact that all reports in which a breach of ethics is found and for which there is no immediate remedy were forwarded to the committee for discussion.
“You would need to think that journalists are idiots if you think it is not possible for them to know what report was being referred to and what its findings were,” Comodini Cachia said. “If you know what the complaint was, you also know what the conclusion was.”
After reading out Hyzler’s letter Farrugia asked the government MPs how they had concluded there was a leak. Labour MP Glenn Bedingfield replied that it was clear from the details in the story and “the way in which it was written” suggests that the journalist had “information” about the contents of the report.
“I don’t know how the Standards Commissioner concluded himself, he didn’t investigate, it’s like he’s acting as Newsbook’s lawyer,” Bedingfield said.
Fenech Adami replied saying that Hyzler had simply made an observation that from what he had seen in the report didn’t indicate that the website had a copy of the report he had written.
Bedingfield maintained that the article clearly showed that the report had been leaked, with Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis insisting that this had become a frequent occurrence.
Beppe Fenech Adami, who is replacing Aquilina on the committee as a result of the complaints with respect to Aquilina, highlighted that it was clear to anybody watching that all the two government MPs were doing was trying to protect one of their colleagues.
It was agreed that Hyzler would be invited to the next sitting to explain his findings, while the report could be published straight away.
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