14 Apr 2023

The Commissioner for Standards in Public Life has concluded that a government-sponsored post on Facebook represents a breach of ethics because it featured a minister.

The sponsored post in question appeared on 5 October 2022 in the official Facebook page of the Ministry for Finance and Employment. It consisted of a graphic featuring a photograph of the Hon. Clyde Caruana, Minister for Finance, together with his name and a quote stating that the government was to spend €1.1 billion to absorb rising energy costs.

The Commissioner for Standards took the view that a sponsored post amounted to an advertisement since it involved spending money to boost the circulation of a Facebook post, and that government advertisements should not feature the names or photographs of ministers. In his report on the case the Commissioner stated that “If a minister appears in an advertisement that aims to publicise a government measure, this indicates that the minister is seeking political or personal gain by taking the credit for that measure in the public eye.”

However, the Commissioner noted that the amount spent on the sponsored post was less than €90. This was a very small amount compared to cases considered by the previous Commissioner for Standards, which involved adverts costing €7,000 in one case and €16,700 in another case.

For this reason the Commissioner informed Minister Clyde Caruana that he was prepared to close the case under article 22(5) of the Standards in Public Life Act if the Minister made an apology. Article 22(5) of the Act empowers the Commissioner to close a case if it is not serious and if the person investigated remedies the breach of ethics to the Commissioner’s satisfaction.

The Minister replied promptly with a letter in which he formally apologised for the case and undertook to avoid any such cases in future. On his own initiative, he paid the cost of the sponsored post out of his own funds and attached the receipt to his letter. On this basis the Commissioner closed the case.

The Commissioner’s report on this case is available from here.