12 Dec 2020

The Commissioner for Standards in Public Life, Dr George Hyzler, has considered a complaint about a minister who allegedly failed to take action against abusive behaviour by relatives of his.

The Commissioner decided that an investigation was not warranted because it was up to the Planning Authority to take action against the abuse in question, not the minister to whom the matter had been reported. Moreover, the minister had in fact reported the alleged abuse to the Authority. The Commissioner concluded that the minister could do no more and he would have broken the law had he personally taken any action against the abuse.

The Commissioner observed that the Planning Authority appeared not to have taken effective steps to stop the abuse, but there was nothing to indicate that this was the result of instructions or influence on the part of the minister to whom the abuse had been reported. There was nothing exceptional or extraordinary about the lack of effective enforcement action by the Authority given that it had thousands of pending enforcement cases, some of which dated back to 1993.

The Commissioner stated that while a minister’s relatives should be treated like any other citizens, that is to say neither in a preferential nor a discriminatory manner, they should keep in mind that their actions may have an impact on the minister who is related to them. Should they commit any abuses, the public would assume that they are doing so with the minister’s protection. Therefore they should be particularly careful to avoid abuse.

The Commissioner also stated that public entities should not hide behind their own inefficiency as an excuse to avoid tackling cases of abuse that involve a minister’s relatives, otherwise the public would suspect that this was being done to indirectly accommodate the minister. On their part, ministers responsible for public entities should not tolerate such inefficiency in those entities because this represents a lack of good governance and further undermines public trust in the political class.

The Commissioner for Standards is not publishing details about this case since he has not investigated the complaint. This is in keeping with the procedure agreed by representatives of both parties in Parliament’s Committee for Standards in Public Life. The rationale is that if a complaint is publicised without being investigated, the person complained about would be cast in a bad light without being given the opportunity to have a say and demonstrate his or her innocence.