12 Oct 2021

The Commissioner for Standards in Public Life has concluded that Dr Joseph Muscat did not commit a breach of ethics when he travelled to Italy with his family on a holiday funded by a third party in August 2020. At that time Dr Muscat was still a member of Parliament.

The Standards Commissioner arrived at this conclusion after considering a complaint by Prof Arnold Cassola. It was alleged in the complaint that the holiday had been paid for by Pietro Catalfamo, the owner of a company quoted on Malta’s Stock Exchange. Mr Catalfamo was also the owner of the Castello di Collalto Sabino, where Dr Muscat and his family spent their holiday.

The Commissioner found that the holiday had taken place on an invitation from Ms Diane Izzo, who organised a party at the venue for her relatives and close friends, including Dr Muscat and his family. Ms Izzo negotiated an arrangement with Mr Catalfamo in which she paid for the catering and was given free accommodation at the castle for her guests.

The code of ethics for members of Parliament does not permit MPs to accept gifts from persons or entities with an interest in legislation before Parliament. MPs who travel abroad must declare the trip if it is paid for by persons or entities with such an interest. However, the Commissioner found that no law then under consideration in Parliament affected Ms Diane Izzo’s personal or commercial interests.

The Commissioner therefore concluded that Dr Muscat was not obliged either to refuse the holiday or to declare it. As a result the Commissioner did not uphold the complaint.

However, the Commissioner reiterated his view that the code of ethics for MPs regulated gifts and other benefits in too limited a manner. The relevant provisions of the code applied only if MPs were given benefits by persons or entities with an interest in legislation then before Parliament. The provisions did not apply if MPs were given benefits in connection with their role in the enactment of past legislation, or to pave the way for legislation still to be presented in Parliament. Nor did the provisions apply if MPs were given benefits in connection with other parliamentary activities, such as voting on a resolution to transfer public land to the private sector.

The Commissioner recalled that in July 2020 he had recommended that MPs should be prohibited from accepting gifts, benefits and hospitality if they would thereby be placed under an obligation in the performance of their duties, or if they would reasonably be seen to be placed under such an obligation. This would be a much wider prohibition than that in the current code of ethics. The Commissioner had also recommended that MPs should be required to declare any gift exceeding €250 in value that was given to them on account of their parliamentary and political activities. The Commissioner stated that although he had found no breach of ethics in this case, it still highlighted the importance of revising the code of ethics for MPs on these lines for the sake of transparency.

The Commissioner’s report on this case can be downloaded from here.