03 Aug 2023

Parliament’s Standing Committee on Standards in Public Life has authorised the publication of a report by the Commissioner for Standards about false statements allegedly made by a minister to the media.

The case goes back to April 2020, when a journalist asked the Hon. Dr Michael Farrugia, then Minister for Home Affairs, about a meeting he had held with Yorgen Fenech six years previously, in 2014. At the time the meeting was held Dr Farrugia was Parliamentary Secretary for Planning.

Shortly after the meeting Dr Farrugia had given instructions to the CEO of the Planning Authority to designate Mrieħel as a high-rise development zone for the purposes of a new policy drawn up by the Authority. This led to the construction in Mrieħel of high-rise buildings in which Mr Fenech had an interest.

In April 2020 Professor Arnold Cassola made a complaint to the then-Commissioner for Standards in which he alleged that Dr Farrugia had not told the truth in his replies to the journalist. Among other things, Dr Farrugia told the journalist that the decision to designate Mrieħel as a high-rise development zone had been taken by a committee that was evaluating public responses to the Planning Authority’s new policy. The complainant stated that this could not be the case since the proposal to include Mrieħel had not come from the public.

In his submissions to the Commissioner, Dr Farrugia stated that the inclusion of Mrieħel had been proposed by an interministerial committee which was tasked with giving strategic policy direction to the Planning Authority on behalf of the government. However, in his replies to the journalist he had mentioned “a committee evaluating policies after public consultation”. This was a clear reference to the committee mentioned by the complainant.

The Commissioner therefore concluded that in this instance Dr Farrugia had given misleading information. The Commissioner observed that six years had passed since the relevant events had occurred, but Dr Farrugia should have verified the facts before answering the journalist.

The Commissioner presented his report to the Standards Committee on 31 July 2023 and the Committee first considered it on 3 August, when it authorised publication. The Committee is to continue discussing the report in the coming weeks.

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