In light of reports that the Maltese Cabinet is under investigation for the private use of public funds, Civil Society Network (CSN) is calling for a broader investigation into public resources being used “to effectively subsidise partisan interests, especially with regards to the political parties’ media wings.”
On Wednesday, Lovin Malta reported that a magisterial inquiry and a police investigation have been launched into the misuse of public funds by ministers on social media. The news portal said all Cabinet members are under investigation.
In a press release, CSN said that “this criminal investigation raised the issue of consultancies and roles within the government which are given out to employees of the Labour Party media.”
“It is well known that the largest costs incurred by the two established political parties are their media wings. It is no secret that many ONE Group employees simultaneously enjoy contracts in the public sector,” the network said. “Thus, there is a basis to investigate whether public funds are used to effectively subsidise media agencies belonging to political parties.”
Last month, Standards Commissioner George Hyzler issued a report that found “widespread” misuse of public resources by ministers and parliamentary secretaries.
His investigation was triggered by a complaint by Lovin Malta CEO Chris Peregin.
The news portal had said that at least €1.2 million had been spent by ministries on social media between 2013 and 2018, despite the fact that many of them did not have official Facebook pages during this period.
To investigate the complaint, the Commissioner took a sample of posts by five different ministers in their personal Facebook accounts. He found that only one of these five examples represented good practice. The other four involved misuse of public resources.
Hyzler had also produced guidelines, adding that the government had already agreed to follow them. He said this was a “highly positive development which suggests that the practices described by this case report will soon be a thing of the past.” He was therefore considering this to be a closed case.
Prime Minister Robert Abela recently reiterated Hyzler’s statement, considering this case as “closed” since ministers were now abiding by draft guidelines prepared by the Standards Commissioner.
Yet the report has made its way to the police, and it has been reported that Magistrate Doreen Clarke is leading an inquiry, while Inspector Rennie Stivala from the Economic Crimes Unit is leading the police probe.
CSN believes that the lack of party-state distinction in Malta creates a tension in the political topography of the country, and undermines the strength of the independent press that has to compete with the Government.
The network attributed this issue with international reports in recent years which have “lamented the erosion of media freedom that has continued to decline after the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia.”
Original article found on The Malta Independent