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Persons of trust should not comment on matters of political controversy – Hyzler

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Persons of trust should not comment on matters of political controversy and should treat others with respect, Standards Commissioner George Hyzler said.

His statement came about after a complaint was filed after Joseph Borg, a person of trust within Energy Minister Michael Farrugia’s secretariat, insulted independent candidate Arnold Cassola in a Facebook post.

The complaint was filed by Matthew Caruana Galizia, as director of the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation.

Cassola had submitted evidence to the Permanent Commission Against Corruption (PCAC) concerning a possible quid pro quo between Minister of Home Affairs Michael Farrugia and Yorgen Fenech.

Borg had put up a Facebook post in which he defended Minister Farrugia, saying that, before the murder, Fenech was a prominent businessman and met with many ministers. He asked whether every minister who had at some point dealt with the Tumas Group should be investigated. He then took aim at Cassola, writing: “Profs Cassola just get a life as the one you have at the moment sucks.”

The Standards Commissioner said regular government employees in senior roles were obliged to maintain political neutrality. This obligation also applied to persons of trust at equivalent levels.

“The insult directed by Dr Joseph Borg at Prof Cassola did not reflect well on the public administration and on Minister Michael Farrugia, in particular because Dr Borg was serving as head of the Hate Crime and Speech Unit in addition to being a person of trust,” Hyzler said.

The Commissioner therefore upheld the complaint.

He met Dr Borg in the presence of Minister Farrugia and proposed that the case should be concluded on the basis of an apology by Dr Borg. The Commissioner closed the case after receiving this apology.

In his case report, the Commissioner observed that the Hate Crime and Speech Unit is part of the permanent machinery of government and should not be treated as an extension of the minister’s secretariat.

For this reason the headship of the Unit should not have been assigned to a person of trust.

He added that this was not a reflection on Borg but on administrative practices in government.

The Commissioner also considered a bill which is currently before Parliament, and which is intended to provide a legal basis for appointments on trust.

He expressed the view that the bill cannot achieve this aim in the absence of constitutional amendments because the Constitution does not provide for appointments on trust.

As a result of the bill, many persons of trust may cease to be subject to scrutiny by the Commissioner, yet it can potentially lead to a considerable increase in the number of persons of trust employed by the government. “This would be to the detriment of standards in Maltese public administration,” he said.

Original article found on The Malta Independent

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