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NEWS | Sunday, 03 February 2008

Forget your private business, Sant tells his shadow Cabinet

James Debono

If Labour is elected to power, Labour ministers will have to resign from any previous business interest and will not be allowed to receive any form of remuneration from their previous business or professional activity.
Opposition Alfred Sant told MaltaToday that he intends to change the current code of ethics regulating ministers to enshrine these changes.
The current code of ethics regulating ministers does not oblige ministers to relinquish their shares in business activities commenced before their appointment, and allows them to receive a fixed annual remuneration from such activities.
Only medical doctors will be allowed to continue to exercise their profession in a future Labour Cabinet, but only if their services are not remunerated.
This measure is expected to have a direct impact on the Labour Party’s front bench which includes various prospective ministers who currently exercise their profession as notaries, architects or consultants.
When contacted by MaltaToday, architect Charles Buhagiar declared that he will resign and sever all connections with an architect firm in which he is currently involved, if given a ministerial appointment.
Alfred Sant hinted at Labour’s new policy in a hard hitting interview by PBS journalist Reno Bugeja during TV programme Dissett last Tuesday.
Sant singled out minister Jesmond Mugliett for retaining a professional and commercial interest in a company which presides over major public works like the Manwel Dimech bridge.
Reno Bugeja asked Sant point blank what he would do if a Labour minister is caught in the same position as Mugliett. Sant crisply replied “they will not remain (ministers), period.”

Contacted by MaltaToday Sant made it clear that the new code of ethics will preclude any minister from active or passive participation in any business firm.
“Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries will be expected to sever all their personal commercial and professional links to private entities, whether these take the form of whole or part ownership, or whether they consist of professional remunerated or non-remunerated connections with such entities,” Opposition Leader Alfred Sant told MaltaToday.
The code of the ethics introduced by a Nationalist government in 1994 already states that “as a general rule it will always be better for the minister to relinquish or dispose of their (private) interests.”
But there is a proviso: in such cases, it “is the Prime Minister who decides what the minister should do”: thus giving discretionary power to the Prime Minister.
Ministers are also precluded from continuing their private work. This prohibition covers consultancies, attendance at offices and clinics to give professional advice even in cases where the work is not remunerated.
But the current code of ethics allows Ministers to benefit financially from their previous business investments .
“A minister who before the appointment was self-employed, exercised a profession or was in business… is not bound to dispose of his interest or shares.”
But in such cases the minister has to dissociate himself from the direction or management of the office, trade or business.
In such cases the minister can only receive a fixed sum each year considered as due in return for his previous investment. But this will no longer be possible under a new Labour government.
According to Alfred Sant the changes in the code of ethics will guarantee “that holders of high political office have and can have no influence, formal or informal, perceived or real, on the operations of the said entities, and on the latter’s dealings with the government and any of its agencies.”
“To this end, the current rules on ethical behaviour by holders of high political office will be updated with reference to similar codes of ethical behaviour in other member states of the European Union, “ Sant told MaltaToday.
But Alfred Sant does not categorically exclude that ministers will be able to pass on their financial stake to family members, thus leaving a potential loophole in the new system.
“The rules will also regulate how financial, professional and commercial responsibilities should be passed to close family members.”
Sant also makes an exception for medical doctors.
“The only exception to all this will apply for members of the medical profession, to cover ongoing professional relationships, on the understanding that these will be unremunerated,” Sant told MaltaToday.

jdebono@mediatoday.com.mt



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