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News | Wednesday, 10 March 2010 Issue. 154

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Toe the line, or you’re out

Nationalist backbenchers who will this week be appointed to the role of Parliamentary Private Secretaries (PPS) are to be bound by a Code of Ethics that will preclude them from retaining their position, should they vote against the government.
A Ministerial Code review – based on the UK House of Commons’ model – is currently under way to accommodate the inclusion of PPS’s in the revised workings of the Government bench.
MaltaToday is informed that the responsibilities and restrictions incumbent on a PPS will include the following passage: “Parliamentary Private Secretaries are expected to support the government in important divisions in the House. No PPS who votes against Government can retain his or her position.”
This stricture, together with a ‘collective responsibility not to speak against government’, is understood to have been the motive behind MP Jean Pierre Farrugia’s decision to turn down on offer to be twinned with the Health Ministry.
Farrugia communicated his decision late yesterday during the ONE TV programme ‘Inkontri’.
Elsewhere, the Ministerial Code specifies that Parliamentary Private Secretaries are not members of the Government. However, they must ensure that no conflict arises, or appears to arise, between their role as PPSs, and their private interests.
Official information given to them should generally be limited to what is necessary for the discharge of their parliamentary and political duties.
This need not preclude them from being brought into departmental discussions where appropriate, but any such access should be approved by the relevant appointing Minister.
According the the UK Ministerial Code, PPSs “should not have access to information classified at secret or above. Nor should they have access to secure government establishments.”
While MPs still await to be given formal instructions by the Prime Minister as to what would their role will be as PPSs, and when to start, critics have already reacted to the news and warned that the strategy chosen by Lawrence Gonzi to ‘appease’ his backbenchers, “won’t work”.
Lino Spiteri interpreted the move by Lawrence Gonzi to appoint PPSs as “purely to appease some MPs. That will not happen by shutting up their public voice. They will want more. Meanwhile, ministers will grow to want less of them.”
A senior PN official stressed with MaltaToday that “everyone will be given the space to work,” while echoing the Prime Minister’s statement to his Parliamentary Group that the days of perceived ‘exclusionism’ are over.
MPs Philip Mifsud, Franco Debono, Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando, Jean-Pierre Farrugia, Beppe Fenech Adami, Charlo’ Bonnici, Robert Arrigo and Stephen Spiteri are all expected to be appointed as PPSs.
Unconfirmed reports indicate the Prime Minister’s office is to have two PPSs, Zebbug MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando and Gudja MP Franco Debono.
Rural affairs minister George Pullicino is set to have Zebbug MP Philip Mifsud, to assist him in matters relating to agriculture and fisheries.
B’Kara MP Beppe Fenech Adami is reportedly been indicated to serve within Carm Mifsud Bonnici’s ministry of home affairs and justice, however it is not excluded that he may serve under investments minister Austin Gatt (who reportedly asked for him) and who in turn, has had Attard MP Charlo’ Bonnici assigned to him.
Sliema MP Robert Arrigo has been reportedly assigned to finance minister Tonio Fenech.
MP Stephen Spiteri may be assigned responsibilities within the mega social policy and education ministry run by Dolores Cristina.
The list of MPs to be ‘twinned’ with ministries is expected to be completed today, and it is not excluded that an official announcement will be made either late today or tomorrow.
PN Whip David Agius is reported not to be included in the list of PPSs, but has been indicated to serve as a coordinator for the new category.
MPs are being told that their main role as PPSs will be mainly to serve their ministers as important means of communication with the party and bodies outside the House, providing a political – as opposed to an official departmental – line of access to ministers.
They are to help ministers with a variety of tasks, including farming out friendly parliamentary questions, and may be used by the minister as an additional sounding board for proposals.
MaltaToday is informed that all former ministers and parliamentary secretaries who sit on the backbench, have been accommodated with a “special arrangement,” rather than being included as PPSs.
Former ministers Jesmond Mugliett, Ninu Zammit, Francis Zammit Dimech, Michael Frendo and Louis Deguara, and former Parliamentary secretaries Frans Agius and Edwin Vassallo, have been told that they cannot be expected to serve as PPSs, given that the post is for those who have never held an executive role.
However, MaltaToday is informed that an agreement has been reached to grant these men a role of ‘advisers’ to Government, Cabinet and the PN Parliamentary Group.
Some have suggested that a ‘special committee’ may be set up to assist government in its delivery of electoral promises.


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