Former Chief Justice Emeritus Joseph Azzopardi was appointed new commissioner for standards in public life, while Judge Emeritus Joseph Zammit McKeon was appointed Ombudsman, on Monday.
Zammit McKeon was appointed following unanimous approval by the House, while Azzopardi was appointed by simple majority, after failing to garner a two thirds majority after two rounds of parliamentary voting.
Parliament on Monday was discussing a motion to appoint a new Ombudsman.
Incumbent Ombdusman Anthony Mifsud’s term ended in March last year but he remained in office pending the appointment of a replacement. Former standards commissioner George Hyzler’s term ended prematurely in September after he took up his post in the European Court of Auditors.
The two roles’ appointments have been largely dominated by controversy surrounding an anti-deadlock mechanism in the appointment of the standards commissioner.
While agreeing with McKeon’s appointment as Ombudsman, the Opposition has expressed its disagreement with former chief justice Joseph Azzopardi’s appointment as Standards Commissioner.
Talks between Prime Minister Robert Abela and Opposition leader Bernard Grech failed to reach consensus on former standards czar George Hyzler’s replacement.
With the new anti-deadlock mechanism, the standards commissioner can be appointed by parliament through a simple majority vote if the nomination fails to garner a two-thirds majority in two previous voting rounds.
Prime Minister slams Opposition’s attitude during parliamentary debates
As parliamentary debates on the two appointments drew to a close on Monday, the Prime Minister slammed the Opposition’s attitude, especially when discussing Joseph Zammit McKeon’s appointment.
“The opposition tried to break him before his first day of the job. We have seen this over and over again with every appointment put forward,” Abela said. “We on the other hand allow the full liberty for the person to carry out their job.”
Looking back at Zammit McKeon’s career, Abela said it was characterised by efficiency and dedication.
“He knows how to use apply the law he will be charged with, carries out justice, shows that justice is made, and has good knowledge of civil law,” Abela said. “He also issued 2,106 sentences in 12 years.”
“The Ombudsman has a very large workload, and his experience is testament to his qualities for the role,” he said.
He said Zammit McKeon’s track-record should be an example other judges should look at, mentioning a fatality which took place three months ago over which no process verbal had been concluded and there was ‘no end in sight’.
The PM said he could not allow the Ombudsman role to be occupied, while leaving the Standards czar post vacant.
In his concluding remarks the PM also thanked outgoing Ombudsman Anthony C. Mifsud for his work. He said he has “no doubts” that Mifsud is a genuine individual, but stated that there were individuals “who tried to usurp him” for their personal political gain.
Bernard Grech: PM does not seek consensus, but wants everything the way he wants it
Addressing the House, the Oppostion leader said that Abela’s insistence on “not having things the way he likes” led to the Ombudsman role remaining vacant.
“Abela does not seek consensus, but wants everything the way he wants it,” Bernard Grech said.
He said that after the courts declared a lack of impartiality by the state broadcaster and the broadcasting authority, as well as the damning ruling on the hospitals concession by Vitals and Steward, Abela wants to “snatch” another institution.
He said the government does not seek the protect the most vulnerable in society.
“If it weren’t for Abela, Joseph Zammit McKeon would already have been Ombusdman for the last two years,” he said.
Grech praised the retired judge’s work ethic and integrity, saying he was always an example to those who worked with him.
“His quality of looking beyond who the individuals he is investigating are, are crucial for the role,” he said.
The Opposition leader also looked back at Labour’s tenure in government, as it celebrates 10 years since it was elected this week.
“10 years of impunity, 10 years of secret agreements and 10 years of damning allegations. No wonder they wanted to kick out George Hyzler,” he said, suggesting his removal was strategically carried out.
Nationalist MPs Karol Aquilina, Chris Said, Claudette Buttigieg and Whip Robert Cutajar, as well as Justice Minister Jonathan Attard, Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri and MP Edward Zammit Lewis also addressed the debate.