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1994 Code of Ethics of Ministers


CODE OF ETHICS FOR MINISTERS AND PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARIES

CABINET OFFICE

OFFICE OF THE PRIME MINISTER

MALTA

JANUARY 1994

CONTENTS

Preface
A. The Cabinet
B. Parliament
C. Ministerial Responsibilities
D. The Public Service
E. The Constituency
F. Travel
G. Private Interests

PREFACE

My Cabinet is publicly adopting this written Code of Ethics for Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries to promote an ever increasing transparency in Government dealings, to strengthen existing values as well as to set an example to others engaged in public life. The stringent standards of conduct which Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries are imposing upon themselves are also intended to increase the public’s confidence in the integrity of the Government.

My Government has demonstrated by various measure its determination to eliminate institutional arrogance and the abuse of power wherever these may exist. This is also another step in that direction. With the adoption of this and other Codes the process will continue.

Yet writing and adopting a Code of Ethics provides only the direction. A Code of Ethics cannot be a substitute for self-imposed vigilance in applying the highest standards of good behaviour. Therefore, in addition to subscribing to the letter of their Code of Ethics, Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries whall seek to respect also its spirit.

E. Fenech Adami

Prime Minister

January 1994

CODE OF ETHICS FOR MINISTERS AND PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARIES

(In this Code the word “Minister” is taken to include Parliamentary Secretary)

 

Introduction

This Code of Ethics should guide the conduct of Ministers. It is intended to give guidance by listing the rules and the precedents which may apply. It must, however, be seen in the context of protecting the integrity of public life. It will be for individual Ministers to judge how best to act in order to uphold the highest standards.

Ministers will want to see that no conflict arises nor appears to arise between their private interest and their public duties. They will wish to be as open as possible with Parliament and the public. This Code should be read against the background of these general obligations.

A. The Cabinet

1. The task of the Cabinet is to examine and decide upon matters concerning the collective responsibility of the Government, matters of national importance or matters on which there is disagreement among Ministers.

2. Matters which fall strictly under one Minister and do not have national repercussions or are only of an administrative nature do not need the approval of Cabinet, as long as the Minister concerned is not seeking his colleagues’ advice. No precise definition can be given of such matters but in doubtful cases the Minister should refer to Cabinet.

3. Matters involving more than one Ministry should be examined at inter-ministerial level before a submission is made to Cabinet.

4. The minutes of Cabinet meetings should include only decisions taken and a summary of the discussion should suffice in order to enable those concerned to follow up. As far as possible no opinion should be attributed to any particular Minister.

5. Ministers have the duty to inform the Departments within their area of responsibility of the relevant decisions and to issue instructions according to the decisions taken.

6. A Minister whose appointment terminates without there being a change of Government should ascertain that the Cabinet documents are returned to the Cabinet Office or are kept by the former Minister personally on condition, however, that he ensures that his successor is given copies of such documents as may be necessary for current administration.

7. At the end of a legislature, Ministers should ensure that all Cabinet documents are returned to the Cabinet Office, or are kept by a Minister personally, with the proviso that a Prime Minister who ceases to hold office may give special instructions as to what is to be done with the documents of his administration.

8. Former Ministers have the right of access to Cabinet Memos and Minutes which they had received in their period of office.

9. No Minister should reveal the process of the internal debate in reaching a decision in Cabinet. Normally a decision taken in Cabinet will be announced publicly by the Minister concerned as a Government decision. Only in specific cases should a decision be announced as a Cabinet decision. It is the Prime Minister’s prerogative to determine when to adopt this mode of procedure. A Minister should avoid expressing in public a personal opinion on a policy that is likely to be or has been decided upon in Cabinet.

10. The collective responsibility of Cabinet requires that Ministers should be able to express their views openly while at the same time being confident that responsibility will be shared by all. There are also various circumstances when information contained in Cabinet documents has to be protected in the national interest. Privacy of Cabinet discussions and circulated documents is, therefore, indispensable. Ministers must ensure that they do not disclose the contents of Cabinet discussions or the personal opinions of other Ministers.

11. The principle of collective responsibility and the need to safeguard national security and relations with other countries impose a number of obligations on former Ministers who may be considering the publication of material based on their experiences in Cabinet. They are expected to submit their draft to the Secretary to the Cabinet before publication.

12. Cabinet meetings take precedence over all other activities. A Minister who on a rare occasion, is forced by circumstances not to attend a Cabinet meeting, should notify the Prime Minister.

B. Parliament

13. Every Minister is responsible towards Parliament for all that is done in the course of the execution of the duties by himself, the Departments and other Government bodies in his area of responsibility. Ministers are in duty bound to give an account of their conduct to Parliament and the Committees of the House. This duty implies that as full information as possible has to be given to Parliament, the Committees of the House and the public about the policies, the decisions and the actions of the Government.

14. Parliamentary and Committee work in which a Minister is involved takes precedence over other work. Minister must ensure that they attend all sittings. When for a special reason, exceptionally, a Minister cannot attend, he must ensure that the Whip is notified, even if the reason is travel abroad on Government business.

 

C. Ministerial Responsibility

15. The Prime Minister is responsible for the organization of the Government’s Executive arm as well as for the assignment of Ministerial and Departmental responsibilities. The approval of the Prime Minister is necessary whenever the need of a change in responsibilities occurs.

16. The approval of the Prime Minister is also necessary when some new function is assigned to a particular Minister and that function does not lie squarely within the framework of responsibilities of one Minister, particularly if there is lack of agreement about the assignment of the responsibility. The Prime Minister is the sole person with the authority to decide in such cases.

17. The Prime Minister is to be consulted on any proposal to set up committees of inquiry, committees that are managed by a member of the public service or committees to make proposals on policy.

18. Ministers are to seek the advice and the approval of the Prime Minister in the appointment of the Chairperson and members of all boards, as well as about the appointment of consultants or persons engaged on fixed term contracts.

19. It should be stressed that the best available persons should be appointed on Government boards.

 

D. The Public Service

20. Ministers should give due weight to the impartial and informed advice of public officers, both regarding the formulation of policies as well as in other areas. Ministers have a duty to observe the obligation of a good employer with regard to terms and conditions of those who serve them. The Minister should never ask or expect members of the public service to do things which go against their duties and obligations, or which run counter to the objectivity and impartiality that are required of them. The Minister must also ensure that his influence in appointing people to various jobs and responsibilities is not abused for partisan aims.

21. Ministers should not ask or expect public officers to attend or take part in political party conferences. However, there are activities organized by political parties which may help public officers carry out their duties in a better way, as well as allow them to put across the policies of their department. In these circumstances, a Minister may allow public officers to attend, as long as he can make sure that their participation rises above party politics.

22. The Minister may ask public officers to produce memos explaining ministerial policies or actions, to be used during political activities.

23. The Minister may have a private secretariat in line with instructions issued form time to time by the Prime Minister. Ministers must ensure that, as far as possible, the persons chosen to occupy such posts should be permanent members of the public service, However, with the permission of the Prime Minister, a Minister may engage persons from outside the public service on contract for a definite period. Ministers should avoid appointing relatives in their private secretariat.

24. While it is recognized that a Minister’s private secretariat must necessarily carry out functions which are by nature, more political than those assigned to Government departments – which must always be above party politics – the Minister must ensure that this function should never be that of promoting party politics. The private secretariat’s funds and other resources should never be used for partisan aims.

 

E. The Constituency

25. While it is recognized that in the local situation it is difficult to distinguish in a clear-cut way between the work of a Minister as such and his activity as a Member of Parliament representing a certain electoral district and it constituents, a Minister is in duty bound to ensure that Government funds and facilities are not used by him in an untoward and irresponsible way while he is carrying out his duties as a Member of Parliament.

26. Ministers should not make public requests to other Ministers, on behalf of their constituents, but may express their views to the Minister concerned verbally or in writing, provided these views do not run counter to Cabinet policies.

27. When a Minister needs to take decisions (in a particular department for which he is responsible) which may have a strong impact on his constituency, he must take all necessary precautions to avoid all possible conflicts of interest.

 

F. Travel

28. Any Minister who needs to go abroad for any reason requires the approval of the Prime Minister. The letter to the Prime Minister should include the reasons for the visit and the list of countries to be visited. In the case of official visits, the number of officials included in the delegation should also be given, together with reasons for their inclusion and the expenses foreseen. Ministers are expected to submit a report to the Prime Minister on their return from official visits abroad.

29. In normal circumstances there should be no travel which is unconnected with Government work abroad when Parliament is in session. During Parliamentary recesses there should be enough Ministers in Malta for Government work to proceed normally. For this reason Ministers should inform the Secretary to the Cabinet about their travels abroad.

30. The Minister is responsible to determine the number of members and composition of Government delegations abroad. Ministers should keep the number of members of their delegations as limited as possible.

31. When Ministers are carrying out Government work abroad, they should not accept offers for free travel from Governments or other organisations, except as stipulated in the official programme. The Prime Minister must be consulted whenever there are doubts.

32. In cases where the presence of the Minister’s spouse is considered necessary, the expenses for the Minsiter’s spouse may be paid out of public funds, as long as it is ensured that his or her participation is in the public interest. In these cases the Prime Minister’s assent should be sought.

33. If necessary, a Minister may also take a special consultant with him on a Government visit. In any such case the assent of the Prime Minister should be obtained.

34. Ministers should inform the Minister of Foreign affairs in writing about their proposed visits abroad and about their talks with representatives of other Governments. This applies to formal as well as to informal discussions.

35. The Minister of Foreign Affairs must also be informed before Ministers of other Governments are invited to visit Malta. Ministries must inform the Minister of Foreign Affairs when they come to know of the official or private visit of a Minister of a foreign Government, or of any other person of equivalent status.

36. Ministers are expected to refer to the Prime Minister any offer of foreign honours before acceptance.

37. Ministers should not overlook the possible foreign policy implications of such day-to-day matters as offering hospitality to prominent figures who are visiting Malta, accepting social commitments of a similar kind, giving public support for petitions, open letters, etc. In any case of doubt, Ministers should consult the Minister of Foreign Affairs before making commitments.

38. The Minister of Foreign Affairs should be consulted whenever a Minister intends to make a statement touching on matters affecting foreign affairs.

39. Ministers should remember that the giving and receiving of gifts to and from Governments, organizations or persons is a delicate matter. Ministers should as a rule only give mementoes for the occasion and should consult the Prime Minister in case they feel that in particular circumstances Government should make a more substantial gift.

40. Ministers have the right to keep the gifts they receive if they are only mementoes for the occasion or are not of any substantial value. In case of doubt the Prime Minister should be consulted, and it is the duty of the Minister to act in the most prudent and responsible manner.

 

G. Private Interests

41. Ministers have to remember that on their appointment a situation could arise in which their private interests could conflict or appear to conflict with the exercise of their ministerial powers. In order to safeguard the personal integrity of the Minister and the collective integrity of the Government, every Minister is in duty bound to avoid any conflict, real or potential, between his private interest and his public duties.

42. Normally it should be the Minister himself who decides how best to proceed in these instances, but as a general rule it will always be better for the Minister to relinquish or dispose of the interest, but is such cases it is the Prime Minister who decides what the Minister should do and the Minister should submit any such case to him for his decision.

43. As soon as a Minister is appointed, it is expected of him not to continue with his private work. He should devote his whole time to his official duties. The prohibition covers also consultancies, attendance at offices/clinics to give professional advice, etc., even if the work is not remunerated.

44. As soon as he is appointed, a Minister should resign from any other public office and also from any post of director or other similar post whether in a public or a private agency, or a voluntary association. The only exceptions are honorary appointments or appointments in philanthropic organizations, provided there is no conflict of interest. In such cases, however, the Prime Minister’s approval should be obtained.

45. A Minister who before his appointment was self-employed, exercised a profession or was in business, both if personally or through some other legal form, both if on his own or in partnership, is not bound to dispose of his interest or shares, but must make the necessary arrangements immediately, to ensure that:

– he dissociates himself from the direction or management of the office, trade or business;

– he makes arrangements in order that he can get paid for any work previously done or the profits due to him:

– he does not continue to participate in the payments or profits due for work done after his appointment as Minister, except for a fixed sum each year considered as due in return for his previous investment.

46. In all such cases, the Minister should inform the Prime Minister in writing of the arrangements made.

47. There will be cases when although all these precautions are taken, the interest – however small – which a Minister has in an office, business or trade, or some investment he has made, cannot be reconciled with the exigencies of public confidence in the Minister. This may happen if the Minister could increase the value of the investment or when the Minister might have some confidential information affecting the value of the investment. In such cases the Minister should either dispose of such investment or interest, or take steps so that its management passes out of his hands. The Prime Minister’s decision in such cases is final.

48. Within two months from his appointment and not later than the month of March of each year, every Minister should deposit with the Secretary to the Cabinet a declaration listing:

(a) the immovable property of the Minister or in relation to which he has some form of title:

(b) shares, bonds or other interests which he may have in a company or partnership, public or private;

(c) the sum total of money he has deposited in banks;

(d) directorships or other offices he holds;

(e) his income in the previous year;

(f) the sum total of loans he may have received which are still outstanding.

49. This declaration should reflect the position as at the 31st December of the previous year, and under the items (a), (b) and (c) mentioned above, it should include the property of the spouse of the Minister if it forms part of the community of acquests, as well as of the minor children of the Minister provided he has their custody.

50. The Secretary to the Cabinet, under the direction of the Prime Minister, has the duty to prepare the necessary format for this declaration. The Cabinet Secretary shall make available copies of each declaration as authorized by the Prime Minister.

51. Whenever Cabinet is due to discuss any matter that could affect he private interest of some Minister, he should declare his interest and withdraw from the meeting.

52. On his appointment, a Minister should carry out an analysis of his investments and if it appears that there could be a conflict of interest, real or potential, it would be advisable for the Minister to dispose of such investments. Ministers should also be careful not to make investments which could result in a conflict of interest while they hold office.

53. Where Ministers, notwithstanding any action taken on assuming office, are called upon to exercise any power or discretion or other influence which could give rise to an actual or apparent conflict of interest, and they should take no part in the preparation or reaching of any relevant decisions. The Prime Minister should be informed of these arrangements.

54. Ministers should avoid speculative investments about which they have or may be thought to have by virtue of their ministerial office, early or confidential information likely to affect the price of those investments.

55. Ministers should act in the same way with regard to the investments of their spouse if the community of acquests applies and also with regard to those of their minor children.

56. A Minister should not nominate nor support any nomination for a local, foreign or international prize or honour, since any such action might be attributed to the Government as a whole. A Minister may, however, seek the Prime Minister’s assent for such nomination or support.

57. Ministers should be careful not to be associated with organizations the aims of which might conflict with those of the Government. Normally there should not be any objection if the organization is philanthropic but even in such cases, Ministers should take care to ensure that in participating in any fund raising activity, they do not place, or appear to place, themselves under an obligation as Ministers to those to whom appeals are directed (and for this reason they should not normally approach individuals or companies personally for this purpose). In any case of doubt, the Prime Minister should be consulted before a Minister accepts an association with such bodies. Ministers should also exercise care in giving public support for petitions, open letters etc.

58. No Minister should accept gifts or services such as might be deemed to create an obligation, real or imaginary. The same rule applies to the spouse of a Minister and to his minor children. The same rules that apply to gifts from representatives of other Governments are applicable in these cases as well.

59. Ministers occupy a position that makes them more than ordinarily open to undue pressures from persons who would like the Minister to use his position to gain some undue advantage for themselves. Ministers are duty bound to totally and immediately reject any attempt of this kind, but when the attempt is accompanied by the offer of some gift, whatever its value, the Minister should also report this to the Prime Minister without delay.

60. There will be cases in which a Minister will be involved in legal procedures involving both his duties as Minister and also himself as a private person. In such circumstances, the Minister should, before taking other legal advice, consult the Attorney General’s office as to how the matter should be dealt with. Normally, in such cases, the Minister, especially when the Minister is requesting the payment of personal damages as in the case of a libel suit, the services of a personal legal adviser should be used, unless the Attorney General indicates otherwise.

 

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