Standards Commissioner George Hyzler has told MPs that any guidelines on political advertising can never replace common sense as the main guiding principle of a Cabinet member’s behaviour.
“Just because there aren’t any guidelines doesn’t mean principles of common sense shouldn’t be respected,” Hyzler said. “If we all use our common sense, then these problems won’t arise in the first place. There are some grey areas, for example, an advert showing a minister visiting a project, but in the case of [Carmelo Abela] it was blatant self-promotion.”
Hyzler was summoned by Parliament’s Standards Committee to discuss his recent report into how OPM Minister Carmelo Abela had misused €7,000 of public funds on an ad intended for self-promotion.
Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis called for clear guidelines on political advertising, something recently promised by Prime Minister Robert Abela, and asked Hyzler if he agrees.
The Standards Commissioner responded that while he’ll have no problem helping the government draft such guidelines, the code of ethics for ministers already prohibits the use of state resources for partisan interests.
He also warned guidelines can never replace common sense and that it’s impossible for a rulebook to fully dictate how public funds can and can not be spent on political adverts.
“For example, we can say that a minister’s photo shouldn’t take up half a page in a Sunday paper, but then the same photo will fill up a third of a page in a Wednesday paper. I’ll fully support attempts to establish guidelines but they cannot get into the full details.”