GUEST POST: Farrugia & Co. has no place in parliament

Published: April 2, 2013 at 10:56pm

Marlene Farrugia

Godfrey Farrugia

The total behavioural and visual absurdity of the joint press conference given by the Health Minister, Godfrey Farrugia, and his partner, the Labour MP Marlene Farrugia, on the subject of the latter’s involvement in the former’s remit, should have stunned any right-thinking person.

But perhaps the extent of the absurdity has obscured what is so fundamentally wrong with it. For behind this couple’s bizarre body language (and their stilted reference to each other as ‘Onorevoli Ministru’ and ‘Doctor Marlene’, which made the whole thing sound like the preamble to a Benny Hill naughty sketch) is an even more bizarre violation of institutional correctness of the highest order.

In typically Labour fashion, Marlene Farrugia’s ‘appointment’ runs roughshod over a crucial element at the heart of the Westminster model, that is the distinction between parliament and government.

Quite simply, the government is made up only of those members of parliament chosen by the prime minister to run it. All the remaining MPs are there to openly scrutinise, support or oppose government as they see fit. What they cannot do is run it.

This distinction is not some quaint English nicety that should be engulfed by the rough waves of our Mediterranean polity. It serves a very good purpose: since parliament is above government, the two cannot be the same.

Incidentally, as the name suggests, parliamentary assistants, like the ones appointed by the previous government, had a parliamentary, not a governmental remit. And, of course, parliamentary secretaries are part of government. So neither of these posts are an issue.

On the contrary, the questions that Marlene Farrugia’s appointment raise start flying off in all directions. Is she part of the government or isn’t she? Under what auspices does parliament scrutinise her words and deeds – as an MP or as a government member?

If a constituent approaches her with a health issue, would she act directly by using her governmental office or would she go through ‘her’ minister, the one she happens to share a bed with?

Which laws and procedures define her political responsibilities, and therefore accountability, to parliament?

This appointment has given birth to a new, dangerously nebulous, creature which lurks on the terra incognita between government and parliament. And the danger lies precisely in its nebulousness. Our parliament is not designed to be a market in which Farrugia & Co. peddle their political wares.

Now it turns out that that this might not be a one-off affair. Another Labour MP, Tony Agius Decelis, has just been appointed ‘consultant’ for the elderly and will be based at the St Vincent de Paul Home. One would expect that there are other Labour MPs who expect to be given a similar appointment. Government benches might soon very well be so in every sense.

Had this happened in the UK, Italy or Germany, all media hell would have broken loose. But this is post-election Malta. The politically somnambulous – the massive u iva mhux xorta brigade – don’t see what the fuss is all about, staunch Labourites welcome it with glee, sharp switchers nervously turn a blind eye and PN voters are still on a search party for their party.

Yet this is not a minor issue and should not be treated as one. Any infringement on our parliament is worrying, let alone one which calls into question its very raison d’etre, its distinction from government. You have been warned.