Thirteen elections, two electoral systems

 

 

This Sunday morning, the news will be dominated by the counting process at Naxxar. During the night, until approximately 10.00am this morning, all ballot boxes will be opened and a reconciliation of the votes actually cast is made. The actual counting is scheduled to commence at 10am.

Depending on the difference in votes between the large parties, we may have the first forecast of the result within 30 minutes. However, if the difference is minimal, as was the case in 2008, it will take much longer for accurate forecasts to be made:  it may well be in the early afternoon.

In actual fact, we have in play two different electoral systems, running concurrently on the basis of different rules.

The first electoral system is the Single Transferable Vote system, which is applicable in each and every one of the 13 electoral districts. In fact, we speak of general elections, as in reality we have 13 different and independent elections running in parallel in the various electoral districts. The Single Transferable Vote system is exclusively dependent on the electors’ choices in the last count.

The second electoral system will begin when the counting process in all 13 districts has been completed and seeks to introduce a correlation between the accumulated final count result with the accumulated first count in the electoral districts. As is well known, a correction factor is thereafter applied to remove any discrepancies between the first count and the final count and consequently restore proportionality according to the first count.

This correction of discrepancies is, however, carried out in only two circumstances: namely if a political party surpasses the 50 per cent threshold, and also if only two political parties are elected to Parliament.  In more than two political parties are elected, and none of them exceeds the 50 per cent threshold, then the correction of proportionality discrepancies is simply ignored.

The existence of two parallel electoral systems has its roots in gerrymandering carried out, as a result of which electoral boundaries are periodically tweaked to favour one or the other of the major parties. The most notable cases of such gerrymandering having been carried out prior to the 1971 and the 1981 general elections.

The 1971 gerrymandering exercise did not materialise for just five votes while, as we all know, the 1981 one was successful in that it returned a Labour Government with a three-seat majority when it should have returned a PN government with a one seat majority.

The 1987 Constitutional amendments negotiated by Dom Mintoff and Guido de Marco established a simple and rudimentary majority rule principle. This was subsequently tweaked with additional constitutional amendments in 1996 and 2007, as a result of which the applicability of the proportionality rules were extended to apply where there only exists a relative majority of votes at first count stage. 

The Constitutional rules makes one basic assumption: that only two parliamentary political parties exist and in fact the 2007 amendments extended the applicability of the adjustment mechanism to both parties.

The physical counting of votes will be carried out under the watchful eyes of representatives of all political parties and the candidates themselves.

Human error, and maybe more, contributes to a number of mistakes during the counting process. Some are generally identified and corrected immediately. Others pass by un-noticed, nobody being aware of their potential impact. During the 2013 General Elections count – as a result of an obvious lack of attention of the party representatives – two such mistakes cost the PN two Parliamentary seats, only for the Constitutional Court to decide on the matter 44 months later.

Given these mistakes in 2013, in all probability the atmosphere in the counting hall will be more tense than usual, with the PN and PL representatives competing over who has the best scrutinising skills.

To the many predictions that have already been made as to the possible results I will certainly not add mine. One thing is however certain: this Sunday will be a very long day.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday 4 June 2017 

 

Green and Clean: Parliament’s role

The general election is being over-shadowed by a web of corruption spun around the Office of the Prime Minister. It has been unravelling for months since the publication of the Panama Papers.

Months of debate has highlighted the need for Parliament to reclaim the authority which, over the years, it has ceded to government. All institutions require continuous Parliamentary oversight: even the civil service needs to be properly monitored by Parliament.

The PN are proposing labour-proof institutions. In reality the institutions need to be PN-proof as well – as both major political parties have had exclusive control of institutions over the years, bending them to their will.

The current mess is the direct result of a two-party system that spread its tentacles through the institutions creating empires with the specific aim of buttressing those in power and protecting them in their time of need. It is a two-party system which, over a 50-year period, has developed a winner takes all mentality, as a result of which only those aligned to the winner are deemed to be able to contribute to the well-being and development of the country. The rest, with few exceptions, have been repeatedly excluded, and it is Malta which, ultimately has lost the utilisation of substantial talent.

This is the background to Alternattiva Demokratika’s electoral manifesto. Entitled Vote Green – Vote clean, without ignoring other important issues, it focuses on matters of governance in addition to its core environmental proposals.

We have plenty of good laws. The problem is that, many times, the pool of talent from which those who implement such laws are selected is generally limited to those carrying the party card. Successive governments have often preferred the politically loyal to the technically and ethically competent. This has been possible due to the fact that Parliament has abdicated its responsibilities and assigned them to the government.

Parliament should reclaim the authority ceded to government to appoint authorities and it should proceed to screen those nominated through a public hearing by a Parliamentary Committee on the lines practised by the Senate of the United States of America. This screening by Parliament should  be applicable first and foremost to all constitutional authorities, as well as to all authorities set up in terms of law. Likewise, the appointment of Commissioner of Police, the Head of the Armed Forces, the Governor of the Central Bank,  the Head of the Civil Service and ambassadors, as well as all civil service grades from Director up to Permanent Secretary,   should be subject to Parliamentary scrutiny.

In addition to ensuring a more serious selection process, this would serve as a safety valve protecting the civil service itself from abusive action on the part of an incoming government as happened in 2013, when the Head of the Civil Service and practically all Permanent Secretaries were removed in the first minutes of a new Labour government.

The recruitment of people of trust on a large scale during the past 4 years has further politicised the civil service. It is a practice that has been on the increase even before March 2013. The engagement of people of trust throughout the wider public service was used as a stratagem to avoid the scrutiny of the Public Service Commission, a constitutional body established specifically to ensure a fair recruitment process. This should cease forthwith, with the engagement of people of trust being limited to the private secretariats of holders of political office.

The Standards in Public Life Act, which ironically was supported by both the PN and the PL, was approved by Parliament shortly before dissolution. It provisions were therefore not implemented. In particular, the appointment of a Commissioner for Standards in Public Life – to be tasked with investigating the behaviour of MPs – has not yet materialised and will have to be addressed by the new Parliament elected on 3 June.

Lobbying is not yet regulated. In fact, its regulation has been postponed as no agreement was reached between the PN and the PL about possible lobbying regulations.

AD considers that the next Parliament will have to address head-on whether Members of Parliament should be full-timers, thus severing all links with profession and/or employment and, as a result, substantially reducing instances of conflict of interest faced by Members of Parliament.

Parliament can, in the next few weeks, assume a central role in re-building the country’s institutions. It is the only way forward to ensure that ethical behaviour in public life is the norm, rather than the exception.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 21 May 2017

The mess created by Franco Debono

The current controversy as to whether it is appropriate for the Electoral Commission to be the authority overseeing the implementation of the Financing of Political Parties Act was anticipated over three years ago.

As far back as February 2014, Alternattiva Demokratika -the Green Party – in reaction to the White Paper published by the government on the regulation of the financing of political parties, had welcomed the initiative but had also queried the choice of the Electoral Commission as the regulating authority. This position was reiterated by  Alternattiva Demokratika in July 2014 when Minister Owen Bonnici and his advisor Franco Debono presented the finalised Bill.

Alternattiva Demokratika has consistently insisted on the identification of an acceptable alternative to the Electoral Commission as the regulating authority. This alternative was identified when the Parliamentary Select Committee on Standards in Public Life agreed to the setting-up of the post of a Commissioner for Standards in Public Life and on the 24 March 2014 concluded its workings by finalising a Bill for the purpose. This Bill was approved by Parliament on 22 March 2017 and, hopefully, its implementation process will start soon. The Commissioner for Standards in Public Life is to be appointed by – and requires the consent of a two-thirds majority in Parliament. This ensures that the appointee will be acceptable to everyone.

Alternattiva Demokratika’s position was subsequently adopted by the Nationalist Party, which  presented various amendments to the proposed legislation on party financing at the Parliamentary Committee stage. On behalf of Alternattiva Demokratika, I participated actively in this debate, even in the Parliamentary Committee dealing with Bills, and can attest that Government and its advisors consistently opposed the replacement of the Electoral Commission as the regulatory authority of choice.

The author of the basic draft of the Financing of Political Parties Bill, former MP Franco Debono, emphasised that he had modelled his proposal on UK legislation. He refused to consider, at any time, that the basic mechanics that determine the composition of the Maltese Electoral Commission clearly show that his proposal was a non-starter. He even refused to consider that the situation in the UK is completely different, in view of the fact that there is a long-standing tradition of appointing a truly independent Electoral Commission, so much so that very recently the said Commission, after a thorough investigation, fined the Conservative Party the maximum fine permissible at law for proven irregularities in party financial reporting!

In a document published by Alternattiva Demokratika way back in July 2014 to explain its position on the Financing of Political Parties Bill, it was stated that:  “ ……. the manner in which the Electoral Commission is composed, half appointed by Government with the other half appointed by the Opposition (and a Government appointed chairman) places the two parliamentary parties in such a position that they directly control the whole proposed process.”

The fact that the Electoral Commission is a constitutional authority already entrusted with specific duties spelled out in the Constitution is not a valid argument which can in any way justify its selection as the regulatory authority for political party financing. It has to be borne in mind that the only reason why the Electoral Commission carries out its electoral duties adequately is due to the detailed and entrenched legislation which regulates the electoral process, which legislation is so tightly drawn up that it leaves very little, if any, space for political manoeuvring.

The Electoral Commission currently has three complaints on its agenda which point to three infringements of the political party financing legislation. The Labour Party, primarily on the basis of statements by the db Group as well as reports in the press, is insisting that it has proof that the Nationalist Party is circumventing the regulations on political donations by camouflaging them as payment for fake services. The way forward is to have the matter thoroughly investigated. Unfortunately, due to its composition, the Electoral Commission is not and cannot ever be a credible investigating authority.

The PN is thus right to oppose an investigation led by a politically-appointed Electoral Commission and to challenge the matter in Court. Obviously, this may be a convenient way out for the PN, handed to them on a platter by the Labour Government and its advisor Franco Debono.

Alternattiva Demokratika would have preferred it if the law were better drafted without leaving any room for the PN (and possibly Labour too, at a later stage) to wriggle out of its obligations.

This will, however now signify that in these crucial months leading to a general election, the rules regulating party financing will be largely ineffective while the validity of the law is dissected in our Courts of Law.

This is a mess created by Franco Debono who preferred his narcissistic posturing to the identification of reasonable proposals acceptable to all political parties. Whether the government will, at this late stage, seek a reasonable way out is anyone’s guess.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 9 April 2017

Kumpens doppju għaIl-PN

 PN. arma imkisra

 

Huwa tajjeb li l-Qorti Kostituzzjonali, fuq talba tal-Partit Nazzjonalista, eżaminat l-iżbalji fl-għadd tal-voti fl-elezzjoni ġenerali tal-2013. Avolja damet ftit iżżejjed biex waslet għal konklużjoni.

Imma l-PN, wara li ngħata żewġ siġġijiet oħra, issa spiċċa biex ingħata kumpens doppju tal-voti li kiseb fl-elezzjoni ġenerali tal-2013. Għax filwaqt li issa ħa żżewġ siġġijiet ġodda il-PN baqa bl-4 siġġijiet kumpens li kien ħa fl-2013.

Sitwazzjoni li ma nistax ngħidilha farsa, għax tad-daħq mhiex.

Imma ċertament l-anqas ma nista insejħilha ġustizzja, għax hi deċiżjoni inġusta.

Sadanittant, il-PN fil-Gvern dejjem sab diffikulta biex jaċċetta li anke Alternattiva Demokratika għandha dritt għal rappresentanza proporzjonali. Għax il-5000 vot u fuqhom li kellha Alternattiva Demokratika fl-elezzjoni tal-2013 bla dubju kellhom jissarfu f’rappresentanza ferm iktar mill-pakkett ta’ 50 vot ta’ Claudette Buttigieg!

Is-siġġijiet tal-PN u l-proporzjonalitá

constitution-article-521

Il-Qorti Kostituzzjonali tat deċiżjoni dwar l-ilment kostituzzjonali tal-PN u iddeċidiet illi l-PN għandu jingħata żewġ siġġijiet addizzjonali fil-Parlament. Din hi d-deċiżjoni finali tal-Qrati Maltin dwar il-każ, u allura issa ser tkun implimentata.

Hi deċiżjoni li jixirqiha kull rispett, imma dan ir-rispett ma jfissirx li hi deċiżjoni tajba, għax fil-fatt hi deċiżjoni żbaljata. Għax ma kellhomx jiżdiedu s-siġġijiet, imma kellhom jitnaqqsu! Il-calculator tal-Prim Imħallef ħa żball. Kulħadd jista jiżbalja, mhux hekk?

Ovvjament il-Partit Nazzjonalista bħalissa qiegħed jippontifika dwar il-proporzjonalitá bejn voti miksuba u siġġijiet mirbuħa fil-Parlament. Peró l-proporzjonalitá li jemmen fiha l-PN hi dik bejn il-PN u l-Labour. Din wasslet biex għal żball ta’ ħamsin vot il-PN jippretendi żewġ siġġijiet Parlamentari, imma fl-istess ħin il-5506 vot fl-ewwel għadd ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika fl-aħħar elezzjoni ġenerali huma injorati.

Sewwa, 50 vot, skond il-PN, jixirqilhom rappresentanza imma 5506 vot għandhom ikunu injorati.

Ser ikun hemm min iwieġibni u jgħidli: jekk Alternattiva Demokratika jidhriha xi ħaġa messha tmur il-Qorti hi ukoll. It-tweġiba tiegħi hi waħda ċara: Alternattiva Demokratika diġá għandha parir legali li meta l-Kostituzzjoni ta’ Malta tipprovdi għal proporzjonalitá unikament għal żewġ partiti u tinjora lil bqija din qegħda tiddiskrimina.

Nafu li għandna raġun.

Il-problema hi biss li l-establishment jaħsibha mod ieħor. Meta jidhrilna li jkun il-mument opportun, nieħdu l-passi neċessarji.

Bejn Owen Bonnici u Franco Debono

owen bonnici + franco debono

Dawn l-aħħar ġranet, Franco Debono ta bosta pariri lil Owen Bonnici fuq il-medja soċjali. Ma nafx x’ma qallux.

Wara li Owen ħa żball madornali u ta parir lill-Kabinet dwar il-ħatra ta’ maġistrati li kull min jifhem qed jgħid li ma setgħux jinħatru, naħseb li Franco għandu biċċa xogħol mhux żgħira.

Għax Franco Debono dan l-aħħar kien qed iħambaq dwar il-ħtieġa li jkun hemm għarfien aħjar tal-Kostituzzjoni. Forsi jkun utli għal Franco li jfiehem ftit lil Owen dwar dawk il-partijiet tal-Kostituzzjoni li jitkellmu fuq il-ħatra tal-maġistrati, għax jidher li Owen fehmhom ħażin!

Min tafu, ssaqsix għalih

Malta Parliament

 

Marlene Farrugia m’hiex l-ewwel membru parlamentari li ma baqgħetx tappoġġa lill-partit li ġiet eletta miegħu u f’ismu.

Kellna diversi membri parlamentari oħra, li, fil-passat għamlu l-istess għal diversi raġunijiet.  Ħa nsemmi żewġ eżempji.

Kurunat Attard (missier Ġovanna Debono) fl-1962 kien wieħed mill-4 membri parlamentari li eleġġa l-Partit  Demokratiku Nazzjonalista ta’ Herbert Ganado. Fl-ewwel seduta tal-parlament wara l-elezzjoni ġenerali tal-1962,  irriżenja mill-partit ta’ Ganado u issieħeb mal-Partit Nazzjonalista. Bis-siġġu tiegħu, il-PN, dakinnhar fil-Gvern, kellu maġġoranza parlamentari ta’ 26 minn 50. Mingħajru ma kellux. Is-siġġu ta’ Kurunat Attard, il-Partit Nazzjonalista dakinnhar żammu.

Alfred Baldacchino kien daħal fil-Parlament mal-Partit Nazzjonalista fl-1973 b’bye-election wara l-mewt ta’ Tommy Caruana Demajo. Ftit wara, qasam il-Kamra. Il-Partit Laburista fil-Gvern, dakinnhar kellu bżonn il-vot tiegħu għax mingħajru ma kienx hemm is-saħħa numerika biex tkun emendata l-Kostituzzjoni fl-1974. Is-siġġu ta’ Alfred Baldacchino, dakinnhar,  il-Partit Laburista żammu ukoll.

Dan apparti l-kaz ta’ Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando, li hu wieħed riċenti.

Marlene Farrugia, li qalet li ser tibqa’ indipendenti, rriżenjat minħabba l-posizzjoni li qed jieħu l-Partit Laburista dwar l-ambjent.

Sadanittant, il-PN, bid-dmugħ tal-kukkudrilli, qiegħed jipprova jikkonvinċi li hu biss jista’ jsalva lill-Malta mill-qerda ambjentali.  Kull min hu moħħu f’postu jaf li tal-PN qed jippruvaw jgħaddu n-nies biż-żmien, għax fis-siegħa tal-prova l-PN fil-Gvern mexa mod ieħor.

Nafu li Marlene, fuq punt ta’ prinċipju ivvutat favur l-emendi tal-Opposizzjoni. Għamlet sewwa. Dwar xi ħsibijiet iktar għandha, ma nafx. L-anqas ma naf safejn hi lesta li tafda.

Jiena, da parti tiegħi, lil min nafu m’għandix għalfejn nistaqsi għalih.

Wanted: an impartial regulator for political party financing

Financing of Political Parties Act

Earlier this week, Parliament’s Standing Committee for the Consideration of Bills concluded its detailed discussion on the Bill regarding the financing of political parties. I was invited by the Committee to participate in the discussion in representation of Alternattiva Demokratika.

The Bill was improved as a result of the discussion. Around 34 clauses of the Bill were, in fact, amended, most amendments receiving unanimous consent.

However Alternattiva Demokratika’s major objection to the Bill was not addressed. When the White Paper on the regulation of the financing of political parties was published with government’s initial proposals, AD was already making the point that the choice of the Electoral Commission as the regulator was not a suitable option.

This lack of suitability clearly results from the very composition of the Electoral Commission. It is composed of nine people, four of whom are nominated by the Prime Minister, a further four are nominated by the Leader of the Opposition and the ninth person is the chairman of the Commission, who occupies that post in virtue of his having been appointed by the Prime Minister as head of The Electoral Office.

How can nominees of the parliamentary political parties regulate impartially the very parties nominating them as well as other political parties? Over the years, the Electoral Commission had the responsibility of receiving and vetting the returns submitted by candidates for elections (local, national and European) in which returns the candidates should have listed the donations they have received as well as their electoral expenditure. A cursory look at the newspapers published during past election campaigns would immediately provide ample proof that a number of such returns were – without any doubt – false declarations. Over-spending and undeclared financing was rampant, yet the Electoral Commission never took any action. Had it done so, I think that quite a number of our Members of Parliament in past legislatures or MEPs would have been unseated.

Yet the Hon. Minister Owen Bonnici keeps defending the government’s political choice of selecting the Electoral Commission as the regulator. In the government’s defence, he stated that the Electoral Commission is a constitutional body entrusted with the conduct of elections which, he said, it has carried out to the satisfaction of everyone.

Minister Owen Bonnici is incorrect. The Electoral Commission, in conducting elections, does not have any elbow room. Its discretion is substantially limited by electoral legislation which is very tight and precise. And whenever the Electoral Commission had any practical room for manoeuvre it made a mess of it.  In simple words, the Electoral Commission is constructed on partisan foundations. There are historical reasons for this but it is a basic truth which cannot be camouflaged.

While the Electoral Commission’s hands are generally tied up where electoral legislation is concerned, it is a different kettle of fish when dealing with the regulation of political parties and their financing. There will be issues and submissions that require interpretation and an eventual decision.

Already, way back in February 2014, Alternattiva Demokratika had proposed an alternative regulatory authority in the person of the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life, a post resulting from a Bill which was proposed by a Parliamentary Select Committee led by Mr Speaker Anġlu Farrugia. This Select Committee concluded its work and presented its final report on 24 March 2014, almost 16 months ago. For those who seek to act in good faith there was ample time for considering the proposals made. Yet the proposed Bill is still pending on the Parliamentary agenda.

In the Bill [Standards in Public Life Bill] the Select Committee proposed that the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life should be appointed, subject to obtaining the support of two-thirds of Members of Parliament. The election of the Commissioner would thus be on a par with that of the Ombudsman: the requirement that the support of two-thirds of Parliament has to be achieved would ensure that the selected person would, irrespective of his/her views be acceptable to a very wide-cross section of society.

This is the way forward initially proposed by Alternattiva Demokratika, but supported at a later stage by the PN.

The government never spoke against the AD proposal but only stated that it preferred the Electoral Commission as the regulatory authority as it was in a hurry. Minister Owen Bonnici said many a time that the GRECO (Council of Europe – Group of States Against Corruption) was breathing down his neck and as a result he had no time to spare for institution building!

This law will most probably be applied with effect from 1st January 2016. It is generally designed on the basis of a one-size-fits-all template that does not distinguish between political parties having a turnover measured in millions of euros and others which handle just a few thousands of euros per annum.

Political parties will be required to present annual audited accounts to the regulator, which will be published. They will also be required to submit a report on donations received over a calendar year. In addition, they will be required to publish the names of those donating in excess of €7,000 in a calendar year up to the permissible maximum of €25,000.

Alternattiva Demokratika will be examining the law in detail and taking legal advice before deciding whether to initiate legal action contesting the selection of the Electoral Commission as the regulator. The proposed law is generally a step in the right direction but, unfortunately, is tainted by the lack of identification of an appropriate regulator. It is indeed a pity that, when taking such a bold step forward, the government preferred the partisan path. In so doing it has diluted the efforts of all those who have worked hard in previous years to achieve this goal.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 19 July 2015

Trying to squeeze out the small political parties?

Financing of Political Parties ActStandards in Public Life Bill

 

Legislation regulating the financing of political parties in Malta is long overdue. Alternattiva Demokratika has been harping on about this subject since its foundation in 1989 and has referred  to it in all the general election campaigns since.

Former MP Franco Debono has been a driving force over the last few years in ensuring that the financing of political parties has been an item retained on the national agenda.

The Parliamentary Committee for the consideration of Bills is currently examining the Financing of Political Parties Bill in detail. On behalf of Alternattiva Demokratika, I had the opportunity to be present at a number of sittings and also participated in the ensuing discussion after being invited to do so by the Parliamentary Committee.

While the general thrust of the Bill is reasonable, it contains three basic mistakes which, if unchecked, will impact the whole regulatory process. The first is over-regulation. The second is the retention of absolute control directly in the hands of representatives of the Parliamentary political parties which, in turn, leads to the third fault- this being a one-size-fits-all template.

I will take each in turn.

The over-regulating aspect of the Bill has been watered down, as  Minister Owen Bonnici was very flexible when faced with this criticism. He accepted various amendments to the Bill, scaling down  various  provisions relating to the proposed regulation of political parties.

The government is proposing that the regulating authority on party political financing should be the Electoral Commission. It attempts to justify its stance by pointing out  that the General Elections Act already assigns responsibility to the Electoral Commission to receive, and where necessary vet, the expenses made and donations received by candidates in general, local and European elections in Malta. However, Minister Owen Bonnici, who is piloting the Bill,  was not in a position to explain why the Electoral Commission had never taken any action when faced with a blatant disregard for the rules by candidates in past elections.

The alternative proposal, initially piloted by Alternattiva Demokratika but subsequently also taken up by the PN Opposition, would see the regulatory authority on political party financing vested in the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life. This Commissioner would be a  Parliamentary Official, to be elected subject to the support of two-thirds of Members of Parliament when the Standards in Public Life Bill, currently pending on Parliament’s agenda, is approved. Enjoying the support of two-thirds of MPs would signify that the person selected would enjoy widespread support and consequently his or her moral authority would be substantial and effective.

During the discussion Minister Owen Bonnici declared that the Council of Europe’s GRECO (Group of States Against Corruption) was  breathing down his neck  and consequently the government could not afford to await alternative institution building.

A major stumbling block is the composition of the Electoral Commission itself. This is determined in the Constitution, with four of its members being nominated by the Prime Minister and  another four members  being nominated by the Leader of the Opposition. The chairman of the Electoral Commission is always a civil servant nominated by the Prime Minister. This signifies that the parliamentary political parties, through their absolute control of the Electoral Commission, end up regulating themselves through their nominees. But what is even worse is the fact that they also control the regulatory process for all other political parties which may consider registering.

It seems that this rigid control of the regulatory process by the parliamentary political parties is not enough.  To be sure of tightening even further the resulting control, the Financing of Political Parties Bill also adopts a one-size fits-all template. It does this by ignoring reality and makes no distinction between the political parties having seven-digit turnover and the rest. Nor does it distinguish between the political parties run by full-time professionals paid for their services, at least in part through funds arising from donations, and political parties run by volunteers with an annual turnover averaging €10,000. The one-size-fits-all approach is, however, not extended to state financing. For the past 20 years, both the Nationalist Party and the Labour Party parliamentary groups have been receiving €100,000 in public funds annually.

The proposed  rigid reporting and auditing requirements that may be reasonable for political parties with seven-digit budgets are certainly quite unreasonable for a political party such as Alternattiva Demokratika, run by volunteers on a shoestring budget which averages €10,000 annually.

The limited administrative capacity of small parties is not factored in the Bill under consideration.

The end result may well be that there will be considerable administrative difficulties for political parties not presently in parliament to register as political parties once the Bill under discussion becomes law. (It has to be borne in mind that only political parties registered in terms of an eventual   Financing of Political Parties Act will be able to present candidates in all elections in Malta. All other candidates will be considered as independent candidates and grouped together at the lower part of the ballot paper.)

Mixed messages have come through during the debate on this Bill. Unfortunately, however, the message at these final stages is that there is also a clear but undeclared objective of the Financing of Political Parties Bill– to squeeze out the small political parties.

In the coming months we will see whether this undeclared objective can be overcome.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday, 5 July 2015

 

 

Is the abrogative referendum under threat ?

article 14. Referenda Act

 

Until Alternattiva Demokratika announced the abrogative referendum campaign  on spring hunting almost two years ago, few Maltese citizens were aware that they had such a right.  Now that this right has been used for the first time since it has been placed on the statute book, it is apparently under threat.

The hunters’ lobby is now aiming at curtailing the right to an abrogative referendum. The hunters maintain that when the Referenda Act was applied in trying to abrogate the regulations permitting spring hunting it was aiming at their rights – “minority rights” they said.

Hunters had presented these same arguments though their representatives for the consideration of the Constitutional Court, which shot them down last January. In fact the Constitutional Court in paragraphs 51 to 54 of its 24-page decision, considers this very point. The hunters, said the Constitutional Court, claim that their rights are minority rights. However no potential breach of a provision of the Constitution of Malta or of the European Convention of Human Rights have been indicated in their submissions. The Constitutional Court goes on to say the following :

“It is right to emphasise that in implementing majority rule the rights of the minority should be respected. However this respect is not attained, as suggested by the Federation [FKNK] by obstructing people from expressing themselves through a referendum.”  [Tassew illi d-dritt tal-maġġoranza għandu jitwettaq b’rispett lejn id-dritt tal-minoranza, iżda dan ir-rispett ma jinkisibx billi, kif trid il-Federazzjoni, il-poplu ma jitħalliex isemma’ leħnu f’referendum.]

This same argument  was also the subject of a petition to Parliament organised by the hunters’ lobby and presented in Parliament by Parliamentary Secretary Michael Falzon some months ago.  In recent days, comments have been made indicating that shortly we may be hearing of the government’s reactions to this petition. These reactions will most probably be in the form of proposals for amendments to the Referenda Act of 1973, in particular amendments to the provisions regulating the holding of an abrogative referendum – provisions which were originally approved by Parliament in 1996 and brought in force in 1998.

The provisions of  the Referenda Act in Malta providing for the holding of an abrogative referendum are already very restrictive.  From what has been stated, hunters want such provisions to be even more restrictive.  In this sense they have already made public a proposal that a definite time window within which signatures for an abrogative referendum have to be collected has to be established.  In Italian legislation, for example, there exists a 90-day window within which the collection of signatures has to be carried out. Such a time window may be a reasonable proposal within the Italian legal system, but then in Italy the number of voter signatures required to trigger the abrogative referendum process is proportionately much lower than that required in Malta.

The number of signatures required to kick-start the abrogative referendum process in Malta is 10 per cent of the registered voters. This currently stands at slightly under 34,000 signatures. In Italy, by contrast, half-a-million signatures – or the consent of five regional councils – is required. The number  of signatures required in Italy amount to approximately one per cent of the electorate, meaning that the corresponding requirement in Malta is ten times as much!

I will not speculate over how the government will seek to translate the hunters’ petition into legislation. I have limited myself to one specific proposal.

It is still unclear as to what type of amendments to the Referenda Act will be submitted by government. One thing is, however, very clear:  we need to keep our eyes wide open to ensure that our rights are not reduced.

The abrogative referendum is an important tool in our democratic society, even though it has been made use of only once in its 19-year existence.  Let us hope that government will not succumb to pressures to have it diluted or removed.

published in The Malta Indpendent on Sunday : 19 April 2015