Gambetti lill-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali

Il-Ministru tal-Ġustizzja Edward Zammit Lewis, kien ewforiku dwar il-bidliet kostituzzjonali li ftehmu dwarhom il-Partit Nazzjonalista u l-Gvern Laburista. “Ftehim storiku” qal.

Ikun opportun li ninnutaw li dan il-ftehim bejn Gvern u Opposizzjoni sar bil-bibien magħluqin. Għal darb’oħra ma kienx hemm konsultazzjoni pubblika. Il-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali, presentement fil-limbu, ngħatat gambetta oħra.  Kif ġie emfasizzat iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa minn Pieter Omtzigt, rapporteur Olandiż tal-Kunsill tal-Ewropa dwar  Malta u s-saltna tad-dritt, il-bidliet ta’ din ix-xorta għandhom isiru bis-serjeta.

Filwaqt li l-partiti fil-Parlament kontinwament jitkellmu favur il-ħtieġa tal-konvenzjoni kostituzzjonali, b’għemilhom jimminawha kontinwament.  Tal-PLPN jidher li jemmnu li għandhom xi dritt divin li jiddettaw it-tibdil meħtieġ għall-kostituzzjoni. B’għemilhom kontinwament jagħtu l-ġemb lill-konsultazzjoni pubblika.  Il-Kostituzzjoni, imma, mhiex tagħhom biss, iżda hi tagħna lkoll. Il-Parlament għaldaqstant m’għandu l-ebda dritt li jimponi riformi kostituzzjonali mingħajr konsultazzjoni pubblika adegwata.

Il-qbil li, fil-futur, il-President tar-Repubblika jkun elett b’appoġġ li ma jkunx inqas minn żewġ terzi tal-Membri tal-Parlament hu pass il-quddiem mis-sitwazzjoni attwali. Imma jikkuntrasta ma’ proposta ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika li ilha li ġiet ippreżentata lill-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali  li biha l-Kunsilli Lokali, flimkien mal-Membri Parlamentari jkunu involuti direttament fil-ħatra tal-Kap tal-Istat.  Meta l-PLPN iddeċidew dwar din il-proposta kif ukoll dwar emendi oħra, bejniethom, bil-bibien magħluqin, kienu għal darb’oħra qed jagħtu bis-sieq lill-konsultazzjoni pubblika.  Il-ħatra tal-Kap tal-Istat m’għandhiex tibqa’ l-prerogativa tal-Parlament: ir-rapprezentanza demokratika fil-lokalitajiet ukoll għandha tkun involuta attivament f’din l-għażla.

Apparti li hemm bżonn mod aħjar milli għandna illum kif nagħżlu l-Kap tal-Istat wasal iż-żmien li nikkunsidraw jekk il-President tar-Repubblika għandux ikollu l-possibilità  li jirrifjuta li jiffirma liġi jekk ikun tal-fehma li din tmur kontra l-Kostituzzjoni. Anke dwar dan Alternattiva Demokratika ipproponiet lill-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali li l-President għandu jkollu din ir-responsabbiltà li meta liġi jqisha li tmur kontra l-Kostituzzjoni jibgħatha lura lill-Parlament biex dan jikkunsidraha mill-ġdid.  Permezz tal-ġurament tal-ħatra l-President tar-Repubblika jwiegħed li jħares il-Kostituzzjoni, iżda mbagħad ma jingħata l-ebda għodda kostituzzjonali biex ikun jista’ jwettaq dan l-obbligu. L-awtorità morali tal-Kap tal-Istat mhiex biżżejjed biex jissavagwardja l-Kostituzzjoni meta l-Parlament ikun jidhrilu li jista’ jiġi jaqa’ u jqum minn kollox u minn kulħadd.

Mezzi oħra tal-media presentement qed jiffukaw fuq ir-rwol tal-istazzjonijiet tat-televiżjoni u r-radju tal-partiti politiċi. Anke dwar dan, repetutament, Alternattiva Demokratika emfasizzajna li f’demorkazija moderna dan ma jagħmilx sens, għalkemm dejjem irridu nżommu quddiem għajnejna ċ-ċirkustanzi li minħabba fihom il-partit laburista u l-partit nazzjonalista għandhom dawn il-mezzi.  Alternattiva Demokratika ipproponiet lill-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali li l-istazzjonijiet tal-partiti politiċi għandhom jingħalqu u dan f’kuntest ta’ riforma mill-qiegħ tax-xandir fil-pajjiż. Il-PLPN għandhom kull interess li dibattitu bħal dan jostakolawh għax inkella jispiċċaw jitilfu l-kontroll li għandhom fuq ix-Xandir.

Il-proposti pendenti quddiem il-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali huma bosta.

Bi qbil bejn il-PLPN, il-President tar-Repubblika intalab li jikkoordina l-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali. Dan qed isir bl-assistenza ta’ kumitat magħmul minn rappresentanti tal-PLPN, tlieta minn kull naħa. Dan ilu għaddej is-snin, sa minn qabel ma nħatar il-President tar-Repubblika attwali.  S’issa, imma, jekk sar xi progress m’aħniex infurmati bih! Għax jidher li s-segretezza, sfortunatament, invadiet il-Palazz Presidenzjali ukoll.

Flok ma joqgħodu jilgħabu bil-Kostituzzjoni kull tant żmien, ikun ferm aħjar jekk induruha dawra sew flimkien u dan wara konsultazzjonI pubblika. Ir-riformi li jinħmew wara l-bibien magħluqin, il-metodu operattiv preferut tal-PLPN mhuwiex aċċettabbli.

ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 9 t’Awwissu 2020

Undermining the Constitutional Convention

Edward Zammit Lewis, Justice Minister, has been euphoric on the constitutional changes agreed between the Labour government and the Nationalist Party. He describes it as a historic agreement.

It is however pertinent to point out that the agreed changes have been arrived at between Government and the Opposition behind closed doors. Once more public consultation has been discarded. The Constitutional Convention, currently in limbo, has been once more undermined. As emphasised earlier this week by Pieter Omtzigt, Dutch rapporteur of the Council of Europe on Malta and the rule of law: paper reforms are not enough.

In contrast to their public statements on the need for a constitutional convention, the parliamentary parties are continuously doing their utmost to undermine it. They seem to believe that they have some divine right to dictate the required improvements to the constitution. In so doing they continuously short-circuit public consultation. The Constitution belongs to all of us. Parliament has no right to impose constitutional changes without adequate public consultation.

The agreement relative to the election of future Heads of State by a two-thirds parliamentary majority, for example, while being an improvement on the present state of affairs, contrasts sharply with a Green proposal submitted to the Constitutional Convention, which proposal would require that local councils should be directly involved together with members of parliament in the process to elect a Head of State.

By deciding on the change behind closed doors the PNPL in Parliament have effectively short-circuited the public debate on this proposal. The election of the Head of State should not remain the prerogative of Parliament. Democratic representatives at a local level should be actively involved in this selection too.

In addition to improving the method of selection of the Head of State it is about time that we consider whether the incumbent should have the authority to refuse to sign legislation approved by Parliament which, in his/her opinion, is anti-Constitutional.

Greens have proposed to the Constitutional Convention that the Head of State should have the authority to send back to Parliament, for its reconsideration, any legislation which he/she considers to be in conflict with the Constitution. The Head of State, in terms of the constitutional oath of office, is bound to defend the constitution yet no constitutional tool is provided in order that this defence can be carried out. The Head of State’s moral authority is not enough to defend the Constitution whenever Parliament feels that it should ignore its provisions.

Other sections of the media are currently highlighting the role of political TV and radio stations. Maltese Greens have time and again drawn attention to the fact that the political media is a misfit in a modern democracy. Even in this respect a Green submission to the Constitutional Convention advocates the dismantling of the political stations within the framework of a radical broadcasting reform. PNPL have an interest in procrastinating a debate which could lead to their being cut down to size and losing control of the broadcasting waves.

Where do we go from here? The proposals pending at the secretariat of the Constitutional Convention are many.

As a result of a PNPL agreement, the President of the Republic has been appointed to lead the Constitutional Convention. The Head of State is presumably coordinating the input received with the assistance of a committee made up of PLPN representatives. This exercise has been going on for ages, since well before the current President was appointed.  Whatever progress has been possibly achieved is not known as everything, so far, is being done behind closed doors. Unnecessary secrecy has also invaded and taken control of the Presidential Palace!

It is about time that instead of having piecemeal adjustments to the Constitution, this is given a complete overhaul after adequate public consultation.  Paper reform behind closed doors, the preferred method of operation of the PNPL is definitely not acceptable.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 9 August 2020

Il-governanza tajba tinbena fuq it-transparenza

It-transparenza hi l-pedament essenzjali għal governanza tajba. B’kuntrast ma dan, il-governanza ħażina, ġeneralment, tkun akkumpanjata mis-segretezza u dan billi jinżamm jew ikun ostakolat l-aċċess għal informazzjoni ta’ kull xorta, liema informazzjoni għandha tkun pubblika.

Il-ħmieġ assoċjat mal-Panama Papers sirna nafu bih fil-mument li nkixfet l-informazzjoni dwar dawk li fittxew l-irkejjen tad-dinja fejn hi inkoraġġita s-segretezza: irkejjen fejn jinħbew il-flus ġejjin mill-korruzzjoni u mill-evażjoni tat-taxxi. Bl-istess mod l-iskandlu tal-Vitals dwar l-isptarijiet kif ukoll it-taħwid kollu assoċjat mal-power station ma kienux iseħħu kieku l-Partit Laburista fil-gvern għażel it-trasparenza flok is-segretezza bħala għodda essenzjali għat-tmexxija. Segretezza li kultant twaħħxek.

Il-kontabilità li tant niftaħru biha, wara kollox, hi dwar ir-responsabbiltà. Tfisser l-għarfien tar-responsabbiltà għal dak li nagħmlu. Dan ma jistax iseħħ jekk ma ssaltanx it-trasparenza, dejjem, u mhux biss meta jaqbel.

Il-ġimgħa l-oħra, l-Kamra tal-Kummerċ ippubblikat dokument bil-ħsibijiet tagħha dwar il-ħtieġa li tkun inkoraġġita u msaħħa l-governanza tajba. Kien f’loku li l-Kamra tal-Kummerċ emfasizzat li l-governanza tajba hi msejsa fuq it-trasparenza, l-kontabilità u s-saltna tad-dritt.

Spiss jingħad li l-informazzjoni hi poter. It-transparenza hi dwar dan il-fatt: li jkun assigurat li l-poter jinfirex. Għax hu biss meta jkollna għarfien ta’ dak li qed jiġri li nkunu nistgħu neżerċitaw id-dritt bażiku tagħna bħala ċittadini li neżiġu illi kull min jiddeċiedi, u allura jeżerċita l-poter, jagħti kont ta’ egħmilu, dejjem.

Il-politiċi mhumiex l-uniċi li jieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet. Dawn jinkludu liċ-ċivil u lil dawk li jmexxu l-awtoritajiet u l-istituzzjonijiet imwaqqfa biex jiffaċilitaw l-amministrazzjoni tal-istat fit-twettieq tal-funzjonijiet u d-dmirijiet tiegħu.

It-trasparenza teħtieġ li tinfirex anke fid-dinja tal-kummerċ. Spiss nisimgħu lil min jemfasizza li l-politika m’għandiex tindaħal fis-settur privat, fid-dinja tan-negozju. Għal uħud għadu mhuwiex ovvju li anke s-settur privat, u in-partikolari id-dinja tan-negozju, għandu joqgħod lura milli “jindaħal” fil-politika. Fost affarijiet oħra dan ifisser il-ħtieġa li jkun regolat il-lobbying. Dan ma jsirx billi il-lobbying ikun ipprojibit imma billi kull attività ta’ lobbying tkun transparenti. Għax jekk il-lobbying isir sewwa jista’ ikollu impatt posittiv fuq it-tfassil tad-deċiżjonijiet. Hi is-segretezza li tagħti fama ħażina lill-lobbying, segretezza intenzjonata biex ixxaqleb id-deċiżjonijiet lejn interessi kummerċjali u fl-istess ħin biex tostor it-taħwid.

Huwa f’dan id-dawl li l-inizjattiva tal- Ministru l-ġdid għall-Ambjent Aaron Farrugia li jżomm lista tal-laqgħat kollha tiegħu ma’ dawk li jfittxu li jiltaqgħu miegħu, inkluż mal-utenti, u li jippubblika din l-informazzjoni fil-forma ta’ reġistru ta’ trasparenza hi pass kbir ‘il quddiem. Din l-inizjattiva hi f’waqtha u hi ta’ eżempju lill-politiċi oħrajn biex huma ukoll jipprattikaw it-transparenza. Dan imma għandu jkun biss l-ewwel pass li jeħtieġ li jkun segwit bil-pubblikazzjoni ta’ proposti u dokumenti li l-Ministru jirċievi waqt dawn il-laqgħat, kif ukoll il-minuti tal-laqgħat li jkunu saru.

Hu magħruf li l-Kummissarju dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika qed iħejji biex jippubblika abbozz ta’ proposti dwar ir-regolamentazzjoni tal-lobbying biex eventwalment tkun tista’ issir konsultazzjoni pubblika dwarhom. Nittama li dan iwassal għal sitwazzjoni fejn f’dan il-qasam Aaron Farrugia ma jibqax l-eċċezzjoni. Il-bqija tal-membri tal-Kabinett m’għandhomx jibqagħlhom għażla. Għandhom ikunu kostretti li huma wkoll jaġixxu biex it-transparenza fil-ħidma politika tkun ir-regola u mhux l-eċċezzjoni.

Għax huwa biss meta it-transparenza jkollha egħruq fondi u b’saħħithom li nistgħu nibdew intejbu d-demokrazija tagħna billi neliminaw id-difetti li tħallew jakkumulaw tul is-snin.

 

ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 26 ta’ Jannar 2020

Good governance is founded on transparency

Transparency is the indispensable foundation of good governance. In contrast, bad governance is generally wrapped in secrecy through the withholding of information which should be in the public domain.

The Panama Papers saga saw the light of day when information on those seeking secretive jurisdictions was made public. These locations are sought to hide  the fruits of corruption or tax evasion from public scrutiny. Similarly, the Vitals hospital scandal, as well as the power station scandal, with all their ramifications, would undoubtedly not have occurred if the Labour Party in government had embraced transparency instead of entrenching secrecy as its basic operational rule.

Transparency is a basic characteristic of good governance whereas secrecy is the distinguishing mark of bad governance, inevitably leading to unethical behaviour and corruption.

Without transparency, accountability is a dead letter; devoid of any meaning. A lack of transparency transforms our democracy into a defective process, as basic and essential information required to form an opinion on what’s going on is missing. After all, accountability is about responsibility: it signifies the acknowledgement and assumption of responsibility for our actions. This cannot be achieved unless and until transparency reigns supreme.

Last week, the Chamber of Commerce published its views on the need to reinforce good governance. Pertinently it emphasised that good governance is founded on transparency, accountability and the rule of law.

It is said that knowledge (and information) is power. This is what transparency is all about: ensuring that power is shared by all as it is only when we are aware as to what is going on that we can exercise our basic right as citizens: holding decision-takers to account. Being in possession of information gives each and every one of us the power to act and exercise our civic rights.

Holders of political office are not the only decision-takers. Decision-takers include the civil service as well as those running authorities and institutions established to facilitate the administration of the state in carrying out its functions and duties.

Even business leaders should be transparent in their actions and decision-taking. Many a time we have heard the expression “we should take politics out of business”, signifying that politics should not interfere in the private sector.

To some it is less obvious that the reverse of that is just as important, meaning that we should also “take business out of politics”. Among other things, this signifies that we should regulate lobbying. This is not done by prohibiting lobbying but by focusing the spotlight of transparency on all lobbying activity. If lobbying is done properly, it could have a beneficial impact on policy making. It is secrecy that gives lobbying a bad reputation: a secrecy intended to derail decisions in a manner beneficial to the different lobby groups as well as to facilitate and shroud underhand deals.

In this respect the initiative of the newly appointed Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia to log all of his meetings with lobbyists and stakeholders and to publish a Transparency Register is a welcome step in laying solid foundations for the practice of transparency by holders of political office. It is, however, only a first step and must be eventually followed by the publication in real time of proposals received as well as the minutes of meetings held.

It is known that the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life will shortly be publishing proposals for the regulating of lobbying. Hopefully, this should lead to a situation where Aaron Farrugia would not be an exception. Others will be compelled to not only follow in his footsteps but to proceed much further in entrenching transparency in the working methods of holders of political office.

A deep-rooted commitment to transparency is the only way by which we can start repairing our defective democracy.

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 26 January 2020