Ethical pluralism: the next steps

Malta’s divorce referendum in 2011 has reinforced ethical pluralism in the Maltese islands.

The intensive debate on civil rights, IVF and abortion are a direct result of the divorce referendum. All this would not have been possible without the positive 2011 divorce referendum result. Prejudices and inhibitions are being slowly overcome.

The debate on civil rights is substantially settled, even though there is always room for improvement. The IVF debate is works in progress: with the PN having buckled under pressure as a result of Bernard Grech’s U-turn in Parliament on Wednesday, even this debate seems to be on track towards a possible satisfactory conclusion. In particular Bernard Grech rightly discarded the reaction of his health spokesperson Stephen Spiteri.

The next steps relate to the abortion debate.

ADPD – The Green Party is only one of two political parties in Malta to support the decriminalisation of abortion and the introduction of abortion in limited circumstances, that is to say when the pregnant woman’s life is in manifest danger, in respect of a pregnancy which is the result of violence (rape and incest) and in respect of a non-viable pregnancy.

Early this week the Women’s Rights Foundation (WRF) has gone a step further. Through a judicial protest it has taken the State Advocate as well as the Health and the Equality Ministers to task on abortion legislation arguing that current abortion legislation discriminated against all persons who can get pregnant and obstructed them from making choices in their private lives. The judicial protest submitted on behalf of more than 188 potential mothers is the first shot in what promises to be a long drawn up legal battle, right up to Strasbourg’s European Court of Human Rights, should this be necessary.

The abortion debate has been and will remain highly emotional. To date Malta’s predominantly conservative institutions have been intolerant and have done their utmost to obstruct this debate from developing. This situation cannot and will not last much longer as it is inconceivable in this day and age to further obstruct the co-existence of contrasting values: ethical pluralism is here to stay.

The decriminalisation of abortion and its possible legalisation, irrespective whether limited or otherwise, signifies one basic and important decision. It means that that the state no longer takes the decision on your behalf but rather that you will be able to take your own decision, subject to a regulatory framework which sets reasonable limits.  

It is estimated that around 400 Maltese women every year opt for an abortion. Some go abroad, others take pills, without medical supervision, which pills they receive through the post. Others resort to backstreet abortions. Prohibiting and criminalising abortion only drives it underground, away from the medical services, as a result exposing women to death or serious medical repercussions.

Therapeutic abortion is already permissible in the Maltese islands although this is not that clear in Maltese legislation. The way forward in the debate is to realise that abortion legislation in Malta, first enacted over 160 years ago, is not fit for purpose and needs a complete overhaul. It requires to be brought in line with medical and scientific progress over the years.

Decriminalisation and legalisation of abortion in limited circumstances should be the way forward. No woman who opts for an abortion for whatever reason should be subject to criminal law. Any woman in such circumstances needs help, empathy and not state prosecution. This is the way forward.

published in Malta Independent on Sunday : 19 June 2022

Beyond 26 March

Increasing our vote tally by almost doubling it between general elections is no mean feat. That is what has been achieved by ADPD-The Green Party on 26 March. Notwithstanding the small numbers involved, the achievement is substantial, getting close to the best green result achieved in the 2013 general election. 

The 26 March electoral result, however, once more, exposes an electoral system which does not deliver proportional results when it really matters: results that is, supporting minority views. Political parties representing the PLPN establishment, have continuously benefitted from various adjustments to the electoral system, from which they obtain one proportional result after the other: proportionality which they benefit from but simultaneously, continuously and consistently deny to others.

Fair treatment would possibly have seen us achieve much better results than we have achieved so far. Unfortunately, the electoral system is designed to be discriminatory. This includes the setup of the Electoral Commission itself as well as the manner in which it operates under the continuous remote control of the PLPN. Even simple access to the individual district provisional results, which I requested, was continuously obstructed and objected to by the Electoral Commission late on Sunday 27 March when the counting process was still in progress.

Furthermore, PLPN have normal access to electronic counting data held by the Electoral Commission in order to be able to vet the validity of the final results. Repeated requests to extend such access to the green monitoring team in the counting hall were ignored. Even the OSCE election observation team present in the counting hall found this very strange and queried our monitoring team continuously on the matter.

Tomorrow, we will start the long process in court which could deliver some form of justice: the restitution of the parliamentary seats which our party has been robbed of by the PLPN political establishment throughout the years.

Normally, after elections, we waste a lot of time engaged in soul searching discussing whether taking the PLPN establishment head-on, one election after another, is worth the effort. This time we are immediately taking the plunge to ensure once and for all that each vote cast in Maltese general elections, irrespective of whom it is cast for, has an equal value. It is a long journey which may possibly take us to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, if this is considered essential, in order to settle the issue of electoral justice in these islands once and for all.

We have had to take this line of action as parliament in Malta has been consistently incapable of acting fairly. Parliament is, since 1966 under the complete control of the establishment political parties: PLPN.

By next Tuesday all bye-election results will be known. Subsequently the constitutional gender balance mechanism will be applied in favour of the establishment PLPN. This will be limited in implementation, similarly to the proportionality mechanism: limited in favour of the PLPN

The PLPN duopoly which has completely hijacked the institutions wants to be sure that its control is adequately embedded such that it can withstand any future shocks.

It is unacceptable that electoral legislation treats us in this despicable manner: differently from the manner in which it treats the establishment political parties. Unfortunately, the PLPN duopoly have not been able to deliver any semblance of fairness in our electoral system. The Courts, consequently, are our only remaining hope to address and start removing discrimination from electoral legislation, which is why tomorrow we will embark on our long overdue Court case.

The team we have built in the past months at ADPD has functioned quite well in achieving one of our best electoral results. It is now making the necessary preparations to ensure a better Green presence in our towns and villages in the months ahead. As a result of the excellent teamwork developed, we have starting preparing plans for the future which should lead to an organic growth of the party. This will make it possible for us to achieve even better results in the next political cycle.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 10 April 2022

Kull vot jgħodd

Nhar l-Erbgħa, flimkien ma’ Ralph Cassar Segretarju Ġenerali tal-Partit, f’isem ADPD ippreżentajt kawża kostituzzjonali dwar ir-riżultat elettorali li ġie ppubblikat f’dawn il-ġranet.

is-sistema elettorali, tul is-snin, ġiet żviluppata fl-interess esklussiv  tal-PLPN, iżidu is-siġġijiet għalihom u jinjoraw lill-bqija . Għandna sistema elettorali mbagħbsa, mhux denja ta’ pajjiż demokratiku.

F’demokrazija b’saħħitha, kull vot jgħodd: il-valur tiegħu m’għandux jiġi mkasbar għal kwalunkwe raġuni. Sfortunatament, f’Malta, il-leġislazzjoni elettorali hi iddiżinjata b’mod diskriminatorja, u dan bil-kompliċità tal-Parlament. Hi sistema elettorali diskriminatorja favur il-PLPN li bejniethom ikkontrollaw lill-Parlament sa mill-1966, u jridu jibqgħu għaddejjin hekk.

Vot favur l-ADPD għandu l-istess valur daqs vot favur il-PLPN. Imma l-liġi hi diskriminatorja għax tagħti valur u piż lill-voti tal-PLPN u tinjora l-bqija tal-voti tal-Maltin u l-Għawdin.

Dan hu riżultat ta’ żewġ miżuri speċifiċi: waħda dwar il-proporzjonalità u l-oħra dwar il-bilanċ tal-ġeneru. It-tnejn jiffavorixxu lill-PLPN u huma diskriminatorji fil-konfront tagħna, it-tielet partit, kif ukoll huma diskriminatorji kontra l-partiti l-oħrajn ukoll. Id-diskriminazzjoni li qed niffaċċjaw hi parti integrali mill-liġi elettorali.

Nhar it-Tnejn 28 ta’ Marzu 2022 kien imħabbar li r-riżultat elettorali kien aġġustat billi mal-lista tal-membri parlamentari eletti żdiedu tnejn oħra mil-lista tal-kandidati ippreżentata mill-PN. Din iż-żieda saret biex ikun hemm aġġustament għall-proporzjonalità bejn il-voti miksuba mill-partiti parlamentari fl-ewwel għadd tal-voti u s-siġġijiet parlamentari miksuba.

Meta sar dan l-aġġustament ġew injorati l-voti miksuba mill-partit ADPD fl-ewwel għadd tal-voti, liema voti kienu jammonta għal 4747 vot, ammont li hu ikbar mill-kwota nazzjonali. Din id-diskriminazzjoni tiżvaluta l-proċess demokratiku u dan billi l-voti tal-Partit Laburista u tal-Partit Nazzjonalista qed jingħataw valur billi jittieħdu in konsiderazzjoni biex isir l-aġġustament għall-proporzjonalità filwaqt li  l-voti ta’ ADPD qed ikunu skartati kompletament.

Il-proċess elettorali hu mistenni li jkompli fil-ġranet li ġejjin u dan billi l-emendi kostituzzjonali tas-sena l-oħra jipprevedu li wara li jkun konkluż il-proċess ta’ bye-elections assoċjati mal-elezzjoni ġenerali, l-Kummissjoni Elettorali talloka mhux iktar minn tnax-il siġġu parlamentari addizzjonali, sitta lil kull naħa biex jonqos l-iżbilanċ tal-ġeneru fil-Parlament. Dan ser ikompli jżid il-problema ta’ rappresentanza parlamentari billi ser iżid ir-rappresentanza tal-partiti parlamentari u jkompli jinjora l-bqija. Il-prinċipju tal-proporzjonalità li diġa huwa applikat b’mod dgħajjaf ser ikompli jiġi mnawwar bħala riżultat ta’ dan.

Il-kawża kostituzzjonali hi dwar dan it-taħwid kollu. Qed nitolbu lill-Qorti li issib li hemm ksur ta’ diversi drittijiet  umani liema drittijiet huma mħarsa kemm mill-kostituzzjoni ta’ Malta kif ukoll mill-Konvenzjoni Ewropeja tad-Drittijiet tal-Bniedem. Hemm ukoll ksur tal-artiklu 3 tal-protokol numru 1 tal-Konvenzjoni Ewropeja dwar id-Drittijiet tal-Bniedem u dan dwar id-dritt ta’ elezzjonijiet ħielsa.

Qegħdin nistennew rimedju kontra d-diskriminazzjoni li seħħet diġa meta l-Partit Nazzjonalista ngħata siġġijiet Parlamentari u aħna b’mod diskriminatorju ma ngħatajniex, kif ukoll protezzjoni mid-diskriminazzjoni addizzjonali li ser isseħħ fil-ġranet li ġejjin meta jidħol fis-seħħ il-mekkaniżmu korrettorju dwar il-bilanċ tal-ġeneru.

Is-sistema elettorali Maltija mhiex isservi l-interessi tal-pajjiż imma biss tal-interessi tal-PLPN li kkapparraw ukoll l-istituzzjonijiet. Il-voti ta’ kulħadd għandhom valur u jeħtieġ li jkunu rispettati, mhux biss dawk tal-PLPN.

Inħarsu l-voti kollha.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 3 t’April 2022

Every vote counts

On Wednesday, on behalf of ADPD-The Green Party, together with party General Secretary Ralph Cassar I instituted constitutional proceedings relative to the election results just published.

The issue at stake is that the electoral system has, over the years been developed in the exclusive interest of the PLPN: milking more parliamentary seats for the PLPN and excluding the rest.

 In a healthy democracy, all votes have an equal value: every vote counts. Unfortunately, in Malta, electoral legislation, by design, that is with the clear intention of Parliament, is discriminatory in favour of the PLPN, the political parties which have exclusively controlled Parliament since the 1966 general elections.

A vote cast for ADPD-The Green Party is equal in value to those cast in favour of the PLPN. Existing electoral legislation is discriminatory due to its giving weight to votes cast for the two parliamentary parties and ignoring those cast for others.

This is the result of two specific measures: one dealing with proportionality and the other dealing with gender balance. Both measures are designed to benefit the PLPN and discriminate against us, the third party, and others. The discrimination we are facing is an integral part of electoral legislation by design. 

On Monday 28th March 2022 it was announced that the electoral result was adjusted through the addition of two MPs from the list of candidates presented by the PN.  This addition is the result of a proportionality adjustment between the votes obtained at first count by the political parties making it to parliament and the parliamentary seats won.

When this adjustment was carried out the votes obtained at first count by ADPD-The Green Party amounting to 4747 were ignored. These votes amount to more than the national quota. This discrimination is a devaluation of the democratic process as it gives weight to votes cast in favour of  Partit Laburista and Partit Nazzjonalista but ignores completely the votes cast for ADPD.

In the coming days, the final stage of the electoral process will be implemented. After all the bye-elections associated with the general election are concluded the Electoral Commission will assign up to a maximum of twelve additional parliamentary seats to the two parliamentary parties in order to address gender balance in the parliamentary ranks.  This will add to the existing problems of parliamentary representation by further inflating the parliamentary seats of PLPN to the detriment of the rest. The proportionality principle, already very weak will be further eroded.

The Constitutional proceedings deal with all this. The Courts are being requested to find that there has been a breach of several human rights protected not only in terms of Malta’s Constitution but also in terms of the European Convention of Human Rights. We also point out that all this is in breach of the first protocol of the European Convention of Human Rights relative to free and fair elections.

We expect that the Courts identify suitable remedies to address the discrimination which has already taken place when the Partit Nazzjonalista was awarded additional parliamentary seats and the votes obtained by ADPD were ignored. We also seek the Courts’ protection from further discrimination which will occur in the coming days when the provisions of the gender balance corrective mechanism are applied.

Malta’s electoral system is not serving the country well: it has been manipulated repeatedly by the PLPN to serve their own interests. To this end they have also hijacked the Constitutional institutions. It is not only PLPN votes which are important: everyone’s vote is important and requires the utmost respect.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 4 April 2022

PLPN : parrini tar-rgħiba

Il-pjani lokali huma 7. Il-Pjan Lokali dwar il-Bajja ta’ Marsaxlokk kien approvat fl-1995, madwar sentejn wara li twaqqfet l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar. Kellhom jgħaddu 7 snin oħra biex ġie approvat pjan lokali ieħor, din id-darba dak għall-Port il-Kbir.  Il-bqija kienu approvati f’daqqa bl-għaġġla fis-sajf tal-2006. Fl-2006 ukoll kien ippubblikat u approvat mill-Parlament dokument ieħor dwar ċaqlieq tal-linja tal-iżvilupp, intitolat “Rationalisation of Development Zone Boundaries”.

Kull wieħed minn dawn it-tmien dokumenti huwa wild il-PN fil-Gvern. Il-konsiderazzjonijiet ambjentali fihom huma nieqsa bil-kbira.

B’mod partikulari, d-dokument li ċaqlaq il-linja tal-żvilupp  ġie approvat mill-Parlament b’għaġġla kbira u bħala riżultat ta’ hekk żewġ miljun metru kwadru ta’ art li kienu barra  miż-żona ta’ żvilupp (ODZ) f’daqqa waħda saru tajbin għall-iżvilupp.

Mill-Opposiżżjoni l-Partit Laburista fil-Parlament ivvota kontra dan iċ-ċaqlieq tal-linja tal-iżvilupp, imma, wara, meta tela’ fil-Gvern ġie jaqa’ u jqum minn dan kollu. Dan minħabba li l-opposizzjoni għall-proposti kienet waħda partiġjana mhux minħabba xi viżjoni alternattiva.

Il-pjani lokali jeħtieġu reviżjoni immedjata. Id-dokument li jistabilixxi kif kellha tiċċaqlaq il-linja tal-iżvilupp għandu jitħassar u safejn hu possibli dik l-art kollha (ż-żewġ miljun metru kwadru) terġa’ issir art ODZ – barra miż-żona tal-iżvilupp.  

Fost it-tibdil meħtieġ hemm tnaqqis ġenerali fl-għoli permissibli tal-bini, liema għoli, f’ħafna każi qed itellef lill-komunità residenzjali mid-dritt ta’ aċċess għax-xemx. Dan qed inaqqas u jostakola l-potenzjal tagħna bħala pajjiż fil-ġenerazzjoni ta’ enerġija rinovabbli. Dan kollu kien injorat mill-pjani lokali.

Hemm bosta materji oħra fl-erba’ rkejjen tal-pajjiż li jeħtieġu li jkunu eżaminati mill-ġdid. Kif spjegajt f’artiklu preċedenti l-pjani lokali ma jagħtux każ tal-impatti kumulattivi tal-iżvilupp li huma stess jipproponu. Din hi materja bażika li teħtieġ attenzjoni kbira għax għandha impatt sostanzjali fuq il-kwalità tal-ħajja tagħna. Sfortunatament il-pjani lokali ftit li xejn jagħtu każ tal-kwalità tal-ħajja. Jiffokaw fuq is-sodisfazzjon tar-rgħiba.

Għandu jkun hemm kumpens jekk art li illum tista’ tkun żviluppata terġa’ lura fl-ODZ bħala art mhiex tajba għall-iżvilupp?

Xi ġimgħat ilu l-Ministru  Aaron Farrugia responsabbli għall-Ippjanar u l-Ambjent kien qal li kellu l-parir favur id-dritt ta’ kumpens. Konvenjentement l-Onorevoli Ministru injora l-fatt li l-Qorti Kostituzzjonali f’Malta kif ukoll il-Qorti Ewropeja dwar id-Drittijiet tal-Bniedem diġa kellhom kaz bħal dan fejn kien hemm talba għal kumpens. Il-Qorti Kostituzzjonali irrifjutat it-talba u l-Qorti fi Strasbourg ma ikkunsidratx t-talba f’deċiżjoni fis- 27 September 2011 li fiha iddiskutiet il-parametri legali applikabbli.

Il-kaz huwa dwar il-kumpanija Maltija Trimeg Limited u jikkonċerna 10,891 metru kwadru ta’ art li kienu fil-limiti tal-iżvilupp fl-1989 kif stabilit mill-iskemi temporanji tal-iżvilupp ta’ dakinnhar. Imma fl-1996 din l-art ġiet skedata għal skop ta’ konservazzjoni f’kuntest tal-protezzjoni tal-widien. Fil-Qrati Maltin il-kumpanija Maltija kienet qalet illi li kieku ħarġu l-permessi ta’ żvilupp l-art kien ikollha valur ta’  €11-il miljun. B’daqqa ta’ pinna imma, dan naqas għal  €230,000. Trimeg Limited kienet xtrat din l-art  €140,000.Il-Qorti Kostituzzjonali f’Malta ma aċċettatx dawn l-argumenti. Il-Qorti fi Strasbourg ma bidlet xejn minn dak li qalet il-Qorti Maltija.

Dan hu kaz wieħed biss. Il-ħsieb ġenerali iżda hu li apprezzament tal-ħarsien ambjentali qed jaqbad art fost in-nies illum li huma iktar sensittivi minn qatt qabel dwar dan.  Ħadd m’għandu jistenna kumpens għat-tibdil li jkun meħtieġ.

Din hi ġlieda kontinwa mar-rgħiba u l-ispekulazzjoni. Nafu li fil-passat, u għal żmien twil, ir-rgħiba kienet minn fuq. Ir-rgħiba fl-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art kellha żewġ parrini: il-PN u l-PL. Fl-Opposizzjoni jopponu u fil-Gvern jirrumblaw minn fuq kulħadd.  

Kemm il-PN kif ukoll il-PL ma jistgħux jindirizzaw din il-mandra fl-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art għax huma parti mill-problema: il-PLPN ħolquha, kabbruha u iddefendewha. Il-PN beda l-froġa u il-Labour sostniha.

Hu meħtieġ li nibdew paġna ġdida.  Il-linja tal-iżvilupp trid titraġġa lura u l-pjani lokali jeħtieġu tibdil mill-qiegħ. Aħna l-Ħodor biss nistgħu nagħmluh dan, għax aħna m’aħna fil-but ta’ ħadd. L-oħrajn, bil-provi wrew tul is-snin li bejn ir-rgħiba u l-kwalità tal-ħajja dejjem isostnu r-rgħiba!

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 5 ta’ Settembru 2021

PLPN have continuously sponsored greed

The local plans are 7 in number.  The Marsaxlokk Bay Local Plan was approved in 1995, just two years after the setting up of the Planning Authority. It took another 7 years to approve the next one, the Grand Harbour Local Plan. The rest were approved in one go, in a hurry in the summer of 2006. In 2006 a document entitled “Rationalisation of Development Zone Boundaries” was also published and approved by Parliament.

All eight documents above-mentioned have the PN fingerprints on them. They are certainly not green fingerprints.

The Rationalisation document in particular which was rushed through Parliamentary approval during July 2006 transformed 2 million square metres of land outside the development zone into land which could be considered for development. It shifted the development zone boundaries.

Labour, in Opposition when the rationalisation document was submitted for Parliament’s consideration, voted against its adoption only to embrace it as if it were its own once it was elected into government. Labour’s opposition was not on principle due to some alternative vision. It was pure partisan politics.

The local plans should be revisited the earliest. The rationalisation document should be scrapped and the land it refers to returned to ODZ status wherever this is possible.

Among the revisions considered essential to the local plans is a general reduction in permissible building heights which are interfering with the solar rights of our residential community. This is hampering our potential as a country to generate more renewable energy. This was ignored by the local plans!

There are various other issues spread all over the islands which require revisiting and careful analysis. As explained in a previous article the local plans fail to take into consideration the cumulative impacts of the development which they propose. This is one of the basic matters which should be considered in depth as it has a substantial impact on our quality of life.

Unfortunately, quality of life was considered irrelevant on the local plan drawing board. Only servicing greed was deemed essential.

Would any compensation be due if land currently suitable for development is relegated to ODZ status? Some weeks ago, Planning and Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia emphasised that the advice he received was in favour of compensation. Conveniently the Hon Minister failed to point out that the Constitutional Court in Malta and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has already dealt with a Maltese similar case requesting compensation. The Constitutional Court shot down the case and the Strasbourg Court considered it as being inadmissible on 27 September 2011 in a decision which discusses at some length the applicable legal parameters.

The case involved the Maltese Company Trimeg Limited and concerned 10,891 square metres of land which was within the limits of development as defined by the Temporary Provisions Schemes of 1989 but was then, in 1996, scheduled for conservation purposes as part of a valley protection zone.  The Maltese Company had previously claimed in the Maltese Courts that the land would have a value of €11 million if development permits were issued but was reduced in value to €230,000 at the stroke of a pen. The land was originally purchased by Trimeg Limited for €140,000.

The Constitutional Court in Malta had not accepted the arguments brought forward and the Strasbourg Court did not change anything from that judgement.

This is obviously just one case. The general train of thought however is that it is not a legitimate expectation to expect that the law does not change in the future. Environmental protection is hopefully on the increase as today’s men and women are nowadays more sensitive on the matter.

It is obviously a continuous tug-of-war with greed and speculation. The dreadful news of the past is that greed has for quite a stretch of time had the upper hand. Greed in land use planning has been alternatively sponsored by the PN and the PL. They oppose it when in opposition but adopt it once in government.

Neither the PN nor the PL can offer solutions to the current land use planning mess as both of them are part of the problem: PLPN created it, encouraged it and defended it. PN created the mess, PL sustained it.

It is time to start a new page. Scrap the rationalisation exercise and radically reform the local plans. Only we, the Greens, can do it, as we are in nobody’s pocket. The others have proven, time and again that they support greed at the expense of our quality of life.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 5 September 2021

Reforming a two-party Parliament

Malta’s electoral system has, over the years, been transformed into a duopoly. Discrimination is inbuilt into electoral legislation in order to effectively ensure that Parliament remains a two-party affair. It is discrimination by design. It is not accidental but specifically intended.

Our electoral system (STV: Single Transferable Vote) started off being applied in 1921 as one focused on the individual candidate, generally ignoring the political parties. Over the years a number of important changes shifted the focus of the STV from the individual candidate to the political party.

The first such change was carried out prior to the 1976 general elections: the electoral ballot paper was then redesigned such that same party candidates started being grouped together with a colour code identifying the different political parties. This was a radical change as up to that point, for over fifty years, all candidates in an electoral district were listed alphabetically. Up till that point it was a common occurrence for votes to switch from one party to the other in successive counts as the semi-literate voter, would not always distinguish between one party candidate and the candidates from other parties. As a result, many a parliamentary seat was lost or switched allegiance over the years.

The second change took place in 1987 and was fine-tuned in subsequent years. It started off as a reaction to the impact of jerrymandering of electoral districts, specifically the 1981 general election result. Originally it was designed as a constitutional guarantee for majority rule, ensuring that whichever political party surpassed the 50 per cent vote count it would be guaranteed a majority of parliamentary seats. Subsequently it was developed into a formula for ensuring proportionality between first count votes and parliamentary seats. There is however an important condition attached: this is only applicable if just two political parties make it to parliament. The moment that a third one gains just one seat, no proportionality is guaranteed, except in one specific instant: when a political party obtains in excess of the 50 per cent mark it is still guaranteed a majority of Parliamentary seats. Our Constitution expects that the rest have to lump it.

The third change is in the pipeline. It involves an additional adjustment: a gender balance mechanism. A maximum of twelve parliamentary seats will be added to the total to represent the under-represented gender! Yes, you have guessed: they will be split equally between the duopoly. In addition, the seats will not be available for distribution the moment a third political party makes it into parliament.

Let me be very clear. Proportionality between votes cast and parliamentary seats won is essential. Likewise, it is essential to address the gender imbalance in our parliament. However, both adjustments can be done fairly, without any discrimination, and importantly without increasing the size of Parliament astronomically as will inevitably happen at the next general election if only two political parties make it to Parliament. In fact, it is perfectly possible not to have any increase in size of Parliament at all if the appropriate changes are carried out!

Over the years the political party which I lead has made several proposals on these matters. The latest proposal was made in the context of the public consultation on addressing gender imbalance in Parliament. Even then we emphasised that tinkering with the electoral system and adding top-ups would not solve anything. A complete overhaul of the system is required. Instead, the “gender balance reform” ended up advocating “as little as possible disruption of the electoral system”. Government and Opposition agreed to reinforce the existing discrimination in our electoral system.

Unfortunately, our proposals have been ignored once more and we have no choice but to resort to our Courts to address a blatantly discriminatory electoral system imposed on us by Labour and Nationalist Members of Parliament. On such matters they always agree.

In such circumstances fragmentation of the political spectrum is the worst possible option for those who want to emphasise a specific point. Those who end up playing the “independent” are pawns of the duopoly, unwittingly reinforcing the two-party system. They end up siphoning votes and thereby deliberately weakening a potential third voice which can make it to Parliament. The merger between AD and PD in the past months is the appropriate antidote in such circumstances.

Instead of focusing on minor differences it would be appropriate if all of us give more weight to the overall picture. It is an uphill struggle, but we should not be deterred!

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday 30 May 2021

Constitutional top-ups: a democratic deficit

Earlier this week Parliament started discussing Bill 119, proposing constitutional amendments “to ensure de facto equality between men and women in politics”.  A very noble aim which all progressive politicians share. Unfortunately, in addressing the issue of equality between men and women in politics Bill 119 creates another problem: it goes about it in a discriminatory fashion. It discriminates against third parties through excluding them almost completely.

Bill 119 aims to top-up the number of elected members of parliament by a total of not more than twelve additional MPs through a process identifying unelected electoral candidates from the minority gender when the general electoral process has been concluded. The minority gender being that which has a representation below 40 per cent of the total number of elected MPs.

Clause 3 of the Bill starts immediately on the wrong foot. It lays down that the provisions of the gender top-up based constitutional amendments under consideration are only applicable in general elections “in which only candidates of two parties are elected”.

This wording is a cut-and-paste from another Constitutional top-up which was introduced in 1987 and fine-tuned throughout the years through a number of constitutional amendments relating to proportionality. Even then the constitutional solution was based on a basic discriminatory premise that it is only applicable if candidates of two political parties are elected to Parliament.

It is proposed by Bill 119 that the additional MPs “are to be apportioned equally by the absolute majority party or the relative majority party and the minority party”.

As has been emphasised many times, the proportionality Constitutional top-up, while ensuring majority rule, has created a democratic deficit in our Constitution in view of the fact that it is generally not operative when more than two political parties make it to Parliament. The gender balance top-up, faithfully follows in its footsteps. An existing democratic deficit is being made even worse.

The day when a third party makes it to Parliament on its own steam is fast-approaching. When that day comes, and it may be close, a Constitutional crisis may arise due to myopic legal drafting. This basic (intentional) error has been repeated in the Constitutional amendments under consideration by Parliament at this point in time.

I was surprised when I noted that during the Parliamentary debate, earlier this week, Opposition MP Herman Schiavone gave notice of amendments to address the gender top-up Bill. His proposals are an excellent first step but, in my view, they are not enough as they do not address all the possibilities that may arise when eventually the provision is to be applied. The matter can be explored further when the actual amendments are debated, at which point possible solutions can be explored.

The matter was also emphasised in Parliament by the Leader of the Opposition, possibly indicating that the PN has now changed strategy and has thrown away its previous policy of trying to cannibalise third parties which have the potential to make it to Parliament. A cannibalisation exercise which has been heavily resisted by the Maltese Greens throughout the years.

When the proposal for the gender Constitutional top-ups was published for public consultation, the Maltese Greens had participated and published a document outlining possible alternatives. One cannot keep patching up our electoral system. A fresh holistic revision is needed which will address both the proportionality and the gender representation issues. A possible solution exists through the use of party electoral lists which need be gender balanced. This is already done in various other countries.

We did not receive any reaction to our proposal. The Commission entrusted with examining the matter did not seek to meet us to explore alternative potential solutions. Unfortunately, the Commission too was trapped in a two-party frame of mind and consequently it concluded its exercise by adopting a solution which further reinforces the existing democratic deficit in the Constitution.

The setting up of such obstructions make our life more difficult as it increases unnecessary and artificial obstacles which seek to complicate the political work of third parties. This is not just unfortunate: it lays bare the “democratic credentials” of government and its advisors.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 17 January 2021

Drittijiet Ambjentali bir-riforma kostituzzjonali

Il-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali, meta tiġi, tkun opportunità unika biex ikunu ntrodotti drittijiet ambjentali fil-Kostituzzjoni. Dan jista’ u għandu jseħħ billi dawn id-drittijiet jinkitbu b’mod ċar u li ma jħallux lok għal miżinterpretazzjoni f’riforma li ilna nistennew żmien kbir.

Id-drittijiet ambjentali, għandhom ikunu ċari daqs id-drittijiet dwar il-propjetà. Għax il-Kostituzzjoni, b’mod pervers, filwaqt li tipproteġi drittijiet dwar il-propjetà, illum ma toffri l-ebda protezzjoni għal drittijiet ambjentali bħad-dritt għal arja nadifa inkella għal aċċess għal ilma nadif. L-anqas ma tipproteġi l-bijodiversità jew il-pajsaġġ jew kwalunkwe dritt ambjentali ieħor bħall-ħarsien tar-riżorsi naturali. Id-drittijiet tal-individwi huma b’xi mod protetti imma d-drittijiet tal-komunità l-anqas biss jissemmew.

Meta wieħed iqis li d-drittijiet tal-ġenerazzjonijiet preżenti huma kemm kemm protetti, xejn ma hemm biex niskantaw jekk il-liġi bażika tagħna tinjora lill-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri għal kollox.

Waqt li dan kollu kien għaddej, Malta, fuq livell internazzjonali nsistiet dwar il-ħarsien ta’ qiegħ il-baħar (1967), dwar il-klima (1988) u dwar il-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri (1992). Imma minkejja dawn l-isforzi fuq livell internazzjonali, ma sar l-ebda sforz lokali biex dak li nippriedkaw barra minn xtutna nipprattikawh f’artna.  

Il-Kostituzzjoni ta’ Malta, fil-Kapitlu 2 tagħha, għanda sett ta’ linji gwida biex dawn ikunu ta’ għajnuna lill-Gvern billi b’mod ġenerali jindikaw it-triq li jeħtieġ li jimxi fuqha.  Wieħed minn dawn il-prinċipji gwida huwa dwar il-ħarsien ambjentali. Dan tfassal oriġinalment fl-1964 u ġie emendat riċentement.  

Wara din il-lista ta’ linji gwida, fl-aħħar tagħhom, il-Kostituzzjoni tgħidilna li ma tistax tmur il-Qorti biex tinfurzhom!

Dan il-kapitlu tal-Kostituzzjoni huwa mfassal fuq dak li hemm fil-Kostituzzjoni tal-Irlanda u tal-Indja. Kif jispjega Tonio Borg fil-kummentarju tiegħu dwar il-kostituzzjoni ta’ Malta, l-Qorti Suprema Indjana minkejja kollox, imma, interpretat il-linji gwida fil-Kostituzzjoni Indjana bħala l-kuxjenza tal-kostituzzjoni : linja gwida tabilħaqq.  Għax x’jiswa’ li toqgħod tipprietka u tħambaq dwar il-prinċipji bażiċi u l-linji gwida jekk imbagħad iżżomhom milli jkunu infurzati?

Sfortunatament, din l-istess attitudni kienet addottata meta tfasslet leġislazzjoni dwar l-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art u dwar l-ambjent. Anke hawn wara ħafna dikjarazzjonijiet ta’ prinċipji nsibu li dwar dawn ukoll ma tistax tmur il-Qorti biex tinfurzhom.

Fis-sottomissjonijiet tagħha lill Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali, Alternattiva Demokratika,  ipproponiet li dan il-kapitlu fil-kostituzzjoni għandu jkun revedut b’mod li jkun assigurat li l-Gvern dejjem jimxi mal-linji gwida kostituzzjonali.   

F’pajjiżi oħra, s-soċjetà ċivili, meta meħtieġ, tieħu azzjoni legali kontra l-Gvern biex tassigura li dan jerfa’ r-responsabbiltajiet ambjentali tiegħu f’kull ħin.

Għandi f’moħħi żewġ eżempji partikolari.

L-ewwel wieħed hu dwar azzjoni legali fir-Renju Unit mill-għaqda ambjentali  Client Earth dwar il-mod kajman li bih il-Gvern Ingliż mexa fil-konfront ta’ strateġija nazzjonali dwar il-kwalità tal-arja. Il-materja spiċċat quddiem il-Qorti Suprema li f’deċiżjoni ta’ struzzjonijiet lill-Gvern dwar iż-żmien sa meta għandha tkun lesta din l-istrateġija.   

It-tieni eżempju qiegħed l-Olanda u jikkonċerna t-tibdil fil-klima u l-grupp ambjentali  Urgenda li mar il-Qorti biex iġiegħel lil Gvern jistabilixxi miri raġjonevoli dwar emissjonijiet li għandhom impatt fuq il-bidla fil-klima.

F’dawn l-eżempji, u probabbilment f’bosta oħrajn, l-azzjoni tal-Gvern kienet ferm inferjuri għall-aspettattivi tas-soċjetà ċivili. Ikun tajjeb li l-kostituzzjoni tipprovdina bl-għodda biex kull meta l-Gvern jonqos milli jimxi mal-miri kostituzzjonali ikun possibli li nippruvaw inġibuh f’sensieh.

Sal-lum niddependu mill-Kummissjoni Ewropeja bit-tama li meta jkun meħtieġ din tieħu passi. Nistqarr li f’materji ambjentali, bosta drabi tiddisappuntana u ma tagħmilx dak li nistennew minn għandha.

Il-konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali sal-lum, tista’ tkun l-unika forum fejn dan id-difett kostituzzjonali jkun possibli li nikkoreġuh. Għax hu l-waqt li d-drittijiet ambjentali jsiru parti integrali mill-kostituzzjoni.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 6 ta’ Settembru 2020