Real and imaginary referenda

Kacca + Vot

 

The abrogative referendum which was given the green light by Malta’s Constitutional Court earlier this month is the first of its kind. It is a referendum which, if successful, will delete from Malta’s statute book regulations which permit spring hunting on quail and turtledove.

In its efforts to  build up support in favour of the retention of spring hunting, the hunting lobby has been repeatedly sending out the message that if this referendum were to succeed, it would pave the way for a multitude of other referenda which, in their words, would threaten various hobbies which they label as minorities. They mention a few of these hobbies  among which pigeon racing.  Obviously, they fail to state that the only real threat to racing pigeon enthusiasts here are those who shoot at anything that flies. And it is not just a one-off incident.

The hunting lobby is not enthusiastic  about the referendum process enhancing democracy in our islands by granting the possibility to voters to demand that a specific legislative instrument is subjected to a  popular vote. They would rather that such a right did not exist.  As witnessed throughout recent years, the hunting lobby prefers the option to acquire concessions through back room deals and agreements with political parties arrived at through a process of bartering votes for concessions.  The statement “NO Kaċċa, NO vote” has been all too familiar in public manifestations organised by the hunting lobby throughout the years.

The abrogative referendum in Malta was introduced through amendments to the Referendum Act approved by Parliament in 1996. Going through the transcripts of the Parliamentary Debate of the 15th and  16th January 1996 reveals an interesting contrast between the speeches of Eddie Fenech Adami, then Prime Minister, and Alfred Sant, then Leader of the Opposition, in the second reading stage of the debate.

Dr Fenech Adami  spoke in favour of a limited right of referendum – limited in the sense that a set of identified legislative instruments could not be subjected to an abrogative referendum.  On the other hand, Dr Sant wanted to extend the limitations. In fact, he emphasised that once a political proposal was part of a political party’s electoral manifesto it should not be possible to subject it to the abrogative referendum process.  Fenech Adami and Sant had also disagreed on whether  it was the appropriate time to introduce a citizens’ initiative through which rather than using the referendum as a negative instrument to cancel a legislative instrument, it would be utilised to submit a proposal to popular vote.  This could take the form of a proposal that Parliament should legislate on a specific matter, or even possibly that policies be drafted relative to neglected issues.

The conclusions of the 1996 debate are with us today, being applied for the first time: Parliament decided to introduce the right to petition for the deletion of legislation. It did not opt to introduce the right to propose new initiatives.

When Parliament decided on the parameters within which the abrogative referendum was to operate, it specifically excluded a number of laws – the Constitution, the European Convention Act and all fiscal legislation; also, all matters required in  implementing any international treaty to which Malta is party cannot be subjected to an abrogative referendum. Likewise, the legislative measures introducing the right to an abrogative referendum as well as electoral legislation cannot be the subject of a petition leading to an abrogative referendum.

When identifying the subject matter for a referendum, the petitioners, with the help of their advisors, examine the different legislative instruments  which deal with the issues under consideration.  Care must be exercised such that the legislation selected as the subject of the referendum does not go beyond what is strictly required. For the 11 April referendum the Coalition for the Abolition of Spring Hunting opted for a 2010 Legal Notice  entitled Framework for Allowing a Derogation Opening a Spring Hunting Season for Turtle Dove and Quail Regulations as the legislative instrument to be voted upon. In so doing, the Coalition’s referendum petition differentiated between the general regulatory legislation on wild birds and the legislation which defined the exceptions which are being permitted during spring. The target of the abrogative referendum being the exception to the rule.

As a result the referendum petition is clear and specific and leads to one conclusion: the abolition or otherwise of spring hunting in Malta. This is the only referendum on the national agenda .

 

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday – 25 January 2015

X’qalu l-kaċċaturi: kif wieġbet il-Qorti Kostituzzjonali (5)

eu-flag

5. It-trattat tal-EU u r-referendum

Il-ħames oġġezzjoni li kkunsidrat il-Qorti hi spjegata fil-paragrafu 32 tas-sentenza, ftit twil għax jikkwota silta twila mir-rikors tal-kaċċaturi. Fil-qosor  fir-rikors tal-kaċċaturi jingħad illi l-avviż legali dwar id-deroga tal-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa huwa obbligu li jirriżulta mit-trattati Ewopej. Fir-rikors tagħhom il-kaċċaturi jgħidu li jekk dan l-avviż legali jitneħħa kif qed jitlob ir-referendum  Malta tkun qed tonqos milli twettaq l-obbligu tagħha li timplimenta d-Direttiva dwar l-Għasafar.

Is-sentenza tal-Qorti Kostituzzjonali twieġeb fit-tul  is-sottomissjonijiet tal-Kaċċaturi u fost affarijiet oħra fil-paragrafi 37 sa 39 tgħid hekk:

Il-qorti tosserva illi, min-natura tagħha, “deroga” hija mezz kif stat membru jkun jista’ ma jimplimentax għal kollox dak li trid direttiva jew liġi oħra ewropea. Jekk jitħarsu l-kondizzjonijiet li trid direttiva, deroga tkun mod leġittimu kif dan isir. Fil-każ tallum, il-L.S.504.94  [Legislazzjoni Sussidjarja, ċjoe r-regolamenti li jippermettu d-deroga tal-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa] hija mezz kif l-istat malti jista’ leġittimament ma jimplimentax għalkollox id-Direttiva 2009/147/KE. [Direttiva dwar l-Għasafar]

Il-fatt iżda illi deroga hija leġittima – għax iseħħu l-kondizzjonijiet kollha li fihom tista’ tingħata – ma jfissirx illi – għax iseħħu l-istess kondizzjonijiet – hija obbligatorja. Fil-fatt, l-art. 9 tad-Direttiva 2009/147/KE – id-disposizzjoni li tippermetti d-deroga u tgħid f’liema ċirkostanzi tista’ tingħata – igħid ċar illi “L-Istati Membri jistgħu – u mhux “għandhom” – jidderogaw … … …”. Fi kliem ieħor: bid-deroga stat membru jista’ ma jimplimentax għalkollox id-Direttiva; mingħajrha, stat membru huwa marbut illi d-Direttiva jimplimentaha għalkollox u bla eċċezzjoni.

Taħt id-direttiva l-istat membru qatt ma hu obbligat li jimplimenta deroga, anqas meta jirrikorru ċ-ċirkostanzi li jippermettu tali deroga. Għandu għażla jimplimentahiex jekk iseħħu ċ-ċirkostanzi meħtieġa, u, jekk jimplimentaha, għandu obbligu li jħares il-kondizzjonijiet li skonthom trid tigi implimentata dderoga, iżda jekk – ukoll biex iwettaq rieda popolari espressa f’referendum – jagħżel li ma jfittixx deroga dan l-obbligu li jħares il-kondizzjonijiet tad-deroga ma jibqax relevanti għax l-istat ikun qiegħed, minflok, iħares l-obbligu li jwettaq fis-sħiħ id-direttiva. Wara kollox, id-Direttiva 2009/147/KE stess mhux biss ma tgħidx illi l-istati membri huma marbuta li jimplimentaw deroga meta din hija possibbli, iżda anzi tgħid fl-art. 14 illi “L-Istati Membri jistgħu jintroduċu miżuri protettivi aktar stretti minn dawk li hemm previsti f’din id-Direttiva”

Imbagħad il-Qorti Kostituzzjonali fil-paragrafu 50 tas-sentenza tgħaddi biex tgħid li:

 L-oġġezzjoni illi l-L.S. 504.94 hija “leġislazzjoni li tagħti seħħ lil xi obbligazzjoni derivanti minn trattat li jkollha sehem fih Malta” hija għalhekk miċħuda.

Min irid jidħol daqsxejn iktar fil-fond jaqra is-sentenza hawn, b’mod partiklari l-paragrafi  32 sa 50.

Celebrating democracy

 

turtle dove

Last Friday the Constitutional Court gave the abrogative referendum on spring hunting the green light. In a 24-page decision it threw out each and every objection which the hunters’ organisations submitted for the Court’s consideration.

The nit-picking strategy of the hunters’ lobby has failed, with the Constitutional Court declaring in clear terms that the objections listed by the hunters’ organisations do not constitute valid reasons for halting the abrogative referendum. In particular, the Constitutional Court underlined the fact that the hunters had not in any way attempted to prove their claim that some minority right was in danger of being trampled upon as a result of the proposed abrogative referendum. The Constitutional Court pointed out that the FKNK had failed to identify any provision of the Constitution – or of the European Convention – that spells out a “fundamental right to hunt”. Nor, added the Constitutional Court, had the FKNK specified which of the provisions of the Constitution or of the European Convention would be infringed by the proposed abrogative referendum.

The voice of 41,494 electors is now being heard loud and clear. These electors triggered the call for an abrogative referendum to abolish spring hunting by removing from the statute book the regulations which permit it. These regulations are contained in Legal Notice 221 of 2010 entitled Framework for Allowing a Derogation Opening a Spring Hunting Season for Turtledove and Quail.

This is the third referendum to be held in Malta during the last 12 years. The abrogative referendum authorised by the Constitutional Court on Friday is, however, of a completely different nature from the other two.

Both the 2003 European Union referendum and the 2011 divorce referendum were consultative in nature. In 2003, the government consulted the electorate on Malta’s accession to the EU. It had no legal obligation to do so but it did, however, have a political commitment which it honoured by putting the question of Malta’s accession to the popular vote.

In 2011 Parliament asked the electorate for political direction as to whether or not divorce legislation should be approved by Parliament. It was the political way out for both the Nationalist Party and the Labour Party when faced with the private member’s Bill on the introduction of divorce. Both had then hoped for a no, yet they got a resounding yes.

The referendum this time is not consultative in nature. This time, the referendum will deliver a decision as to whether regulations permitting spring hunting are to be deleted from the statute book. This initiative originated outside Parliament on the initiative of the Coalition for the Abolition of Spring Hunting, made up of 13 environmental NGOs together with Alternattiva Demokratika, the Green Party in Malta. It is the first time that the provisions of the Referenda Act on abrogative referenda are being made use of.

This is the direct result of the backroom dealings practised by the parliamentary parties and the hunting lobby over the years. The hunting lobby has managed to cling on to a spring hunting season through lobbying the parliamentary parties and trading votes for concessions on hunting issues. Public opinion, consistently contrary to the agreements reached by the hunters’ organisations with both the Nationalist Party and the Labour Party, was ignored. Faced with this attitude, the only remaining option was to use the provisions of the Referenda Act, which have been left idle since being enacted in 1996.

Contrary to what some may think, it is not possible to hold an abrogative referendum on any matter whatsoever on merely a whim. The areas that can be subjected to an abrogative referendum are limited by a number of provisions of the law. A basic limitation is the number of signatories required to initiate the process. Ten per cent of the registered electorate is a substantial number of signatures. But then this is a necessary safeguard in order to ensure that the proposal being placed before the electorate is supported by a reasonable number of voters.

Fiscal measures, the Constitution, international treaties, electoral legislation, referendum legislation and issues of human rights are matters that cannot be subjected to a referendum.

Friday’s decision by the Constitutional Court means that the issue of spring hunting will now be decided by the electorate itself. While the specific issue being addressed by the abrogative referendum is spring hunting, the significance of the process is much more than that. It is an empowerment of the electorate, an exercise in direct democracy. The realisation will soon sink in that, on a number of matters, we voters have the right to recall the decision-making process from Parliament. It is a right that has been available but left idle for the past 19 years.

The abrogative referendum – which will be held between mid-April and mid-July – is a celebration of democracy. It strengthens democracy at its roots as it gives each and every one of us the right to participate in specific decisions. To be effective, however, it requires the participation of the largest possible number of voters.

That is the next challenge.

published in The Independent – Sunday 11 January 2015

X’qalu l-kaċċaturi: kif wieġbet il-Qorti Kostituzzjonali (2)

submission of referendum signature requests

2. Oġġezzjoni fattwalment ħażina

It-tieni oġġezzjoni li kkunsidrat il-Qorti hi spjegata fil-paragrafu 21 tas-sentenza li jgħid hekk:

“It-tieni oġġezzjoni tgħid illi d-Dikjarazzjoni ma tgħidx min huma l-persuni li qegħdin jagħmluha, u għalhekk ma tħarisx dak li jgħid u jrid l-art. 15(2) tal-Kap 237 [Att dwar ir-Referendi] :

“15(2) Dawk li jipproponu r-referendum, li ma jkunux inqas minn ħamsa u mhux iktar minn għaxra, għandhom jiffirmaw id-dikjarazzjoni qabel il-persuni l-oħra kollha filwaqt li jindikaw li jkunu qegħdin jiffirmaw bħala proponent.”

Għal din t-tieni  oġġezzjoni l-Qorti Kostituzzjonali wieġbet hekk fil-paragrafi  22, 23 u 24 tas-sentenza:

“ Din l-oġġezzjoni hija fattwalment ħażina. Id-Dikjarazzjoni saret fil-forma murija fl-Ewwel Skeda tal-Kap.237 li trid li d-dikjarazzjoni tibda hekk :

“Aħna hawn taħt iffirmati li aħna persuni rreġistrati bħala eletturi għall-elezzjoni ta’ membri fil-Kamra tad-Deputati (li minna l-ewwel għadd ta’ *(1) …………………….. persuni hawn taħt iffirmati huma l-proponenti) qegħdin nitolbu li l-mistoqsija dwar jekk dawn id-disposizzjonijiet tal-liġi li ġejjin, jiġifieri ……………..”

Imbagħad fil-parti fejn fl-Ewwel Skeda jitħalla vojt – fejn hemm l-istilla (*) u n-numru wieħed (1) – biex jitniżżel in-numru ta’ proponeti tniżżel in-numru “għaxra”, li jfisser illi l-ewwel għaxar ismijiet huma tal-proponeti u l-bqija huma l-ismijiet ta’ dawk illi ffirmaw id-dikjarazzjoni biex jintlaħaq in-numru li jrid l-art. 14(1) biex id-dikjarazzjoni tkun tista’ validament tintbagħat lill-Kummissjoni Elettorali.

It-tieni oġġezzjoni hi għalhekk miċħuda.”

Il-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa: pass ieħor lejn it-tmiem

No more Spring Hunting

 

Il-bieraħ il-Koalizzjoni kontra l-Kaċċa fir-Rebbiegħa permezz ta’ għaxar rappreżentanti tal-għaqdiet li jiffurmaw il-Koalizzjoni ppreżentat t-tweġiba għall-oġġezzonijiet li ġiebu l-kaċċaturi kontra r-referendum li għandu jġib fit-tmiem, darba għal dejjem, tal-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa.

It-tweġiba ġiet ippreżentata fir-Reġistru tal-Qorti Kostituzzjonali. Tittratta argumenti legali dwar dak li issa ilu jingħad żmien.

Issa nistennew li tkun appuntata l-ġurnata meta l-Qorti Kostituzzjonali tisma’ l-każ. Il-liġi dwar ir-referendum torbot lill-Qorti li trid tibqa’ għaddejja bil-każ sakemm tispiċċa tisma’ lil kulħadd. Jiġifieri jekk fil-ġurnata li tkun iffissata biex tinstema l-kawża jkun għad baqa’ x’jingħad, tkompli l-jum ta’ wara u tibqa’ għaddejja hekk sakemm tispiċċa tisma’ dak kollu li jkun meħtieġ. Wara tgħaddi biex tagħti d-deċiżjoni u dan fi żmien xahar.

Mela m’hux il-bogħod il-jum li l-Qorti Kostituzzjonali tieħu deċiżjoni dwar l-oġġezzjonijiet li saru mill-kaċċaturi.

Il-kaċċa m’hiex dritt. Hi attivita regolata. Fil-fatt l-iżjed żmien li teħtieg li tkun regolata hu fir-rebbiegħa meta l-għasafar ikollhom bżonn il-protezzjoni għax ikun ż-żmien li jbejtu.

Huwa preċiżament dan li jrid iwettaq ir-referendum dwar il-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa. Jagħti l-ħarsien lill-għasafar fl-iktar żmien tas-sena li jeħtieġuh. Il-jum li fih anke f’Malta nagħtu dan il-ħarsien qiegħed joqrob: il-jum li fih il-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa tispiċċa darba għal dejjem.

Ir-referendum abrogattiv u l-FKNK

No more Spring Hunting

Minn dak li qed naqra dwar ir-risposta li l-FKNK ippreżentaw fil-Qorti Kostituzzjonali dwar it-talba biex ikun hemm referendum abrogattiv dwar il-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa ma hemm xejn ġdid.

Semplċiment qed jagħtu libsa legali lill-argumenti li nġiebu matul ix-xhur li għaddew.

L-FKNK għad ma tistax taċċetta li f’numru ta’ każijiet , meta l-poplu jixba’ għandu l-għodda biex jiddeċiedi hu. Flok ma d-deċiżjonijiet jittieħdu fil-magħluq f’konfoffa bejn il-kaċċaturi u l-partiti politiċi fil-Parlament dawn issa ser jittieħdu bil-vot tiegħek u tiegħi.

Il-kaċċaturi qed jgħidu li huma minoranza ta’ 100,000. Mela għalfejn qed jinbżgħu mir-referendum?

 

Squeezing Labour’s balls

squeezing the ball

 

Last week’s hunting related incidents and the reactions of Joseph Muscat’s government is clear indication that Malta’s Labour Party is fed up of being blackmailed by the hunting lobby. It is realising, just eighteen months into this administration’s life that the hunting lobby has been squeezing Labour’s balls for far too long. It seems that Labour has finally found the appropriate time to ensure that the hunting lobby let go.

But will they?

Its much more than the need not to embarrass Commissioner-designate Karmenu Vella in next week’s hearing at the European Parliament. It is in fact the direct result of Juncker’s challenge through the determination of Vella’s portfolio.

Earlier this month the Guardian, in what is most probably the most accurate assessment of Juncker’s strategic thinking, stated that “Juncker is effectively calling the bluffs.”

The Guardian, analysing Juncker’s nominations, has concluded that Jean-Claude is putting a number of national governments on the spot. Specifically referring to the British, French, Hungarian, Greek, German and Dutch designate-Commissioners the Guardian argues that Juncker has strategically placed them in charge of policy areas which their national governments have a problem with.

Even though the Guardian did not refer to Karmenu Vella’s portfolio it is pretty obvious that Vella fits the bill perfectly. Karmenu Vella as Environment Commissioner will have very little room to manoeuvre in order to accommodate Muscat’s hunting and trapping commitments and hence if Muscat opts to continue to defy the EU environmental acquis he will be in for a lot of trouble and embarrassment.  Karmenu Vella will be the reluctant executioner. Joseph Muscat clearly wants to avoid this.

This is Juncker’s gamble as a result of which the squeeze on Labour’s balls may get worse.

Joseph u r-referendum dwar il-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa

kaccaturi-2

Il-Prim Ministru Joseph Muscat qed jikkunsidra li l-elezzjonijiet għall-Kunsilli Lokali jibdew isiru kull ħames snin, mal-elezzjonijiet għall-Parlament Ewropew. Probabilment li dan ifisser ukoll li l-elezzjonijiet kollha lokali li kellhom isiru sal-2019 ikunu posposti sadakinnhar.

Issa kif jaf kulħadd probabilment li r-referendum abrogattiv dwar il-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa jsir f’Marzu li ġej, Marzu 2015, preċiżament ma numru ta’ elezzjonijiet lokali li sal-lum il-liġi torbot li jsiru: elezzjonijiet f’34 Kunsill Lokali.

Din il-mossa hi interpretat minn uħud bħala pass ta’ appoġġ minn Joseph u l-Gvern tiegħu favur il-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa. Jagħtihom appoġġ billi jnaqqas dawk l-affarijiet li jagħmluha iktar faċli illi tmur tivvota.

Joseph kien daqshekk ġentili li qalilna illi din m’għandha tagħmel l-ebda differenza għal dawk li għandhom daqshekk entużjażmu biex isir dan ir-referendum. Ta’ l-inqas hekk irrappurtat il-Malta Today illum fir-rapport intitolat Standalone Referendum shouldn’t trouble eager supporters.

Xi ftit effett anke jekk żgħir jista’ jkun hemm. Pero’ kull deni ħudu b’ġid: hemm ukoll il-possibilita’ li jekk ikun ċar li l-Gvern ser jilgħab maħmuġ billi jfittex l-opportunitajiet biex jagħti l-gambetti, allura l-effett jista’ wara kollox ikun bil-maqlub ta’ dak li għandu f’moħħu l-Gvern.

Għax il-Gvern ta’ Joseph Muscat ma jridx li r-referendum abrogattiv iwassal biex il-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa  tieqaf.  M’għandi l-ebda dubju li din hi l-ewwel waħda minn diversi mossi jew tricks biex jagħti daqqa t’id.

Tajjeb li kulħadd jiftaħ għajnejh.

Joseph, Simon and the abrogative spring hunting referendum

turtle dove 2

 

The Prime Minister’s declaration as published in this morning’s Times of Malta that he will not block the abrogative referendum on spring hunting is welcome news.

It is welcome in view of the conflicting statements which Joseph himself made during the past weeks.

Both Joseph and Simon are in a tight corner at this point in time as they are both aware that their respective parties have, for political expediency, kowtowed to the hunting lobby during past years.

Both the Labour Party and the Nationalist Party are in a tight corner. They know it. As both have supported spring hunting. The Labour Party glorifies spring hunting. The PN alternates between glorification of spring hunting and insisting on controls and limits to the practice.

They have developed their specific spring hunting policies throughout the years in response to lobbying by hunters and their organisations. As a result they have created the current mess.

It is clear that the motivation of both PN and PL is not a love of hunting but the fear of being black-listed by pro-hunting voters. It is a choice which they have made and which obviously has its consequences. Their political choices are in conflict with the manner in which modern Maltese society views spring hunting. In view of their not being able to reflect what modern society expects of them it is pretty obvious that the only way forward is for decision-taking in this respect to be exercised directly by the voters.

This is what the abrogative referendum on spring hunting is about.

The abrogative referendum is a decent and democratic way of solving the whole matter hopefully once and for all. It is an exercise in direct democracy which when carried out will be a credit to the country.