Il-Gwardjan tal-Kostituzzjoni

Il-Kostituzzjoni tagħna tistenna li l-President tar-Repubblika jħares u jipproteġi l-Kostituzzjoni ta’ Malta. Imma mbagħad, l-istess Kostituzzjoni tonqos milli tipprovdi lill-President l-għodda meħtieġa biex ikun jista’ jwettaq dmiru, li jħares u jipproteġi l-Kostituzzjoni. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan, sal-lum, il-President tar-Repubblika straħ fuq il-persważjoni morali biex ikun jista’ jwettaq dan id-dmir bażiku. Illum il-ġurnata, meta nistennew ferm iktar minn Presidenza tar-Repubblika, ċerimonjali u bit-timbru, dan hu ferm inqas minn dak li nistennew. Is-soċjetà tagħna tistenna Presidenża bis-snien, anke jekk mingħajr poter eżekuttiv. Jiġifieri Presidenza li tista’ taġixxi fejn meħtieġ u ġustifikat mingħajr poteri eżekuttiv li ma jippermettuliex li tkun involuta fit-tmexxija ta’ kuljum tal-pajjiż.

Il-President tar-Repubblika ma jistax jistrieħ fuq il-perswazjoni morali biss biex jikkonvinċi gvern ħalli jibdel trieqtu u jirrispetta l-Kostituzzjoni, meta dan ikun meħtieg li jsir. L-uffiċċju tal-President jeħtieġ is-snien fil-forma ta’ għodda legali biex ikun jista’ jwettaq l-obbligu li jħares u jiddefendi l-Kostituzzjoni ta’ Malta.

L-Eċċellenza Tagħha l-President Coleiro-Preca, iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa għamlet proposta ċara u speċifika. F’intervista ppubblikata fuq Indepth, fl-edizzjoni elettronika ta’ The Malta Independent, fejn qalet li l-President tar-Repubblika għandu jkollu l-awtorità li jibgħat liġi lura għand il-Parlament biex din tkun ikkunsidrata mill-ġdid. Dan ikun ifisser ukoll li l-uffiċċju tal-President ikun ipprovdut bir-riżorsi meħtieġa ħalli l-President ikollu l-pariri legali meħtieġa, f’ħin qasir, biex b’hekk ikun f’posizzjoni li jwettaq dmiru.

Dan iwassal għall-konsiderazzjoni oħra: safejn għandu jinvolvi ruħu fid-dibattitu politiku l-President tar-Repubblika? Għax li tibgħat lura lill-Parlament liġi li jkun approva biex din tkun ikkunsidrata mill-ġdid hu bla dubju messaġġ politiku qawwi ħafna. Għandi dubju kemm President tar-Repubblika elett fix-xenarju politiku kurrenti jkun lest li jħaqqaqha mal-Parlament b’dan il-mod. Għax anke jekk wieħed jaċċetta li azzjoni ta’ din ix-xorta tkun xi ħaġa rari ikun loġiku li nikkonkludu li biex dan iseħħ ikun bla dubju f’nofs ta’ kontroversja politika liema bħalha! Bla dubju n-natura tal-Presidenza tinbidel li kellha sseħħ din il-bidla. Tista’ tkun bidla għall-aħjar.

Il-proposta li qed tagħmel il-President hi waħda valida. Imma rridu narawha f’kuntest iktar wiesa’.

Alternattiva Demokratika ilha żmien li pproponiet, fil-programmi elettorali diversi tagħha, li l-President tar-Repubblika għandu jintagħżel permezz ta’ kulleġġ elettorali li jkun ferm iktar wiesa’ mill-Parlament. Alternattiva Demokratika dejjem emfasizzat fuq il-ħtieġa li anke l-Kunsilli Lokali jkunu involuti flimkien mal-Parliament fl-għażla tal-President tar-Repubblika.

Il-Parlament m’għandux jikkontrolla l-istituzzjonijiet kollha tal-pajjiż. Is-sehem tal-Kunsilli Lokali fl-elezzjoni tal-President tar-Repubblika jagħti iktar dinjità lill-kariga ta’ President u jgħin biex titneħħa l-idea li din il-kariga hi waħda fejn jispiċċaw jirtiraw uħud mill-politiċi nazzjonali, irġiel u nisa.

Jekk ikun stabilit dan il-kulleġġ elettorali, l- President tar-Repubblika jkun jista’ jinħeles mid-dipendenza politika fuq il-Parliament. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan, ikun ukoll protett minn reazzjoni politika kontra tiegħu/tagħha da parti tal-maġġoranza Parlamentari kemm-il darba hu (jew hi) jaġixxi biex jiddefendi l-Kostituzzjoni billi jibgħat liġi lura quddiem il-Parlament.

Il-proposta biex il-President tar-Repubblika jkollu l-awtorità biex jibgħat liġi lura quddiem il-Parlament ħalli dan jikkunsidraha mill-ġdid għandha tkun limitata għal dawk il-każijiet fejn tkun identifikata inkompatibilità bejn il-liġi proposta u l-Kostituzzjoni. Din il-proposta, bla dubju, tittrasforma l-awtorità morali li għandu l-President tar-Repubblika illum f’awtorità reali u effettiva biex jimblokka legislazzjoni fejn din tkun tmur kontra dak li tipprovdi l-kostituzzjoni.

Bħala riżultat ta’ dan, meta l-President tar-Repubblika jagħti l-kunsens tiegħu għal xi liġi approvata mill-Parlament huwa ma jkunx sempliċiment qed jgħid iva għax jeħtieġlu jgħid iva bilfors.

Dan huwa wieħed mill-kontrolli essenzjali fuq il-poteri tal-Parlament li hu meħtieġ f’kostituzzjoni reveduta. Il-ħarsien u d-difiża tal-Kostituzzjoni għandu jkun wieħed reali, mhux wieħed taparsi.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 17 ta’ Marzu 2019

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The Guardian of the Constitution

Our Constitution expects that the President of the Republic protects and defends the Constitution of Malta. However, that same Constitution fails to provide the President with the required tools in order that this responsibility can be fulfilled. Consequently, to date, the President of the Republic has relied on moral persuasion to carry out this basic duty.

However, in this day and age, when we expect much more than a ceremonial Presidency with a rubber stamp, this is certainly insufficient. We expect a Presidency that can act in specific circumstances, even if it has no general executive powers.

The President cannot rely on moral persuasion alone to bring a government into line and respect our Constitution, when such action is required. The President’s office requires legal teeth to be in a position to fulfil its duty of protecting and defending the Constitution of Malta.

Earlier this week, Her Excellency the current President of the Republic has gone public with a specific proposal. In an interview published on Indepth, the online edition of The Malta Independent, outgoing President Marie-Louise Coleiro-Preca opined that the President should have the authority to send legislation back to Parliament for its reconsideration. This would also signify that the President’s office should be provided with the resources required in order that the President is provided with appropriate advice in real time in order that this essential function can be carried out.

This begs the question as to what extent should the President be actively involved in the local political debate. Sending back legislation to Parliament for its reconsideration would definitely be a very strong political statement. Would a President elected by Parliament in the present political scenario be willing to politically engage with Parliament in this manner? Even if one were to concede that this would be a rare event, it would be logical to conclude that were such an occurrence to happen it would definitely be a highly political and contentious act. The very nature of the Presidency would change dramatically. It could also be a change for the better.

The proposal made by President Coleiro-Preca is valid, but must, however, be seen in a wider context. Alternattiva Demokratika-The Green Party is on record as having proposed, in previous electoral manifestos, that the President of the Republic should be elected by an electoral college that is much wider than Parliament. Alternattiva Demokratika is of the opinion that Local Councils should be involved alongside Parliament in the election of the President.

Parliament should not be in control of all the country’s institutions. The involvement of local councils in the election of the President of the Republic would serve to increase the dignity of the office of President and would help remove the stigma that it is some sort of retirement club for old boys and girls.

Establishing such an electoral college would free the President from political dependence on Parliament. Consequently, the President, would in practice, be shielded from political backlash if he/she acts in defence of the Constitution, by sending back legislation to be reconsidered by Parliament.

The proposed authority of the President to return legislation for reconsideration should be limited to such cases where there is incompatibility between proposed legislation and the Constitution. It would transform the President’s current moral authority to real and effective authority to block legislation when there is a case to be made that such legislation is unconstitutional.

As a result, when the President gives his or her assent to legislation approved by Parliament it would not be simply applying the rubberstamp.

It is an important check on the powers of Parliament that is required in a revised Constitution. Guardianship of the Constitution should not be just lip-service, it should be real and effective.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 17 March 2019

Future Generations must be heard

 

The politics of sustainable development links present and future generations. The 1987 report of the United Nations Commission on Environment and Development (the Brundtland report) emphasised that development is sustainable if the choices we make today do not restrict tomorrow’s generations from making their own independent choices.

Future generations, to date, have no political or financial power and cannot challenge decisions taken by present generations. They have no voice. They are not represented at the negotiating table where present-day decisions are made.

Politics is dominated by the requirement to satisfy today’s wants, irrespective of the costs, as witnessed by spiralling financial, environmental and social deficits.

During the preparatory meetings for the Rio 1992 earth summit, delegations discussed the impacts of development on various vulnerable groups.

In a four-page document (A/CONF.151/PC/WG./L.8/Rev.1/Add.2), dated February 21, 1992, Malta submitted a proposal to the working group of the preparatory committee of the UN Rio conference, which met in New York in early March 1992.

After underlining the international community’s recognition of the rights of future generations as another vulnerable group, the Maltese government rightly emphasised that it is not sufficient to simply recognise the principle of future generation rights.

Words must be transformed into action. In paragraph 17 of its document, Malta proposed to go beyond rhetoric through the inclusion in the 1992 Rio declaration on the environment of the following: “We declare that each generation has, in particular, the responsibility to ensure that in any national or international forum where it is likely that a decision is taken affecting the interests of future generations access be given to an authorised person appointed as ‘Guardian’ of future generations to appear and make submissions on their behalf, so that account be taken of the responsibilities stated in this declaration and the obligations created thereby.”

Malta’s proposal was presented by the Foreign Ministry led by Guido de Marco.

The proposal had been developed by the International Environment Institute of the University of Malta within the framework of its Future Generations Programme led by Fr Emanuel Agius. Malta’s proposal was not taken up in the Rio declaration on the environment.

Do we need a guardian of future generations in Malta? I believe that we do and I think that the issue should be addressed when Parliament discusses legislation on sustainable development shortly.

The reasons justifying the domestic implementation of Malta’s 1992 proposal to the UN Rio preparatory committee are crystallised in paragraph 7 of Malta’s proposal that focuses on responsibility and foresight. Malta emphasised that present generations are in duty bound to foresee possible risks and uncertainties that present economic, political and technological policies have on future generations.

Responsibility, stated Malta in 1992, demands foresight. Hence, one should anticipate effective measures to, at least, prevent foreseeable risks and uncertainties.

The guardian of future generations would be the voice of those still unborn to defend their right to make their own choices, independently of the choices of present and past generations.

S/he would be the conscience of present generations nudging them towards behaviour and decisions that are compatible with their responsibilities.

In particular, s/he would be in a position to speak up on behalf of future generations when current or contemplated policies give rise to long-term risks that are not adequately addressed. S/he would emphasise that it is unethical for present generations to reap benefits and then shift the consequence of their actions on future generations.

Future generations need a voice to be able to communicate their concerns.

The appointment of a guardian to protect their interests would be such a voice. Such an appointment would also be implementing the President’s declaration during the inaugural session of the present Parliament on May 10, 2008 when he emphasised that the government’s plans and actions are to be underpinned by the notion of sustainable development. He had further stated that “when making decisions today, serious consideration will be given to the generations of tomorrow”.

Hungary has already given the lead. In 2007, the Hungarian Parliament appointed Sándor Fülöp as Parliamentary Commissioner for Future Generations. Among other things, he is entrusted to act as a policy advocate for sustainability issues across all relevant fields of legislation and public policy.

International NGOs, such as the World Future Council, have actively brought up the issue of future generations requiring a present-day voice during the second preparatory committee of the UN Rio+20 sustainability conference held in March this year in New York.

The Maltese Greens consider that it is time for the government to accept that the principled action it took on an international level in 1992 is equally applicable on a national level.

Malta too has the responsibility of foresight. It has the responsibility to ensure that the future can speak up such that we can listen and consider the impacts of our actions.

The time is ripe to act. We owe an ear to future generations. They deserve it.

 

published in The Times – Saturday August 27, 2011