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

Joseph Church : waħdu fin-nofs

 

 

Is-Sur Joseph Church hu l-Kummissarju Elettorali Ewlieni. Huwa uffiċjal pubbliku. Jmexxi l-Kummissjoni Elettorali magħmula minn 9 membri: 4 nominati mill-Prim Ministru, 4 oħra nominati mill-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni flimkien mas-Sur Joseph Church.

Meta l-Gvern ippreżenta l-abbozz ta liġi dwar il-finanzjament tal-partiti politiċi mill-ewwel insista li l-awtoritá li kellha tieħu ħsieb it-twettiq ta dawn l-obbligi kellha tkun il-Kummissjoni Elettorali. Il-Gvern insista dwar dan għax il-konsulent legali tiegħu Franco Debono repetutament insista dwar dan. Kienu jgħidu li hekk hi l-liġi Ingliża!

Alternattiva Demokratika dejjem insistiet li kien żball li din ir-responsabbiltá titqiegħed f’ħoġor il-Kummissjoni Elettorali għax din, minħabba l-komposizzjoni tagħha, fl-iktar mumenti kritiċi tieħu posizzjoni partiġġjana biċ-Chairman fin-nofs irid jiddeċiedi prattikament hu l-iktar kwistjonijiet jaħarqu.

Franco Debono u Owen Bonnici kienu jgħidu li l-Kummissjoni Elettorali dejjem mexxiet tajjeb l-elezzjonijiet kollha li kellha l-inkarigu li tmexxi. Dawn forsi qatt ma irrealizzaw li l-liġijiet elettorali tant huma dettaljati li l-Kummissjoni Elettorali ftit għandha fejn tiċċaqlaq u anke kieku riedet kważi qatt ma setgħet tagħti deċiżjonijiet differenti milli tat!

Fuq kollox il-Kummissjoni Elettorali Ingliża hi komposta bmod differenti u fiha persuni li huma verament indipendenti. Il-Kummissjoni Elettorali Maltija għandha tmienja minn disa membri li mhumiex u l-anqas qatt ma jistgħu jkunu indipendenti, avolja huma lkoll persuni serji. Hemm ta’ l-inqas tlieta minnhom li kienu kandidati felezzjonijiet ġenerali. Hemm min minnhom anke illum hu direttur ta Korpi Parastatali nnominat mill-Gvern!

Fdawn iċċirkustanzi Alternattiva Demokratika kienet ipproponiet li l-awtoritá dwar il-finanzjament tal-partiti għandha tkun fil-Kummissarju għall-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika li l-Liġi dwaru ġiet approvata riċentement.

Wara xi żmien li Alternattiva Demokratika kienet ħarġet bdin il-proposta, il-Partit Nazzjonalista ukoll kien ħareġ idoqq l-istess diska. Imma l-Gvern webbes rasu.

Mela illum tiddeċiedi l-Kummissjoni Elettorali.

Immaġinaw ftit xinhi l-posizzjoni tal-Kummissjoni meta titalab tinvestiga liżżewġ partiti l-kbar. Diġa hawn l-ewwel każijiet u hemm d-diffikultajiet. It-Times qed tirrapporta li wara li ġie diskuss il-każ tal-invoices tal-PN/Silvio Debono hemm membri tal-Kummissjoni li qed joġġezzjonaw li l-Kummissjoni Elettorali tkun hi li tinvestiga u taqta l-każ.

Ovvja, 4 jaqblu u 4 ma jaqblux. U jispiċċa jiddeċiedi ċ-Chairman is-Sur Joseph Church, waħdu, war li jkun qies il-parir legali li jirċievi.

Dan kollu seta jkun evitat kieku l-Gvern ta każ tal-fehma ta Alternattiva Demokratika li kienet ippreżentata bil-miktub kemm meta ħarġet il-White Paper kif ukoll iktar tard meta ħareġ l-abbozz ta liġi.

Sa fl-aħħar

Standards in Public Life Bill

 

Mela fl-aħħar, il-lejla, l-Parlament ta’ Malta għandu fuq l-aġenda bħala l-ewwel item l-abbozz ta’ liġi li jirregola l-imġieba fil-ħajja pubblika. Wara li dan l-abbozz ilu lest iktar minn sentejn hu ġustifikat li ngħidu “about time”. Jew forsi “aħjar tard milli qatt”!

Ir-rapport finali tal-Kumitat Magħżul kien ippreżentat lill-Parlament nhar l-24 ta’ Marzu 2014. Xahrejn wara, nhar l-20 ta’ Mejju, l-abbozz ta’ Liġi imsejjaħ Att tal-2014 dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika ingħata l-ewwel qari fil-Parlament. Wara, nhar il-15 ta’ Lulju 2014 kien ippubblikat fil-Gazzetta tal-Gvern u tqiegħed fuq l-agenda tal-Parlament fejn għandu hemm sal-lum!

L-abbozz ta’ liġi jfittex li joħloq l-istrutturi meħtieġa biex ikun possibli li jkunu investigati imġieba li ma tkunx kompatibbli mal-liġi inkella man-normi etiċi minn persuni fil-ħajja pubblika. Il-moniteraġġ ser ikun vestit f’kumitat parlamentari permanenti kif ukoll f’Kummissarju għall-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika li jinħatar bl-approvazzjoni ta’ żewġ terzi tal-voti tal-membri parlamentari.

Il-leġislazzjoni proposta ser tapplika għal żewġ kategoriji ta’ persuni fil-ħajja pubblika: il-Membri Parlamentari (inkluż il-Ministri, s-Segretarji Parlamentari u l-Assistenti Parlamentari) kif ukoll dawk impjegati fis-settur pubbliku minħabba li jgawdu l-fiduċja tal-politiċi, dawk li ħafna drabi nirreferu għalihom bħala li qegħdin “in a position of trust”.

L-abbozz jinkludi edizzjoni aġġornata tal-Kodiċi tal-Etika applikabbli għall-membri parlamentari kif ukoll għall-Kodiċi l-ieħor applikabbli għall-membri tal-Kabinett imma ma jinkludix il-Kodiċi tal-Etika applikabbli għad-Diretturi maħtura fuq awtoritajiet, korporazzjonijiet jew korpi parastatali li kien oriġinalment ippubblikat madwar ħamsa u għoxrin sena ilu. L-abbozz l-anqas ma jgħidilna dawn il-persuni ta’ fiduċja kif ser ikunu regolati!

Il-Kummissarju għall-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika ser ikun jista’ jinvestiga allegazzjonijiet dwar imġieba mhux etika kif ukoll dwar il-veraċità tad-dikjarazzjonijiet tad-dħul u l-assi li jagħmlu l-Membri Parlamentari, u l-membri tal-Kabinetti jew dawk impjegati f’posizzjoni ta’ fiduċja u dan skond kif jistabilixxu l-Kodiċi tal-Etika inkella r-regoli li jsiru taħt l-Att dwar l-Amministrazzjoni Pubblika.

Għalkemm l-abbozz huwa avvanz fuq il-qagħda attwali xorta hemm ħtieġa ta’ titjib sostanzjali fil-proposti li fih l-abbozz. Fosthom huwa neċessarju li jidħlu għall-ewwel darba miżuri li jirregolaw il-lobbying illi jsir tal-politici f’laqghat kemm formali kif ukoll informali. Regolamentazzjoni illi tista’ issir b’diversi modi.

Imma l-abbozz jinjora l-lobbying kompletament u ma jippruvax jirregolah.

Huwa essenzjali li issa l-Parlament ma jkaxkarx saqajh u li l-abbozz ikun approvat b’emendi fl-iqsar zmien possibli.

Kien hemm diversi kazi u ċirkustanzi matul dawn l-aħħar sentejn li setgħu jkunu investigati kieku liġi ta’ din ix-xorta kienet teżisti. Huwa għalhekk essenzjali illi l-abbozz ikun imtejjeb u approvat u li fl-qasir żmien jinħatar il-Kummissarju ghall-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika. Għandu jkun emfasizzat li l- Kummissarju għall-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika għandu l-inkarigu li jinvestiga mhux biss l-imġieba tal-Membri Parlamentari u l-Ministri imma ukoll, kif jipproponi l-istess abbozz, l-imġieba tal-persuni ta’ fiduċja li nħatru mill-amministrazzjoni. Huwa mehtieg li anke dawn jirrealizzaw illi anke huma jeħtieġ li jagħtu kont ta’ egħmilhom.

L-imġieba ta’ Konrad u ta’ Keith tal-Kasko

Standards in Public Life Bill

Waqt li għaddejja l-argumenti dwar il-kumpaniji ta’ Konrad Mizzi u Keith Schembri tal-Kasco fil-Panama tajjeb li nħarsu ftit lejn l-aġenda tal-Parlament.

Fiha hemm item pendenti bl-isem ta’ abbozz ta’ liġi dwar l-Istandards fil-ħajja pubblika. Dan l-abbozz ta’ liġi japplika għall-membri parlamentari [bħal Konrad Mizzi] u għal persuni impjegati in a position of trust [bħal Keith Schembri tal-Kasco].

Il-Gvern ilu kwazi sentejn ikaxkar saqajh dwar din il-liġi għax minkejja li kien hemm qbil unanimu dwarha fis-Select Committee, din baqgħet fuq l-ixkaffa.

Kieku Joseph Muscat serju u verament jemmen dak li qed jgħid, kieku din il-liġi ilha approvata.

Kieku l-liġi dwar l-istandards fil-ħajja pubblika ġiet approvata diġa inħatar Kummissarju għall-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika li għada it-Tnejn kien jibgħat għal Konrad u Keith Schembri tal-Kasco u jitlobhom spjegazzjoni dettaljata dwar il-kumpanija tagħhom fil-Panama u jiftaħ investigazzjoni immedjatament.

Imma kieku …………. jibqa’ kieku ………….. għax Joseph u l-Partit Laburista fil-Gvern għadhom qed ikaxkru saqajhom.

Ethics in Parliament: waiting for Godot?

Standards in Public Life Bill

 

The Bill regulating Standards in Public Life has been pending on Parliament’s agenda for months.

It seems that government is in no hurry to implement its provisions, notwithstanding that this Bill is the result of discussions carried out in a Parliamentary Select Committee under the Chairmanship of the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

The final report of the Select Committee was submitted to Parliament on 24 March 2014. Two months later, on 20 May, a Bill entitled Standards in Public Life Act, 2014 was given a first reading in parliament. It was subsequently published in the Malta Government Gazette on  15 July 2014 and placed on Parliament’s agenda, where – 16 months later it remains .

The Bill seeks to create the necessary structures to ensure that breeches of statutory or ethical duties by specific categories of persons in public life are investigated. Monitoring and investigation will be vested in a permanent Parliamentary Committee, as well as through a Commissioner for Standards in Public Life, who will be appointed subject to the approval of two-thirds of sitting MPs.

Two categories of persons in public life are subject to the provisions of the proposed legislation: MPs (including Ministers, Parliamentary Secretaries and Parliamentary Assistants) as well as those  employed in a position of trust in all areas of the public sector.

The proposed legislation includes updated versions of the Code of Ethics applicable to MPs and members of Cabinet but does not include the Code of Ethics applicable to directors appointed to authorities, corporations and other state-owned bodies that was first published in the early 1990s.

The Commissioner for Standards in Public Life will be able to investigate allegations regarding unethical behaviour as well as the veracity of declarations on income and assets held which are made by MPs, members of Cabinet and persons employed in a position of trust as detailed in the applicable Codes of Ethics or rules made under the Public Administration Act.

The Commissioner will not be able to investigate past transgressions retrospectively. Moreover, it is proposed that there will be a time limit of two years for action to be taken on present day breeches.

In a recent interview the Speaker of the House said he is not satisfied with MPs’ assets declarations. He also said that, as things currently stand, he does not have any authority to investigate these declarations.

The Bill currently pending on parliament’s agenda assigns this specific authority to the Permanent Select Committee, which will be chaired by the Speaker, and to the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life. Cases such as those that recently surfaced concerning former Health Minister Joseph Cassar could be considered and acted upon within this proposed framework.

An investigation has to be concluded within six months from the receipt of an allegation. When the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life has concluded an investigation, he will submit his conclusions – as well as appropriate recommendations – to the Permanent Standing Committee. The Committee will either act on the recommendations or else opt for further investigations.

In respect of non-MPs, the Committee will either take a decision, or, if the matter so requires, refer the case for further investigations by the Commissioner of Police or the Permanent Commission Against Corruption. In respect of MPs, it will refer the recommended decisions to the House of Representatives for a decision.

Most readers would  express serious doubt as to whether, given the present composition of Malta’s Parliament, it is possible to have an objective assessment of recommendations made by the Commissioner or the Standing Committee on allegations of unethical behaviour or misleading and/or incorrect declarations of assets.  It is difficult to imagine how Malta’s Parliament, divided as it is into two opposing camps, could take objective decisions on cases similar to that of former Health Minister Joe Cassar. It goes without saying that the debate and decisions would be highly charged along partisan lines.

I may be wrong, but, in my opinion, unless the decision-taking procedures proposed in the Bill Regulating Standards in Public life are heavily revisited, the proposals may not lead to an effective instrument with which to address unethical behaviour by holders of public office.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 8 November 2015

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

Pass kbir il-quddiem

Financing of Political Parties Act

Fil-Parlament il-bieraħ fil-għaxija ġiet fi tmiemha d-diskussjoni dwar il-liġi dwar il-Finanzjament tal-Partiti. Dan sar fil-kumitat permanenti li jikkunsidra l-liġijiet.

F’isem Alternattiva Demokratika jiena kont mistieden nieħu sehem f’din id-diskussjoni li ilha sejra diversi ġimgħat. F’din id-diskussjoni l-abbozz ta’ liġi ġie analizzat kelma kelma. Forsi virgola, virgola ukoll.

Għalkemm hemm affarijiet fil-liġi li setgħu saru aħjar, inkluż uħud li għal Alternattiva Demokratika m’humiex aċċettabbli, fi tmiem id-diskussjoni l-abbozz ta’ liġi  xorta hu wieħed aħjar milli kif kien imfassal oriġinalment.

L-oġġezzjoni prinċipali ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika hija dwar ir-regolatur. Jiġifieri dwar min ser ikollu l-awtorità li jara li l-liġi taħdem sewwa u li tkun osservata. Sa mill-bidu nett tad-diskussjoni l-Gvern ippropona li din l-awtorità regolatorja tkun il-Kummissjoni Elettorali.

L-oġġezzjoni ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika hi ibbażata fuq il-mod kif inhi magħmula l-Kummissjoni Elettorali. Din fiha 9 membri. Erba’ minnhom jaħtarhom il-Prim Ministru. Erba’ oħra jaħtarhom il-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni. Id-disa’ membru jaħtru l-Gvern tal-ġurnata għax ikun l-impjegat tal-Gvern li jmexxi x-xogħol amministrattiv kollu tal-Kummissjoni Elettorali. Il-Kummissjoni Elettorali, mela, hi magħmula minn rappreżentanti taż-żewġ partiti fil-Parlament.

Diġa hi problema kbira li ż-żewġ partiti fil-Parlament għandhom f’idejhom kontroll esklussiv tal-proċess kollu elettorali. Problema li tittaffa ftit bil-fatt li l-liġijiet elettorali jidħlu f’ħafna dettall u ankè jorbtu idejn il-Kummissjoni Elettorali kważi f’kollox.

Imma fil-każ tal-finanzjament tal-partiti ser ikun hemm ħafna affarijiet li ser ikunu jeħtieġu diskrezzjoni. Ser ikun hemm bżonn interpretazzjoni u ser ikun hemm bżonn deċiżjonijiet. Kulħadd hu tad-demm u l-laħam u wisq nibża’ li dan ser ikun rifless fid-deċiżjonijiet li jittieħdu.

Kien ikun ħafna aħjar kieku flok il-Kummissjoni Elettorali bħala awtorità regolatorja intagħżel il-Kummissarju għall-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika, kariga li ser tinħoloq permezz ta’ liġi oħra li għadha pendenti fuq l-aġenda Parlamentari. Min jokkupa din il-kariga ser jintagħżel mill-Parlament u biex jintagħżel ikun jeħtieġlu l-appoġġ ta’ mhux inqas minn żewġ terzi tal-Membri tal-Parlament. B’dan l-appoġġ, min ser jokkupa din il-kariga bil-fors li jkun persuna li tispira fiduċja u għaldaqstant tkun persuna aċċettabbli ukoll biex tkun l-awtorità li tieħu ħsieb l-amministrazzjoni tal-liġi li tirregola l-finanzjament tal-partiti politiċi. Din kienet il-proposta ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika, li iktar tard kisbet ukoll l-appoġġ tal-Partit Nazzjonalista.

Il-Gvern qatt ma qal li ma jaqbilx mal-proposta ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika. Qal biss li kien jippreferi li l-awtorità regolatorja tkun il-Kummissjoni Elettorali għax kien mgħaġġel. Kellu l-GRECO tal-Kunsill tal-Ewropa (Group of States Against Corruption) jiġri warajh u għaldaqstant ma kellux ċans joqgħod jibni l-istrutturi (institution building)!

Il-liġi probabbilment li tibda taħdem ftit xhur oħra. Il-partiti ser ikunu meħtieġa li jkollhom il-kontijiet tagħhom ivverifikati (audited). Ser ikun meħtieġ ukoll li kull sena jippreżentaw rapport dwar id-donazzjonijiet li jirċievu. Iridu ukoll jippubblikaw l-ismijiet ta’ dawk il-persuni li  fuq perjodu ta’ tnax-il xahar ikunu taw donazzjoni lill-partiti politiċi bejn €7,000 u €25,000. Ħadd ma jista’ jagħti donazzjoni ta’ iktar minn €25,000 f’sena, u għaldaqstant l-ebda partit politiku ma jista’ jaċċetta donazzjoni ta’ din ix-xorta.

Il-kontrolli, rapporti, verifiki u poteri tal-Kummissjoni Elettorali li tinvestiga huma kollha intenzjonati li jkun assigurat li jkun hemm trasparenza sħiħa fil-finanzjament tal-partiti politiċi u li din it-trasparenza twassal ukoll għal politka iktar nadifa.

Naslu? Issa naraw. Imma nemmen li bil-mod il-mod naslu ukoll.

Nemmen li bid-difetti b’kollox li fiha l-liġi din hi pass kbir il-quddiem.

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

 

 

Il-finanzjament tal-partiti politiċi: Ħtieġa ta’ kunsens wiesa’

Hisilicon K3

L-editorjal tat-Times tal-lum jitkellem dwar is-sorveljanza tal-finanzjament tal-partiti politiċi. Suġġett traskurat għal snin twal u li llum dwaru fil-Parlament għaddejja diskussjoni dwar abbozz ta’ liġi. Dwar dan l-abbozz, u l-fatt li wasalna sa hawn, kif diġà għedt drabi oħra, għandu mertu kemm Franco Debono kif ukoll il-Gvern tal-lum.

Alternattiva Demokratika ilha ukoll is-snin titkellem dwar il-materja. Dan għamlitu sa mill-ewwel programm elettorali tagħha fl-elezzjoni ġenerali tal-1992, l-ewwel darba li kkontestat elezzjoni ġenerali. Bħala AD ppubblikajna żewġ dokumenti dwar il-proposti li għandu quddiemu llum il-Parlament. L-ewwel wieħed kien dokument bir-reazzjonijiet ta’ AD għall-White Paper. Sussegwentement ħejjejna u ppubblikajna wkoll dokument bi tweġiba għall-proposti kif dettaljati fl-abbozz ta’ liġi.

Fil-prinċipju l-abbozz ta’ liġi ppreżentat hu tajjeb imma jirrikjedi diversi emendi.

Preżentament, fil-fatt, l-abbozz qiegħed jiġi diskuss fil-Kumitat Parlamentari dwar il-Liġijiet. Jiena qed nieħu sehem f’din id-diskussjoni u dan għax intlaqgħet it-talba ta’ AD għal parteċipazzjoni f’din id-diskussjoni u ġejt mistieden biex inkun nista’ nieħu sehem fiha.

Id-diskussjoni fil-Kumitat Parlamentari issa waslet bejn wieħed u ieħor sa nofs l-abbozz tal-liġi u nista’ ngħid li f’ħafna każi l-abbozz ġie mtejjeb billi ġew ikkunsidrati bis-serjetà d-diversi proposti li saru. Dan iżda ma sarx għall-iktar punt importanti tal-liġi. Il-Gvern, permezz tal-Ministru Owen Bonnici, ma jridx jiċċaqlaq mill-proposta li l-awtorità li tirregola l-finanzjament tal-partiti politiċi tkun il-Kummissjoni Elettorali.

Alternattiva Demokratika ilha xhur twal issa li għamlet il-proposta li flok il-Kummissjoni Elettorali l-awtorità regolatorja għandha tkun f’idejn il-Kummissarju tal-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika, uffiċjal parlamentari li dwaru hemm abbozz ta’ liġi pendenti fuq l-aġenda parlamentari. Hu propost f’dan l-abbozz li dan l-uffiċjal jinħatar bil-kunsens ta’ żewġ terzi tal-membri parlamentari. B’hekk ikun hemm kunsens wiesa’ fuq il-persuna li tinħatar li bla dubju taġixxi lil hinn mill-influwenza tal-partiti politiċi kollha.

Kien għalhekk ta’ sodisfazzjon li sussegwentment anke l-Partit Nazzjonalista adotta l-istess pożizzjoni u insista fuq dan waqt id-diskussjoni fil-Parlament.

Imma l-Gvern ma jaqbilx ma’ dan għal żewġ raġunijiet. L-ewwel qed jgħid li l-Kummissjoni Elettorali hi struttura eżistenti u għalhekk għax hu mgħaġġel biex iħaddem il-liġi l-ġdida [għax qed jiġri warajh il-GRECO mill-Kunsill tal-Ewropa: GRECO = Group of States Against Corruption] jippreferi jagħmel użu mill-Kummissjoni Elettorali. It-tieni, il-Gvern qed jgħid li l-Kummissjoni Elettorali hi korp kostituzzjonali li diġà in parti għandu responsabbiltajiet dwar il-finanzjament tal-politika u dan għax “suppost” li diġà jissorvelja l-infiq tal-kandidati fl-elezzjonijiet diversi.

Sfortunatement il-Gvern qed jinjora l-fatt li kif komposta l-Kummissjoni Elettorali, għal raġunijiet storiċi, hi dominata minn rappreżentanza tal-partiti politiċi fil-parlament [4 mill-PN, 4 mill-PL u Chairman miċ-Ċivil magħżul mill-Gvern tal-ġurnata]. Dan ifisser li l-partiti politiċi fil-parlament għandhom aċċess għall-informazzjoni fuq il-partiti l-oħra li mhumiex u per konsegwenza kontroll sħiħ fuq il-proċess kollu.

Jagħmel tajjeb il-Gvern kieku jfittex kunsens anke fuq dan il-punt, kif wara kollox għamel b’suċċess fuq partijiet oħra tal-liġi.

ippubblikat fuq iNews l-Erbgħa 1 ta’ Lulju 2015