Mill-Kummissjoni Venezja: Malta demokrazija parlamentari?

Meta tipprova tifhem dak li ntqal mill-Kummissjoni Venezja tal-Kunsill tal-Ewropa tirriżulta preokkupazzjoni waħda bażika: Malta demokrazija parlamentari? Meta tgħarbel l-opinjoni li kienet ippubblikata iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa tasal għal konkulżjoni loġika: id-demokrazija parlamentari f’Malta hi prattikament ineżistenti. Minflok għandna ċentraliżmu demokratiku bil-Kabinett jiddetta lill-Parlament. Dik li fuq il-karta hi l-ogħla istituzzjoni tal-pajjiż hi fil-fatt sudditu tal-Kabinett.

Wasal iż-żmien li l-Parliament jieħu l-mazz f’idejh. Din hi l-qalba ta’ dak li għandu jkun ikkunsidrat f’riforma kostituzzjonali massiċċa li hi meħtieġa.

L-opinjoni tal-Kummissjoni Venezja teżamina diversi materji. Hi intitolata “Malta: Opinion on Constitutional Arrangements and Separation of Powers and the Independence of the Judiciary and Law Enforcement.”

Dan mhu xejn ġdid għalina f’Alternattiva Demokratika. Jekk wieħed jgħarbel il-manifesti elettorali, stqarrijiet u artikli minn esponenti ta’ AD tul is-snin hu ċar li l-parti l-kbira ta’ dak li tgħid il-Kummissjoni Venezja ġie indirizzat minn Alternattiva Demokratika. Imma dak li qalet AD ġie repetutament injorat mill-klassi politika diriġenti li kontinwament injorat il-ħtieġa ta’ bidla. Qatt ma kellhom rieda tajba li jindirizzaw il-poteri kolonjali tal-gvernatur li fil-parti l-kbira tagħhom għaddew għand il-Prim Ministru u rabbew l-għeruq fil-kostituzzjoni u l-liġijiet tagħna. Il-mentalità li min jirbaħ ikaxkar kollox trid tispiċċa u tinbidel f’waħda fejn kull settur tas-soċjeta ikollu rwol fit-teħid tad-deċiżjonijiet u fejn il-Parlament ma jibqax servili lejn il-Kabinett imma jkun kapaċi li jieqaf fuq saqajh u jagħti direzzjoni hu lill-Kabinett.

Fl-opinjoni tiegħi mhux korrett li jingħad li d-demokrazija f’Malta hi pprattikata fuq il-mudell ta’ Westminister. Iktar inkunu korretti jekk nirrealizzaw li l-mudell hu dak imfassal mill-Uffiċċju tal-Kolonji imma mlibbes ilbies kostituzzjonali iktar riċenti: gvernatur liebes ta’ Prim Ministru.

Il-problema bażika hi li l-Parlament Malti ġie ikkastrat mill-PNPL. Hu Parlament ineffettiv għax m’għandux ir-rieda politika li jġiegħel lill-Gvern jagħti kont ta’ għemilu: la l-Gvern tal-lum u l-anqas lil dawk li ġew qabel .

Il-Kummissjoni Venezja tidħol fil-qalba tal-materja meta tipponta lejn żewġ punti fundamentali li jeħtieġ li jkunu indirizzati.

Id-defiċjenza kostituzzjonali bażika f’Malta hi li l-Prim Ministru għandu f’idejh poteri kbar, wirt mill-gvernaturi kolonjali u f’ħafna każi bla jedd tal-Parlament li jara x’inhu għaddej. Dan iżeblaħ dik li nirreferu għaliha bħala demokrazija parlamentari u hu l-kawża tal-problemi kollha indirizzati mill-opinjoni tal-Kummissjoni Venezja.

It-tieni problema hi l-membri parliamentari servili lejn l-eżekuttiv dejjem ifaqqsu: jistennew it-tqassim mill-Prim Ministru ta’ ħatrijiet intenzjonati biex iżommuhom okkupati u allura ma jkollomx il-ħin biex isaqsu u jgħarblu dwar il-ħidma tal-Gvern.
Dawn mhumiex problemi li ħoloqhom Joseph Muscat. Inħolqu minn ta’ qablu u ġew ipperfezzjonati tul is-snin biex ikun assigurat li ħadd ma jazzarda jaħseb b’moħħu. Il-ftit eċċezzjonijiet jippruvaw ir-regola!

L-aħħar tibdil sar mill-Parlament b’maġġoranza Laburista elett fl-2013 meta sar tibdil f’diversi liġijiet biex ikun possibli li membri parlamentari (laburisti) jkunu jistgħu jinħatru f’diversi karigi, bi ħlas sostanzjali. Dan jassigura li ħadd minnhom ma jiftaħ ħalqu biex ikun kritiku tal-Gvern għax kollha għandhom idhom fil-borma.

Lawrence Gonzi ipprattika dawn l-affarijiet, filwaqt li Joseph Muscat irfina s-sistema.

L-opinjoni tal-Kummissjoni Venezja titkellem dwar bosta materji oħra ta’importanza kbira. Imma fl-opinjoni tiegħi, fl-aħħar, dak kollu li jingħad hu rifless f’punt wieħed : it-tmexxija għandha tkun f’idejn il-Parlament li għandu jibni demokrazija parlamentari ta’ vera u jġiegħel lill-Kabinett jagħti kont ta’ egħmilu kontinwament. Il-kumplament ikun il-konsegwenza loġika ta’ dan.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 23 ta’ Diċembru 2018

Advertisements

Venice Commission opinion: is Malta a Parliamentary Democracy?

Reading between the lines of the Council of Europe Venice Commission’s opinion on Malta, one basic preoccupation sticks out: is Malta a parliamentary democracy? Perusal of the opinion, released earlier this week, leads to one logical conclusion: parliamentary democracy in Malta is practically nonexistent. Democratic centralism reigns supreme, with the Cabinet dictating to Parliament. What on paper is the “highest institution in the land” is in fact a vassal of Cabinet.

Is it not about time that Parliament takes control? This is the crux of the matter which needs to be addressed by a major constitutional overhaul.

The Venice Commission’s opinion is wide-ranging. It is in fact entitled “Malta: Opinion on Constitutional Arrangements and Separation of Powers and the Independence of the Judiciary and Law Enforcement.”

There is nothing new to Maltese Greens in all this. Going through Green election manifestos, statements and articles throughout the years clearly shows that most of the points raised by the Venice Commission’s opinion have been repeatedly addressed by Alternattiva Demokratika-The Green Party. Yet these green proposals have been ignored time and time again as the alternating ruling political classes have continuously manifested a glaring lack of good will to embrace change and remove the vestiges of colonial rule which are still entrenched in Malta’s constitutional and legal setup.

The “winner takes all” mentality has yet to give way to one where all sectors of society are involved in decision-taking and where, in particular, Parliament is not subservient to the tenant at the Auberge de Castille, but is capable of holding Cabinet on a leash.

It is, in my opinion, incorrect to state that democracy in Malta is practiced on the basis of a Westminister model. It is rather a Colonial Office model camouflaged in modern constitutional clothing: a governor in prim-ministerial clothing. The basic problem lies in the fact that Malta’s Parliament has been castrated by the PNPL. It is an ineffective Parliament, as there is no political will to hold any government to account: neither the present nor any previous other.

The Venice Commission’s opinion goes to the heart of the matter when it points out two fundamental issues that need to be addressed.

The basic constitutional deficiency in Malta is an all-powerful Prime Minister who has constitutionally inherited all the powers exercised by the colonial governors, many times without parliamentary oversight. This makes a mockery of our so-called parliamentary-democracy and is the source and cause of all the problems addressed by the Venice Commission opinion.

The second basic problem is a never-ending supply of servile Members of Parliament who look forward to the sinecures distributed by the Prime Minister to all (government) backbenchers, thereby ensuring that all or most of them are at his beck and call. They are thus kept busy and have no time to ask questions and demanding answers, thereby holding the executive to account.

These problems have not been created by Joseph Muscat. They have, however, been specifically designed by his predecessors in office, red and blue, and tweaked over the years to ensure that at no point would it be possible for anyone to upset the applecart. The few exceptions prove the rule.

The latest adjustments to the system were made by a Labour-controlled Parliament after the 2013 elections as a result of the amendments to various laws making it possible to assign various responsibilities, against substantial payments, to practically all Labour parliamentary backbenchers. This ensures that they each and every government backbencher is not in a position to call the government to account as they all have a finger in the pie!

Lawrence Gonzi had also practised the above, while Joseph Muscat perfected the system.

The Venice Commission opinion speaks on various other important topics. In my humble opinion, at the end of the day it only boils down to one point: Parliament should take full control: it should construct a real parliamentary democracy and hold the tenant at the Auberge de Castille and his associates to account, continuously. All the rest will necessarily follow.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 23 December 2018

Venice Commission: Malta’s Parliament is castrated

 

Going through the Council of Europe Venice Commission report leads to one logical conclusion: this is no parliamentary democracy. It is in fact an exercise in democratic centralism with Cabinet dictating to Parliament which in turn obliges.

There is nothing new in all this. Going through Green electoral manifestos, statements and articles throughout the years clearly shows that most of the points raised by the Venice Commission report have been addressed by Alternattiva Demokratika. The proposals made have been ignored time and again as the alternating ruling political classes have continuously manifested a glaring lack of good will.

The heart of the problem lies in Parliament which has been castrated by the PNPL. It is ineffective as there is no political will to hold any government to account: neither the present nor any previous other.

The Venice Commission report goes to the heart of the matter when it points out two particular issues.

The basic constitutional deficiency is an all powerful Prime Minister who constitutionally has inherited all the powers exercised by the colonial governors, many times without parliamentary oversight. This makes a mockery of our so-called parliamentary-democracy.

The second basic problem is the servile members of parliament elected who look forward to the sinecures distributed by the Prime Minister to all (government)backbenchers thereby ensuring that all of them (or most of them) are at his beck and call.

The problems have not been created by Joseph Muscat or Adrian Delia. They have however been specifically designed by their predecessors and tweaked over the years to ensure that at no point would it be possible for anyone to upset the applecart.

The latest adjustments to the system were made by a Labour controlled Parliament after the 2013 elections as a result of the amendments to various laws making it possible to assign executive responsibilities to practically all parliamentary backbenchers. This ensures that they each and every government backbencher is not in a position to call government to account as they all have a finger in the pie!

Constitutional Convention: upsetting the apple-cart

 

A Constitutional Convention is long overdue. It has been on the public agenda for years.

Over the years, Malta’s Constitution has been patched up several times in order to resolve political issues arising at that particular point in time. It is about time that the Constitution is considered in its entirety in order to ensure that it serves the needs of the nation now and in the foreseeable future. An overhaul would certainly be in order.

One major issue which, in my view, needs to be addressed is the curtailing of the executive’s power over the composition, set-up and running of authorities and institutions so that these can begin functioning properly. Rather than the executive ceding power, as Minister Owen Bonnici stated recently when piloting the debate on the Bill that seeks to introduce limited screening of public appointments, it means that Parliament should rediscover its proper functions and claim back its authority.

This is the basic flaw in Malta’s Constitutional set-up. Malta is described as a Parliamentary democracy and, on paper, Parliament does have the power to decide but, over the years it has been reluctant to upset the current balance of power that favours Cabinet over Parliament. Unless and until there is a will to address this, no headway can be made and any proposed changes will necessarily be cosmetic in nature.

Currently, the focus of public debate is on the functioning of the institutions of the state. This debate has been going on for some time but has gathered steam as a result of the obvious inertia observed over many years. The principal issue is the manner in which major public appointments are made.

Unfortunately the public debate is sometimes derailed. The debate on the Attorney General’s office, for example, should rather be on the functions of the office than on Dr. Peter Grech, the current incumbent. In particular, Parliament should examine whether the multitude of responsibilities added to the office of the Attorney General over the years have diluted its Constitutional responsibilities. One detailed proposal on the hiving off of responsibility for public prosecutions was made in the Vanni Bonello-led Justice Reform Commission, many moons ago. So far, no action has been taken.

I think that by now it is clear to all that Parliament, on its own, will not deliver on the reform required because such reform, if properly carried out, will upset the manner in which political power is exercised in these islands.

The basic Constitutional set-up underpinning the 1964 Constitution, notwithstanding the multitude of changes carried out throughout the years – including the 1974 change from a Constitutional Monarchy to a Republic – is still substantially in place. On Independence, in 1964, most of the powers of the British sovereign, then exercised through the Governor, were handed over to the Prime Minister, subject to the theoretical oversight of Parliament. For over 50 years, Parliament has been reluctant to upset the apple-cart and no Prime Minister has ever had the courage to propose the curtailment of his own powers and handing them over completely to Parliament, which is where they belong in a Parliamentary democracy. Nor has Parliament ever taken the initiative: its composition prevents it from acting in such a manner.

The current large size of the Cabinet, coupled with the nomination of backbench MPs on the government side to various posts and sinecures, is a clear declaration of intent. Keeping backbench MPs happy and occupied reduce the likelihood of them asking too many questions. This has been going on for some time: in fact the Gonzi administration acted in a manner very similar to the current administration in this respect.

This, in my view, is the crux of the whole issue which Parliament cannot and will not resolve on its own. It needs a vibrant civil society (not a fake one represented by a couple of non-entities) which can prod and guide it until it embarks on the path where real political power is channelled back to where it really belongs. This is the real reason why electoral reform has always been left on the back burner, as it is only through fair electoral reform that results in a different Parliamentary format whereby Parliament can start to think outside the box in which it is currently restrained.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 5 November 2017