In a Banana Republic

When Labour Leader Robert Abela addressed the party faithful at the Birkirkara Labour Party Club last Sunday, he was right to complain that the sentencing policy currently applied by the judiciary may at times appear as being too lenient. However, as Prime Minister he had other fora through which to convey his preoccupation and to emphasise the need of an up-to-date sentencing policy.

He could have drawn the attention of the President of the Republic in order that he may refer the matter for the consideration of the Commission for the Administration of Justice. He could have legitimately brought up the matter in a formal meeting with the Chief Justice. He could also legislate in order to restrict the current flexibility which the Courts have when applying the law. In fact, he has at his disposal various tools to bring about the change he spoke about: pontificating at the Birkirkara Labour Party Club through a Sunday political sermon is not one of these tools.

At Birkirkara Robert Abela also spoke on the conflict of interest which Members of Parliament who are practising criminal lawyers are continuously exposed to. They ably defend their clients during the morning in Court pleading in favour of minimal sentencing, including the application of suspended sentences. Then, in the afternoon, emphasised Robert Abela, in Parliament, these same Members of Parliament vociferously argue on the dangers of an increasing criminality.

He is definitely right on that. But this line of reasoning does not only apply to criminal lawyers. It is also applicable to MPs who are civil and commercial lawyers as well as to other professionals in their specific area of practice. We have been exposed to this over the years in a number of cases. Is it not about time that parliament is made up of full-timers? No Member of Parliament should carry out any other work (paid or unpaid) except that resulting from his/her parliamentary duties. My party has been emphasising this for a considerable number of years. We believe that it is the only way to effectively address the obvious conflict of interest which abounds in Parliament.

Robert Abela said more. He referred to a tete-a-tete with a sitting Magistrate with whom he discussed the lenient sentencing which the Criminal Law Courts are applying. The Magistrate, said Abela, defensively replied that it is all the fault of the appeals court as they consider themselves bound by precedent when they revise the decisions delivered by the inferior courts, ending up in lighter sentences.

Robert Abela was wrong when he conveyed his views directly to one of the Magistrates currently sitting in judgement at the inferior Courts. Bragging about it in public makes it even worse as it conveys the wrong message that the judiciary is at the beck and call of the Executive. This, in plain language, threatens the independence of the judiciary. As a lawyer, Robert Abela is undoubtedly aware that he has gone far beyond the red line.

In any other democratic country where rule of law is fact, not fiction, Robert Abela would have resigned within a couple of hours after having publicly admitting pressuring a sitting Magistrate. Similarly, the Magistrate who allowed the discussion to proceed would by now have been identified and disciplined.

But, as you are aware, nothing has happened yet.

On Monday in a press statement, I have called on the President of the Republic to convene an urgent meeting of the Commission for the Administration of Justice to take the necessary and required action. So far there has been no reaction whatsoever. Possibly his Excellency the President is currently abroad, or, maybe he is extremely busy with some activity promoting the citrous products of the presidential kitchen garden at the San Anton Presidential Palace!

As things stand banana week would definitely be a future activity in the Presidential agenda: this takes priority over the independence of the judiciary, in this Banana Republic!

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday: 5 February 2023

Ma min iktar qed jitkellmu l-maġistrati?

Wara id-diskors tal-bieraħ ta’ Robert Abela li fih infurmana illi kellu diskursata ma’ Maġistrat bil-fors li nistaqsu: imma ma min iktar qed jitkellmu l-Maġistrati? Jitkellmu fuq it-tul tas-sentenzi biss jew fuq affarijiet oħra ukoll? U l-imħallfin ma huma qed jitkellmu ma ħadd?

Huma mistoqsijiet li bil-fors nistaqsu. F’soċjetà demokratika għandna dritt għal tweġiba ċara.

Għax Robert Abela, b’dak li qal saħħaħ l-eżistenza ta’ dubji kbar fil-proċess ġudizzjarju kollu. Diġà hemm id-dubji kbar u bli qal ħoloq dubji ikbar milli diġà hawn.

Il-messaġġ tiegħu hu wieħed ċar li meta jrid jikser ir-regoli u qiesu ma ġara xejn.

Tinħtieġ tweġiba ċara: x’inhu jiġri?

Forsi l-President tar-Repubblika, jekk ma jkunx imsiefer, ikun jista’ jagħtina risposta!

Inkwetanti li Robert Abela jiltaqa’ ma’ Maġistrat

It-Times online u l-Independent online huma u jirrappurtaw id-diskors ta’ dalgħodu ta’ Robert Abela jirreferu għal laqgħa li Robert Abela qal li kellu ma’ Maġistrat.

L-Independent tgħid hekk: He said that he had the occasion to speak to a magistrate, who told him that the legal framework permits them to give low or high punishments. But, the magistrate said that when they give a high punishment, even though the law allows it, “they appeal and the chances are that the Court of Appeal would reduce the punishment as there are policies or past judgements that militate that punishments not be that high.”

It-Times tgħid hekk: He said that over the past few days he met a magistrate who told him that whenever a tough punishment was handed down, the sentence was inevitably watered down on appeal, with the appeals court citing caselaw.

Newsbook min-naħa l-oħra irrapporta hekk: Hu qal li din il-ġimgħa tkellem ma’ Maġistrat li stqarret miegħu li meta jingħataw pieni ħorox, il-Qorti tal-Appell tnaqqas din il-piena.

Dan il-kumment tal-Prim Ministru Robert Abela jeħtieġ spjegazzjoni immedjata għax hu inkwetanti ħafna. Minn meta l-hawn il-Prim Ministru jiltaqa’ ma’ Maġistrat u jitkellem dwar is-sentenzi? L-affarijiet mhumiex ċari u huma inkwetanti ħafna meta politiku jiltaqa’ ma’ membru tal-ġudikatura.

Min hu jew min hi l-Maġistrat ma nafx imma naħseb li l-Prim Imħallef għandu jara daqsxejn x’ġara.

Anke l-President tar-Repubblika li fost l-inkarigi tiegħu imexxi l-Kummissjoni għall-Amministrazzjoni tal-Ġustizzja għandu l-obbligu li jindaga mingħajr dewmien.

It-timbru tal-President

Waqt li inti qiegħed taqra dan l-artiklu, l-Eċċellenza Tiegħu il-President  qiegħed  fir-Renju Unit wara li attenda għall-inawgurazzjoni tal-logħob tal-Commonwealth. Huwa telaq minn Malta nhar l-Erbgħa fil-għodu.

Hekk kif l-ajruplan tal-Air Malta bl-Eċċellenza tiegħu fi triqtu lejn Birmingham inqata’ mill-art, l-Aġent President il-Professor Frank Bezzina kien fl-uffiċċju tal-President qiegħed jiffirma l-liġi bl-emendi tal-IVF. L-istess liġi li Dr Vella kien ilu ġranet sħaħ jirrifjuta li jiffirma.

L-istorja ma tieqafx hawn. Meta l-President, George Vella, irrifjuta li jiffirma huwa mar lil hinn mill-awtorità li tagħtih il-liġi u dan billi hu ma għandu l-ebda diskrezzjoni dwar kif jista’ jaġixxi: għandu jagħti l-kunsens tiegħu bla dewmien. Hekk jistabilixxi l-artiklu 72 tal-Kostituzzjoni tar-Repubblika ta’ Malta.

Anke l-Eċċellenza Tiegħu hu soġġett għal-liġi, f’dan il-każ il-Kostituzzjoni. Li jirrifjuta li jimxi ma dak li tgħid il-liġi, f’dan il-każ il-Kostituzzjoni, hu ksur serjissimu tar-responsabbiltajiet Kostituzzjonali Tiegħu. Fil-fehma tal-partit tiegħi dan hu suffiċjenti biex ikun ikkunsidrat li Dr George Vella jitneħħa mill-kariga ta’ President tar-Repubblika. L-Eċċellenza Tiegħu messu jkun ta’ eżempju dwar kif inbaxxu rasna għas-saltna tad-dritt. Kif nippretendu li ħaddiehor jaqdi dmiru jekk il-Kap tal-iStat jaġixxi b’dan il-mod u jagħti l-agħar eżempju possibli?

Għad baqa’ ċans biex il-Parlament jikkunsidra t-tneħħija ta’ Dr George Vella mill-ħatra u dan minħabba l-imġieba tiegħu li hi kemm inaċċettabbli kif ukoll illegali.

Imma l-Parlament għandu bżonn li jmur lil hinn minn ċensura qawwija ta’ Dr George Vella.  Għandu jikkunsidra fil-fond ir-rwol tal-President tar-Republika. Speċifikament għandu jkun ikkunsidrat li l-President ma għandux ikun sempliċi timbru imma li possibilment ikollu poter li jibgħat lura għand il-Parlament dawk il-liġijiet li fil-fehma tiegħu ma jkunux kompatibbli mal-kostituzzjoni.

Fis-sottomissjonijiet li l-partit li jiena immexxi kien għamel lill-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali konna iffukajna fuq din il-materja, fost affarijiet oħra.  Fid-dokument li ippreżentajna lill-konvenzjoni, fis-sezzjoni intitolata : Il-President tar-Repubblika: ħatra u responsabbiltajiet, il-partit kien ippropona li l-President għandu jkollu id-dritt li jibgħat lura quddiem il-Parlament liġi biex din tkun ikkunsidrata mill-ġdid kemm-il darba fil-fehma tiegħu din il-liġi ma tkunx kompatibbli ma’ dak li tipprovdi l-Kostituzzjoni.  

Il-President, meta jidħol fil-ħatra, jiddikjara li hu/hi ser jiddefendi l-Kostituzzjoni. Imma minkejja li jassumi fuqu dan l-obbligu m’għandux għodda kostituzzjonali biex dan ikun jista’ jagħmlu.  Il-proposta tagħna ilha li ppreżentajniha kważi tlett snin. Biha ipproponejna l-għodda kostituzzjonali meħtieġa  li permezz tagħha l-Eċċellenza Tiegħunil-President ikun jista’ jaġixxi  b’mod responsabbli u bis-saħħa tal-liġi, f’ċirkustanzi serji fejn dan ikun meħtieġ. Konna pproponejna ukoll li jekk il-Parlament ma jibdilx jew jimmodifika il-posizzjoni tiegħu għas-sodisfazzjon tal-President dan ikollu l-possibilità li jibgħat il-liġi in kwistjoni quddiem il-Qorti Kostituzzjonali għal deċiżjoni finali. Hekk isiru l-affarijiet bis-serjetà.

B’dan il-mod l-uffiċċju tal-President ma jibqax sempliċi timbru kostrett li jgħid iva bilfors, inkella jopera barra mill-parametri tal-liġi. Dak li għamel il-President f’dawn il-ġranet hu gravi u setgħet inħolqot kriżi kostituzzjonali. Mhux l-ewwel darba li konna fix-xifer lijinqala’ incident simili. Xi snin ilu President ieħor kien indika (privatament) li ma kienx komdu li jiffirma il-liġi dwar l-Unjoni Ċivili (Att IX tal-2014).  Biex jikkalma s-sitwazzjoni u jevita kriżi Kostituzzjonali l-Gvern ta’ dakinnhar kien ippospona ftit il-vot finali fil-parliament sakemm laħaq inħatar President ġdid. Il-liġi dwar l-Unjoni Ċivili, fil-fatt kienet ġiet iffirmata mill-President nhar is-17 t’April 2014, tlettax-il jum wara li bdiet il-Presidenza ta’ Marie Louise Coleiro-Preca.

Jagħmel tajjeb il-Parliament jekk jikkunsidra din il-materja issa u jikkunsidraha sewwa. Hu essenzjali li l-President tar-Repubblika jkollu l-għodda kostituzzjonali biex ikun jista’ jaħdem b’mod responsabbli u skond il-liġi. Iktar ma dan isir malajr, aħjar.

ippubblikat fuq : Illum: 31 ta’ Lulju 2022

The Presidential rubberstamp

While you are reading through this article, His Excellency President George Vella is in the United Kingdom – after attending for the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games. He left these islands on Wednesday morning.

As soon as the Air Malta plane taking His Excellency to Birmingham was in the air, the Acting President Professor Frank Bezzina was at the President’s desk signing into law the IVF amendments. Those same amendments which Dr Vella refused to sign in the days before.

This is not the end of the story. By refusing to give his assent the President, George Vella, acted beyond his authority as in terms of law he had no discretion on the matter: he had to signify his assent without delay, as established by article 72 of the Constitution.

Even His Excellency is subject to the law, in this case the Constitution. His refusal to follow what is prescribed by the law is a serious breach of his Constitutional responsibilities, and, in the view of my party this gives rise to valid reasons to consider the impeachment of Dr George Vella from his Presidential duties. His Excellency should show us the way as to what it means to be subject to the rule of law. How do we expect others to carry out their duties if the Head of State acts in this way: the worst possible example?

There is still time for Parliament to consider impeachment proceedings against Dr George Vella and remove him from office in view of his unacceptable and illegal behaviour.

Parliament needs, however, to go beyond clearly censuring Dr George Vella. It is essential to consider in some depth the role of the President of the Republic. Specifically, it should consider whether the President should be just a rubberstamp or else whether he or she should have limited powers of review over Parliament’s legislative authority.

In submissions which the party that I lead presented to the Constitutional Convention we focused on this specific matter, among other issues. In a section of the document submitted to the Convention, entitled, The President of the Republic: appointment and responsibilities, my party proposed that the President should have the right to send legislation back to Parliament for its reconsideration, if, in his view such legislation runs counter to the provisions of the Constitution.

The President, on assuming office, declares that he/she will do all it takes to defend the Constitution. He/she is not however equipped with any (constitutional) tools with which to carry out his responsibilities. The Green proposal presented almost three years ago for the consideration of the Constitutional Convention identifies an essential tool with which His Excellency the President can act responsibly within the parameters of the law. We further proposed that should Parliament refuse to budge the President should refer the matter to the Constitutional Court for a final decision.  This is the manner in which the Presidency should function. Much better than the present-day theatrics.

In this manner the President’s office would not be a mere rubberstamp, constrained to assent or else act outside the parameters of the law.  The President’s actions in the past days conveyed the worst possible message. It almost happened some years ago when another President had (privately) indicated that he would not assent to legislation relative to Civil Unions (Act IX of 2014). In order to avert a Constitutional crisis government had then slightly delayed the final vote in parliament, timing it with the swearing in of a new President. The Civil Unions Act was in fact signed on the 17 April 2014, just thirteen days into the Presidency of Marie Louise Coleiro-Preca.

Parliament would do well to consider the issue further. It is essential that the President of the Republic is adequately equipped with the necessary constitutional tools in order that he can carry out his duties in a responsible manner and within the parameters of the law. The sooner this is done, the better.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 31 July 2022

L-uġiegħ ta’ ras tal-President tar-Repubblika

Il-President George Vella ma iffirmax il-liġi li taġġorna l-liġi tal-IVF għax għandu riżervi kbar dwarha.

Dan hu normali u mhiex xi ħaġa ġdida.

Il-Kostituzzjoni kif inhi illum, imma, ma tagħtihx il-fakolta li joqgħod jaħsibha għax tobbligah li jiffirma l-liġi bla dewmien. Hu għalhekk li l-bieraħ kont kritiku tal-President u tkellimt dwar proposta li għandu jitneħħa mill-kariga.

Il-partit li jiena immexxi diġa ippubblika soluzzjoni possibli għal din il-kriżi, li bla dubju, issa li nħoloq l-ewwel każ ser tirrepeti ruħha f’ċirkustanzi oħra li għad iridu jinqalgħu.

Fid-dokument li ippreżentajna lill-konvenzjoni kostituzzjonali konna għamilna proposta ċara li biex iħares u jiddefendi l-Kostituzzjoni kif stabilit fil-ġurament tal-ħatra, il-President għandu jkollu is-setgħa li, kemm-il darba jkun hemm dubju serju dwar il-kostituzzjonalità ta’ xi liġi approvata mill-Parlament, jibgħat lura quddiem l-istess Parlament il-liġi in kwistjoni biex din tkun ikkunsidrata mill-ġdid.

Din il-proposta ilna li għamilniha u għadha valida sal-lum.

Min irid jaqra id-dettalji dwarha jagħfas hawn u jmur fis-sezzjoni 12 intitolata: Il-President tar-Repubblika: ħatra u responsabbiltajiet. (paġna 15 sa 18).

The Impeachment of Dr George Vella

Parliament has approved controversial legislation relative to IVF on the 6 July 2022.

The approved legislation was sent to the Office of the President of the Republic in order that he concludes the legislative process by assenting to the approved bill.

Article 72 of the Constitution provides that “When a bill is presented to the President for assent, he shall without delay signify that he assents.” The bill has been on the President’s desk for many days and he has not given his Presidential assent. He should signify that he assents without delay. There are no ifs and buts.

This lack of Presidential assent “without delay” is in breach of the Constitutional responsibilities of the President of the Republic.

In statements made to the press over the past days it has been made amply clear that Dr George Vella is reluctant to assent to the approved IVF Bill. This is clearly unacceptable and runs counter to his Constitutional responsibilities as President of the Republic.

A Green MP would by now have presented a motion for the impeachment of Dr George Vella and his removal from the office of President of the Republic for failing to shoulder his Constitutional responsibilities “without delay”.

There are no Green MPs. Discriminatory electoral legislation is currently being contested in our law courts, an initiative of ADPD-The Green Party.

Will anyone of the 79 Members of Parliament take the initiative?

From Dubai to Singapore

Last week, the President of the Republic, laying out the programme for the new government in what is known as the speech from the throne, emphasised that the environment is a core value for this government. Reading through the speech prepared by government, his Excellency was clear by dwelling on a number of different topics of considerable environmental importance.

However, Dr Vella was unfortunately not advised as to how and when the government intends to address its continuous contradictions in its drive to shift its focus from the infrastructure to the environment.

The elastic environmental politics presented by this government ranges from more flyovers to achieving carbon neutrality, simultaneously being dependent on two interconnectors tapping the Sicilian energy market.

Previous governments led by the Labour party had sought to transform Malta into another Dubai, that is a land of high rises and extensive land reclamation . The attempt at Dubai-ification embarked on by the Muscat led government will apparently now be transformed into a Singaporization as emphasised by infrastructure Minister Aaron Farrugia. This is the implementation of the policy of continuity which his Excellency was apparently not sufficiently advised about.

The current crop will do their best to outshine their predecessors. Since there is not much more land to ruin, they have therefore turned their gaze towards the sea which they will be ruined in due course.

Preliminary studies carried out in the past had identified the areas in Maltese waters where land reclamation could be considered, subject to more in-depth studies. The coastal areas identified and studied are those along the  Magħtab/Baħar iċ-Ċagħaq coastline and the Xgħajra/Marsaskala coastline. These are the coastal zones which have to be watched and protected.

The basic question to ask before embarking on planning any land reclamation projects is: what do we need land reclamation for? In the past land was reclaimed to construct the Freeport or to protect the coast at Msida, Gżira and elsewhere.

If any new pressing need is identified one should carefully consider them.

The Netherlands used land reclamation successfully to adequately manage its low-lying land. Hong Kong made use of land reclamation to create high value land required for its airport on the Chek Lak Kok island. Through land reclamation Singapore expanded its container port, an essential cornerstone in its economy.

The way to go about tackling land reclamation is through serious public consultation. Labour in government has, so far, only consulted developers on land reclamation. It has, in the recent past, only consulted those who were seeking new ways to make a quick buck! These are the fourth-floor guys who are only interested in making hay while the sun shines.

If government is serious about land reclamation it should immediately publish a list of its proposed projects. This should be accompanied by a draft national land-reclamation strategy for public consultation. At this point consultation should not be with the speculation lobby: it has already been extensively consulted. Consultation at this stage should primarily be with environmental NGOs and the coastal communities, in particular those directly impacted.

Having said the above I do not think that land reclamation is or should be a priority. Rather, the priority should be the restructuring of the construction industry: specifically cutting it down to size and putting it to good use.

The country would be economically, environmentally and socially much better off if the construction industry is assisted in its much-needed restructuring. It would undoubtedly need to shed labour which can be absorbed by other sectors of the economy. Retraining would be required to ease the entry of the shed labour force into other economic areas.

After years of haphazard and abusive land-use planning, land reclamation is the last thing we need!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 15 May 2022

Riforma tal-Parlament

Il-Prim Ministru ilu jinki lill-opinjoni pubblika dwar meta ser ikun xolt il-Parlament kif ukoll dwar meta ser tissejjaħ l-elezzjoni ġenerali.

Imma Robert Abela kien ikkwotat jgħid ukoll li sa Ġunju 2022 ikun għadda kollox!

Kif inhuma  l-affarijiet illum, hi responsabbiltà kostituzzjonali tal-Prim Ministru dwar meta jkun xolt il- Parlament kif ukoll dwar meta tissejjaħ elezzjoni ġenerali.  Dan jagħmlu billi jagħti parir dwar dan lill-President tar-Republika.  Ħafna drabi nassumu li dawn it-tip ta’ deċiżjonijiet jittieħdu fl-interess nazzjonali avolja hu ċar daqs il-kristall li hu l-interess tal-partit fil-Gvern li jiddetermina kollox: dejjem.  Miżura li ssaħħaħ il-posizzjoni tal-Gvern qabel u waqt l-elezzjoni: the power of incumbency.

Dan mhux sewwa u għandu jinbidel kif inbidlu bosta affarijiet oħra.

Il-partit li immexxi qajjem dan il-punt fis-sottomissjonijiet li għamilna quddiem il-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali: konvenzjoni li, dejjem ġejja, imma qatt ma tasal!

Hu propost li t-terminu tal-Parlament ikun wieħed fiss u li l-Prim Ministru ma jkollu l-ebda diskrezzjoni dwar kif u meta dan ikun xolt.  Fil-prattika kemm l-Istati Uniti kif ukoll il-parti l-kbira tal-Ewropa kontinentali għandhom Parlament b’terminu fiss. Anke r-Renju Unit, meta kienet immexxija mill-koalizzjoni bejn il-partit Liberali u dak Konservattiv, ftit snin ilu, introduċiet leġislazzjoni għal Parlament b’terminu fiss.

F’dan il-kuntest tajjeb li jkun emfasizzat ukoll li t-terminu ta’ ħames snin għall-Parlament huwa ftit twil. Dan ma kienx dejjem hekk. Meta twaqqaf il-Parlament Malti għall-ewwel darba fl-1921, mitt sena ilu, il-ħajja tal-Parlament kienet ta’ tlett snin. Sal-lum il-ġurnata, l-Parlament Federali Awstraljan għadu jkun elett kull tlett snin. Il-Kamra tar-Rappresentanti tal-Istati Uniti min-naħa l-oħra tkun eletta kull sentejn.

X’uħud jistgħu jkunu tal-fehma li għall-Parlament, tul ta’ sentejn jew tlieta bejn elezzjoni u oħra huma ftit wisq. Għal min qiegħed fil-Gvern, ħames snin jistgħu jkun perjodu addattat. Imma għal min qiegħed fl-Opposizzjoni hu twil wisq! Tlett snin hu perjodu ferm iktar addattat.

Il-Parlament għandu ħtieġa ukoll ta’ membri li xogħolhom ikun biss dak ta’ membri tal-parlament u li ma jagħmlu xejn iktar. Hemm bżonn ukoll li n-numru ta’ membri tal-parlament jonqos għax in-numru li għandna illum hu kbir wisq.  Membru Parlamentari full-time jaqta’ għal kollox kull kuntatt ma xogħol u/jew professjoni u bħala riżultat ta’ hekk inaqqas sostanzjalment il-possibiltà ta’ kunflitt ta’ interess meta jkun f’posizzjoni li jieħu kwalunkwe deċiżjoni.

Id-daqs tal-lum tal-Parlament, jiġifieri dak ta’ 65 membru parlamentari, kien determinat bħala riżultat tal-emendi kostituzzjonali tal-1974.  Imma dan, illum il-ġurnata, sa mill-1987, mhux id-daqs definittiv għax miegħu jistgħu jiżdiedu iktar bħala riżultat tal-applikazzjoni tal-mekkaniżmu kostituzzjonali tal-proporzjonalità.   Jista’ jiżdiedu iktar ukoll, bi tnax-il membru ieħor riżultat tal-miżuri kostituzzjonali ġodda dwar il-bilanċ tal-ġeneru, jekk dawn ikunu applikati.

Il-Parlament li jmiss, għaldaqstant, jista’ jkunu kbir mhux ħażin jekk jintużaw kemm il-mekkaniżmu dwar il-proporzjonalità kif ukoll dak dwar il-bilanċ tal-ġeneru. Jista’ jkun daqs li jikber sa 77 membru u possibilment anke sa 81 membru. Dan hu enormi għall-pajjiżna.

Is-sistema elettorali, li ż-żewġ partiti fil-Parlament ilhom ibgħabsu għal żmien twil, tipprovdi għal riżultat proporjonali u b’element korrettiv favur il-bilanċ bejn il-ġeneri meta fil-Parlament ikunu eletti żewġ partiti politiċi biss. Meta jkun elett it-tielet partit dawn il-mekkaniżmi kostituzzjonali dwar il-proporzjonalità u l-bilanċ tal-ġeneru ma jistgħux jaħdmu. Hemm biss eċċezzjoni waħda. Din tkun fil-kaz ta’partit politiku li jikseb iktar minn 50 fil-mija tal-voti fl-ewwel għadd fuq livell nazzjonali. Dan ikollu dejjem il-jedd li jiggverna billi jkun allokat is-siġġijiet neċessarji għal dan l-iskop.  

Hemm numru ta’ soluzzjonijiet alternattivi li kieku ġew applikati kien ikun possibli li l-Parlament tagħna jkollu bilanċ aħjar bejn il-ġeneri u proporzjonalità mingħajr ma jikber fid-daqs.  Dawn is-soluzzjonijiet, imma, ġew skartati kompletament. Dan għax ir-riforma kellha dejjem l-iskop li toħloq l-inqas tibdil possibli. Tibdil kosmetiku fl-istil tal-Gattopardo: tibdil li jħalli kollox kif kien!

Dan hu l-Parlament tagħna. Jeħtieġ li jinbidel mill-qiegħ.   

ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 13 ta’ Frar 2022

Reforming Parliament

The Prime Minister has been teasing public opinion for some time as to when Parliament will be dissolved and when we will consequently be proceeding to the next general election.

Robert Abela has been quoted as stating that it will definitely be over by June 2022.

As things stand, at this point in time, it is within the Constitutional prerogative of the Prime Minister to determine when Parliament is dissolved and a general election held. This he does by advising the President of the Republic accordingly. It is generally assumed that such decisions are taken in the national interest even though it is amply clear that it is always in the interest of the political party in power. It reinforces the power of incumbency.

Is this right? Should it remain so?

My party has raised this matter in its submissions to the Constitutional Convention which Convention has been pending for a number of years!

It is being proposed that Parliament should be a fixed-term Parliament and that the Prime Minister should have no discretion whatsoever in dissolving Parliament.  In practice both the United States as well as most of continental Europe have fixed-term Parliaments. Even the United Kingdom, some years ago, led by a Liberal-Conservative coalition, introduced legislation for a Parliament having a fixed-term.

Within this context it would be also pertinent to emphasise that a five-year term is a little bit too long. This was not always so. When Malta’s Parliament was originally established in 1921, 100 years ago, it had a three-year life span. The Australian Federal Parliament in this day and age is still elected every three years. The United States House of Representatives on the other hand is elected every two years.

Some could argue that a two- or three-year life span for parliament would be too short. Five years may be right for those governing. It is however too long for those in Opposition! A three-year term could be the right balance.

Parliament also needs fulltime MPs and probably less of them. A fulltime member of parliament would cut off completely all of his/her links with profession and/or employment and as a result substantially reduce instances of conflict of interest when faced with decision taking.

Parliament’s present size of 65 members was determined as a result of the 1974 Constitutional amendments. Since 1987, it is however not a definite size, as it is increased as a result of the constitutional adjustment mechanism for proportionality. It will be increased by a further twelve members if the newly introduced constitutional gender balance requirements are applied.

The next Parliament could be quite large if both the proportionality and gender balance adjustment mechanisms are in use. It could inflate to a size between 77 and 81 members! This is enormous for a country our size.

The electoral system, which the two parties currently in parliament have been tinkering with for ages, provides for proportionality and gender balance only if just two parties are elected into Parliament. If a third party is elected, both the constitutional provisions for proportionality and gender balance will not be activated. There is just one exception and this is relative to the political party which obtains more than 50 per cent of the votes on a national level: in such an instant, irrespective of the number of political parties making it to Parliament the party having an absolute majority of votes is ensured of having the parliamentary seats required for governing.

There are a number of alternative solutions available which make it possible for our Parliament to be both gender-balanced and proportional without any increase in its size. These solutions have however been completely discarded as the “reform” brief was always to change as little as possible. Cosmetic change is the order of the day in Gattopardo style: change which leaves everything the same.

Such is the state of our parliament. It needs a complete overhaul, which is long overdue.  

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 13 February 2022