Meta l-egħedewwa tal-poplu jħarsu fil-mera


Owen Bonnici fil-Parlament, il-bieraħ, ikkummenta fuq id-dibattitu fil-Parlament Ewropew ġewwa Strasbourg dwar is-saltna tad-dritt. Qal li segwa d-dibattitu u “ħassu dispjaċut jara Maltin bħalu jagħmlu ħsara lil pajjiżna”. Ħaddieħor qiegħed jikkwota lil Cicerun u qed jitkellem dwar “l-għadu f’nofsna”.

Għandi eta biżżejjed biex niftakar iż-żmien meta kull min jikkritika lill-Gvern kien ikun deskritt bħala “għadu tal-poplu”. Għax għal dawn in-nies li tikkritika lill-Gvern ifisser li tkun qed tagħmel il-ħsara lill-pajjiż.

Din hi l-attitudni tal-intolleranza, ta’ min ma jissaportix lil min jikkritikah. Hi l-istess attitudni li twassal għall-vjolenza u anke f’xi każi għall-qtil.

Issa jiena naħseb li l-kritika tal-Opposizzjoni hi ftit esaġerata u qed tpoġġi flimkien affarijiet li mhux prudenti li jkunu ippreżentati daqs li kieku huma marbutin. Dwar dan ktibt diversi drabi u jekk ikun hemm bżonn nerġa’ nikteb kif ktibt il-bieraħ fuq dan l-istess blog.

Il-Partit Laburista għandu bżonn jiġi ftit f’sensieh u jirrealizza li meta ħa posizzjoni favur Konrad Mizzi u Keith Schembri u fil-prattika ma ħa l-ebda passi dwar l-involviment tagħhom fil-Panama Papers kien qed jiffirma l-kundanna tiegħu innifsu. Dakinnhar kellhom ċans jieħdu posizzjoni ta’ prinċipju u minflok għażlu li jagħlqu għajnejhom it-tnejn.

Dak kollu li qed jiġri illum hu konsegwenza ta’ dik id-deċiżjoni ħażina.

Nissuggerixxi lil min qed jitgħajjar dwar “l-egħdewwa tal-poplu” biex iħares ftit fil-mera. Għax l-ikbar għadu tal-poplu Malti hu dak li hu fdat bil-poter u ma jagħmilx dmiru.


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

Owen’s latest gimmick

Earlier this week, Justice Minister Owen Bonnici explained to the press the measures proposed by the government in order that Parliament will be in a position to examine its political appointees nominated to head various state agencies or institutions as well as those appointed to ambassadorships from outside the civil service.

Naturally, the first reaction to Owen Bonnici’s declaration is that government’s proposal is a positive small first step. However, when the detailed proposal was published, it was clear that this was another gimmick. It is proposed that a Parliamentary Standing Committee will be able to examine potential political appointees through written questions. On the basis of the answers received, and supplementary (written) questions, the Parliamentary Standing Committee will be expected to advise the government on the appointments under consideration.

This is a far cry from what is expected in a modern democracy.

Parliament, either directly or through a standing committee, should not be expected to simply advise. It should decide on the suitability or otherwise of the government nominees. This should be done after the nominees have been examined in a public hearing in the same manner as that of the US Senate Committees or the Parliamentary Committees of various other countries. This can only be done if Parliament reclaims the powers it has ceded to the government over the years.

Parliamentary scrutiny means much more than answering a set of written questions. Examining the nominees to ascertain their suitability for the post they have been nominated goes much further than the superficial examination of their professional competence. It also entails the examination of their past performance in order to ascertain whether they are capable of withstanding political pressure which seeks to sway their judgement in favour of political expediency and consequently influence their behaviour.

Such an exercise cannot be done through written questions but through a viva voce examination where it is not only what is said that matters. Interpreting body language and reactions to unexpected questions or statements is generally more relevant than deciphering boring, long-winded answers that go around in circles and generally avoid providing an answer at all.

During the general election campaign a few months ago, we were told that we needed “Labour-proof institutions”. In reality, government institutions and agencies should be at arms length from the government of the day in all day to day matters. This is done by ensuring that the running of government institutions and agencies is not the prerogative of political cronies but of suitably qualified appointees.

The government proposal is one that ensures that Parliament, through it’s Standing Committees, will not be in a position to carry out any meaningful scrutiny.  Parliament needs to have the authority to block the appointments which it considers to be unsuitable and in order to be able to act in this manner, the government’s proposal needs to be heavily revisited.

It is for this reason that – in the recent general election manifesto (and even in that of the previous general election) – we Greens proposed a much more effective policy: that parliament (or its committees) should have the authority to decide, and not merely advise on, public appointments and that this should be done through a public hearing without limitations.

These are the essential building blocks of a healthy democracy.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 1st October 2017

L-għarbiel ta’ Owen Bonnici : b’toqob kbar

Il-pass li ħabbar Owen Bonnici li l-Gvern ser jitlob il-parir ta’ kumitat parlamentari qabel ma jagħmel numru ta’ ħatriet hu pass il-quddiem. Pass żgħir iva. Imma xorta l-quddiem. Dan ma nistax niċħdu, avolja hu fermi l-bogħod milli wieħed jistenna fid-dinja tal-lum.

Il-liġi proposta għadna ma rajnihiex u għalhekk dawn il-kummenti huma bbażati fuq dak li qal Owen Bonnici. Il-Gvern, qal Owen Bonnici, ser jibqa’ jkollu l-aħħar kelma, imma ser ifittex il-parir ta’ kumitat parlamentari qabel ma jagħmel ħatriet politiċi ta’ ambaxxaturi u ċ-Ċhairpersons ta’ numru ta’ entitajiet pubbliċi. Dan hu tajjeb imma imbagħad, dejjem skond ma qal Owen Bonnici l-iskrutinju li jista’ jsir mill-kumitat parlamentari hu wieħed limitat ħafna. Għax jista’ jsir biss bil-miktub u ser ikun limitat dwar kompetenza professjonali.

Din il-limitazzjoni fil-poteri ta’ skrutinju hi daħq fil-wiċċ u jfisser li fil-prattika l-iskrutinju li jista jsir hu limitat ħafna u ftit li xejn jista’ jservi ħlief fejn ikunu nominati persuni inkompetenti.

L-aħbarijiet ta’ TVM qalulna li l-ħatriet ser jgħaddu mill-għarbiel tal-Parlament. Imma ma qalux li l-għarbiel ta’ Owen għandu toqob kbar, li minnu jgħaddi kważi kollox.

Fil-Manifest Elettorali tal-aħħar elezzjoni (u anke f’dak ta’ qabilha) Alternattiva Demokratika ipproponiet miżura ferm iktar drastika u ċjoe li l-Parlament (jew il-kumitati tiegħu) jiddeċiedi u mhux sempliċiment jagħti parir. U biex jagħmel dan għandu jgħarbel sewwa permezz ta’ skrutinju pubbliku (public hearing) mingħajr limitazzjoni.

U mela mistoqsijiet bil-miktub!

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.

Joseph tweets a selfie from Girgenti


A week ago, during a short break from a very “fruitful” meeting of the Labour Party Parliamentary Group, Joseph Muscat, the Prime Minister, tweeted a selfie. The selfie included a number of hangers-on who promptly re-tweeted Joseph’s selfie, announcing to one and all that the Labour Party Parliamentary Group was meeting at Girgenti, the Prime Minister’s official residence in the countryside.

In the tweeted selfie, standing in the front row, perched between Planning Parliamentary Secretary Deborah Schembri and Civil Rights Minister Helena Dalli stands Justice Minister Owen Bonnici, the Cabinet member who around 18 months ago piloted the Financing of Political Parties Act through Parliament  Throughout the past months, the Honourable Owen Bonnici rightly proclaimed this as a milestone. How come his own government and his own political party ignored the implementation of this milestone?

It seems that Joseph, the tweeter from Girgenti, was either not properly advised of the implications of this landmark  legislation or else ignored completely the advice he received.

On Tuesday I visited the offices of the Electoral Commission and met Joseph Church, the Chief Electoral Commissioner. Together with my colleague Arnold Cassola, I drew the attention of Mr Church to the fact that the Parliamentary Labour Party was making use of government property contrary to the provisions of the Financing of Political Parties Act. On behalf of Alternattiva Demokratika – The Green Party in Malta, we requested that Joseph Muscat and his Labour Party be investigated for acting against the provisions of the landmark legislation: Joseph Muscat for permitting the use of the Girgenti Palace and the Labour Party for accepting to use it as a venue for one of the meetings of its Parliamentary Group.

As I have already explained during a Press Conference held after the meeting with the Chief Electoral Commissioner, as well as in the daily edition of this newspaper [Girgenti: demarcation line between party and state. TMI 23 February] the use of the Girgenti Palace is deemed to be a donation, which in terms of article 34 of the Financing of Political Parties Act is not permissible to be received by a political party from the state. Joseph Muscat the Prime Minister could not grant such a donation, and Joseph Muscat the Leader of the Labour Party could not accept it.

Unfortunately, this incident communicated by tweet sends a very clear and negative message: that Joseph Muscat and his Labour Party consider themselves to be above the law. The law which they rightly described as being a “landmark legislation” was intended to apply to one and all.  Joseph Muscat and his Labour Party seem to think otherwise. In fact, the Labour Party is not even yet registered as a political party as the Electoral Commission, some months back, considered that it does not satisfy the conditions laid down in the legislation.

Some may consider that Alternattiva Demokratika is splitting hairs when raising the matter. I beg to differ, as a very basic principle is at stake: the demarcation line separating the government from the governing political party. This is what lies at the core of the complaint submitted by the Greens to the Chief Electoral Commissioner for an investigation in terms of the provisions of the Financing of Political Parties Act.

I am informed that the Electoral Commission will be meeting next Wednesday when it is expected to consider the request to investigate Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and his political party for ignoring the provisions of the Financing of Political Parties Act.  It is the moment of truth for the Electoral Commission. Eight out of nine of its members are political appointees: four nominated by the Prime Minister and another four nominated by the Leader of the Opposition. The ninth member of the Commission is the chairman, a senior civil servant.

It is time for all nine members of the Electoral Commission to stand up and be counted. As a constitutional body, it is the Commission’s duty to defend the values of a modern day parliamentary democracy. Whether it will do so is anybody’s guess. I will definitely not hold my breath.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 26 February 2017

Kompetizzjoni : min hu l-iktar maħmuġ?



Bħalissa għaddejja kompetizzjoni bejn il-Partit Nazzjonalista u l-Partit Laburista dwar min minnhom hu l-iktar maħmuġ.

Jekk tisma lill-kelliema tal-PN jitkellmu jkollok informazzjoni dettaljata dwar katalgu ta ħmieġ li bih hu mifni dan il-pajjiż. Inevitabilment, jekk tkun smajt lil tal-PN biss jitkellmu tikkonkludi kemm hu żventurat dan il-pajjiż!

Min-naħa l-oħra, wara li tkun smajt lil Owen Bonnici jew lil Deborah Schembri, bi qdusija kbira, jitkellmu dwar l-aħħar każ ta Jason Azzopardi, bil-fors li tibda titkellem waħdek u tibda tistaqsi bejnek u bejn ruħek jekk hux qed tisma sewwa. Għax, tgħid: dan Jason li qed jitkellmu dwaru mhux dak li jippontifika dwar il-korrettezza? Ara trid tkun vera wiċċek imdellek biex titkellem bħal Jason Azzopardi, joħroġ żewġ rapport dwarek l-Awditur Ġenerali u qiesu ma ġara xejn.

Min hu l-iktar maħmuġ? Tagħmel xi differenza dwar min hu l-iktar jew l-inqas maħmuġ? Għax għalija l-grad tad-differenza fil-ħmieġ bejniethom hu irrelevanti. It-tnejn maħmuġin u mhemmx xtagħżel bejniethom. Ma tistax tafda lil ħadd minnhom.

Jieħu għalih min irid.   

Bejn Owen Bonnici u Franco Debono

owen bonnici + franco debono

Dawn l-aħħar ġranet, Franco Debono ta bosta pariri lil Owen Bonnici fuq il-medja soċjali. Ma nafx x’ma qallux.

Wara li Owen ħa żball madornali u ta parir lill-Kabinet dwar il-ħatra ta’ maġistrati li kull min jifhem qed jgħid li ma setgħux jinħatru, naħseb li Franco għandu biċċa xogħol mhux żgħira.

Għax Franco Debono dan l-aħħar kien qed iħambaq dwar il-ħtieġa li jkun hemm għarfien aħjar tal-Kostituzzjoni. Forsi jkun utli għal Franco li jfiehem ftit lil Owen dwar dawk il-partijiet tal-Kostituzzjoni li jitkellmu fuq il-ħatra tal-maġistrati, għax jidher li Owen fehmhom ħażin!