Il-Kostituzzjoni tagħna: ir-riforma meħtieġa

Hawn min iqis li l-kostituzzjoni ta’ Malta hi tajba kif inhi u li għaldaqstant, jaħseb, li ma hemm l-ebda ħtieġa li nduruha dawra sew. Kien ikun sewwa kieku din kienet is-sitwazzjoni. Imma sfortunatament l-affarijiet huma ferm differenti minn hekk. Il-kostituzzjoni teħtieġ ferm iktar minn ftit irtokki ‘l hawn u ‘l-hemm.

lkoll nafu li l-kostituzzjoni ma titħaddimx biss minn persuni ta’ rieda tajba. Nistgħu ngħidu li xi minn daqqiet din ir-rieda tajba tkun ftit skarsa f’dawk li jmexxu u f’dawk li niddependu fuqhom għat-tħaddim tal-kostituzzjoni. Xi drabi dawn ifittxu t-toqob minn fejn jgħaddu u b’hekk jagħmlu ħilithom biex jevitaw milli jwettqu dmirhom.

Ilkoll nixtiequ li dan ma kienx hekk, imma l-esperjenzi tagħna lkoll, kontinwament, juru mod ieħor. Huma esperjenzi li l-ħin kollu juru li hemm ħtieġa illi l-kostituzzjoni tkun ħafna iktar ċara milli hi illum biex tilqa’ iktar għall-kontra l-abbużi u tonqos il-possibilità tal-misinterpretazzjoni tagħha.

Malta qed tinbidel u jeħtieġ li l-kostituzzjoni tagħna tirrifletti din il-bidla. Hu meħtieġ li l-Kostituzzjoni illum tirrifletti l-valuri ta’ Malta tas-seklu 21.

Tul is-snin, Alternattiva Demokratika tkellmet dwar diversi aspetti tal-kostituzzjoni li jeħtieġ li jkunu ikkunsidrati mill-ġdid, inkella li hemm bżonn li jiżdiedu ma’ dak li tipprovdi għalihom il-kostituzzjoni attwali. Dan jeħtieġ li jsir mhux biss fid-dawl tal-esperjenzi tal-pajjiż tul is-snin imma ukoll għax il-pajjiż għaddej minn metamorfosi kontinwa.

Ewlenija fost dawn l-esperjenzi hemm ir-rwol sekondarju li fih, tul is-snin, ġie mqiegħed il-Parlament fil-konfront tal-Kabinett. Ma’ dan trid iżżid ukoll id-drawwa tal-Parlament li kontinwament jgħaddi poteri sostanzjali lill-Kabinett kif ukoll lill-Ministri individwali mingħajr l-iċken sorveljanza inkella b’sorveljanza irriżorja. Hemm ukoll il-korpi regolatorji li l-persuni li jmexxuhom mhux biss jinħatru, ġeneralment, mingħajr referenza lill-Parlament, imma li wkoll, b’mod konsistenti, ftit li xejn isir skrutinju tagħhom, la qabel ma jinħatru u wisq inqas wara.

Din kienet is-sitwazzjoni sal-emendi riċenti għall-Att dwar l-Amministrazzjoni Pubblika liema emendi ħolqu l-Kumitat Permanenti dwar il-Ħatriet Pubbliċi biex ikunu skrutinati mill-Parlament xi ħatriet politiċi li jsiru minn żmien għal żmien. Minn dak li rajna s’issa, l-iskrutinju li qiegħed isir hu wieħed superfiċjali ħafna, lil hinn minn dak li hu mistenni.

Ir-rapport riċenti tal-Kummissjoni Venezja tal-Kunsill tal-Ewropa, li jiffoka fuq is-saltna tad-dritt, l-indipendenza tal-ġudikatura u tal-korpi bl-inkarigu li jinfurzaw il-liġi, jiftaħ id-diskussjoni beraħ dwar kif għandhom isiru dawn il-ħatriet u dwar jekk il-Gvern u/jew il-Parlament għandux fil-fatt ikollhom xi rwol f’dan il-proċess.

Fil-fehma ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika mhux aċċettabbli li l-Parlament jibqa’ jagħti blank cheque lill-Kabinett, lill-Ministri u lill-awtoritajiet regolatorji. Il-Parlament għandu jżomm il-kontroll effettiv f’idejh: huwa l-Parlament li għandu jmexxi u mhux il-Kabinett għax, kif iħobbu jfakkruna wħud ta’ kulltant, il-Parlament hu l-ogħla istituzzjoni tal-pajjiż.

Mill-Indipendenza l-pajjiż dejjem tmexxa mill-Kabinett li kontinwament ta’ struzzjonijiet lill-Parlament, li, għall-formalità, bi ftit eċċezzjonijiet, approva dawn l-istruzzjonijiet u mexa magħhom.

Dan ovvjament kien possibli minħabba l-polarizzazzjoni tal-pajjiż f’żewġ sferi politiċi li ttrasformaw dak li fuq il-karta hi demokrazija parlamentari f’sistema ta’ ċentraliżmu demokratiku, immexxija mill-Kabinett.

Spiċċajna biex flok il-Kabinett hu qaddej tal-Parlament l-affarijiet huma kważi kompletament bil-maqlub.

Din, fil-fehma ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika, hi waħda mir-raġunijiet ewlenin għaliex kontinwament hemm resistenza għal sistema elettorali aħjar li tagħti spażju lill-ilħna oħrajn, lil hinn mill-ilħna tradizzjonali.

Għax l-effett prattiku tad-dħul ta’ partiti politiċi addizzjonali fil-Parlament, eventwalment, ikun ifisser rifondazzjoni tad-demokrazija parlamentari bid-deċiżjonijiet jittieħdu fil-Parlament stess u l-Kabinett ikun relegat għal postu: jirrapporta lill-Parlament, jieħu l-istruzzjonijiet mingħandu u jwettaqhom!

Fi ftit kliem, dan ifisser il-ħtieġa li jkun hemm separazzjoni effettiva bejn l-eżekuttiv u l-leġislattiv, punt fundamentali meta qed nitħaddtu dwar il-kostituzzjoni ta’ demokrazija parlamentari. Din is-separazzjoni illum teżisti fuq il-karta biss.

Il-Kostituzzjoni teħtieġ li tirrifletti ukoll il-ħtieġa għal trasparenza u l-kontabilità. Dan hu meħtieġ mhux biss min-naħa tal-politiċi imma wkoll mingħand dawk kollha li jirċievu kwalunkwe delega ta’ xi forma ta’ awtorità eżekuttiva, anke l-iżjed waħda ċkejkna.

Ma’ dan kollu trid iżżid is-sistema elettorali, li teħtieġ tibdil sostanzjali. Dan hu meħtieġ prinċipalment minħabba li r-regoli kostituzzjonali dwar il-proporzjonalità huma limitati u diskriminatorji fl-applikazzjoni tagħhom.

Dawn japplikaw biss f’sitwazzjoni fejn fil-Parlament ikun hemm żewġ partiti politiċi u u allura, b’mod prattiku, japplikaw favur il-Partit Laburista u l-Partit Nazzjonalista, li fassluhom favur tagħhom.

Imma l-proċess elettorali jeħtieġ li jkun eżaminat mill-ġdid ukoll, għax illum, iktar minn qatt qabel, hawn il-ħtieġa ta’ intervent leġislattiv biex ikun indirizzat in-nuqqas tal-presenza adegwata tal-ġeneri differenti fil-fora politiċi Maltin, ewlieni fosthom fil-Parlament Malti.

Pajjiżna qed jinbidel kontinwament. Kultant din il-bidla isseħħ b’ritmu kajman. Drabi oħra din issir b’għaġġla kbira, kif qed iseħħ fil-mument. Huma bidliet li l-poplu Malti qed iħaddan kontinwament.

Bidliet li żdiedu fir-ritmu hekk kif Malta issieħbet fl-Unjoni Ewropea u bdiet dieħla fis-seklu wieħed u għoxrin, u b’mod iktar qawwi minn meta seħħ l-approvazzjoni tar-referendum dwar id-divorzju fl-2011.

Malta tal-lum hi differenti minn Malta tal-1964. F’numru ta’ aspetti hi wkoll Malta aħjar. Hi Malta li mxiet ‘il-quddiem u addattat ruħha ġeneralment b’suċċess għal dak li seħħ madwarha. F’dan il-proċess mifrux fuq kważi 60 sena, minn stat prattikament konfessjonali Malta żviluppat fi stat lajk b’koeżistenza ta’ valuri li jikkuntrastaw.

F’Malta illum isaltan pluraliżmu etiku. Hija din il-pluralità ta’ valuri ta’ Malta tal-lum li għandna nżommu quddiem għajnejna aħna u niddibattu dwar x’forma għandu jkollha kostituzzjoni emendata jew mibdula fil-ġimgħat u fix-xhur li ġejjin.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 10 ta’ Novembru 2019

Our Constitution: the reform ahead

Some may consider that Malta’s Constitution is fine in its present state but, unfortunately, much more than a couple of tweaks are required. We are all aware that constitutional mechanics are not only subject to the workings of people of good faith: some excel in seeking the most devious of ways to justify the avoidance of their Constitutional responsibilities.

Most of us wish that this was not the case but, unfortunately, it is the reality. Experience has taught us that a number of our Constitutional provisions need to be clearer to be able to withstand abuse and misinterpretation. Malta is in a continuous state of change, which must be reflected in our Constitution. The Constitution should be a reflection of today’s values: it should reflect a 21st century Malta.

Over the years, Maltese Greens have spoken up on various aspects of the existing Constitution which need revisiting or new elements that need to be introduced. This is essential – not only in order to apply the lessons learnt from our experiences but also to reflect the continuous metamorphosis through which the country is going.

Topping the list of considerations is the need to address the secondary role in which Parliament has been placed over the years with the Cabinet, effectively, taking over. In this context, it is very relevant to focus on Parliament’s handing over substantial responsibilities to the Cabinet or directly to individual Ministers without the minimum oversight. This also applies to regulatory bodies or institutions which are generally appointed and entrusted with substantial responsibilities without even a basic referral to Parliament.

This situation prevailed up until the recent amendments to the Public Administration Act, which created a Parliamentary Permanent Committee to examine political appointments in the public service. From what has been seen so far, the operations of this Committee leave much to be desired.

The recent report of the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe, which has a focus on the state of play of the rule of law in Malta, judicial independence – as well as the autonomy of those entrusted to enforce the law – encourages debating reconsideration of the manner in which these appointments are made and whether, and to what extent, the Government and/or Parliament have any role to play in the process.

It is not acceptable in this day and age that Parliament hands over a number of blank cheques to the Cabinet, Ministers and regulatory bodies. Parliament should retain ultimate oversight and control, currently a function usurped by the Cabinet. Since 1964, the Cabinet has always taken the lead – issuing ‘instructions’ to Parliament, which has generally rubber-stamped these instructions and followed them through.

This has been made possible by the prevalent intensive political polarisation that has transformed what – on paper – is a parliamentary democracy to one where democratic centralism, led by Cabinet, prevails. We have ended up with Parliament serving the Cabinet, when it should be the other way around. In my view, this is one of the basic reasons for the continuous resistance to the reform of the electoral system which would give adequate democratic space to political formations outside the traditional ones. The practical impact of the entry of new political parties into Parliament would be a re-foundation of parliamentary democracy, with Parliament standing on its own two feet and issuing instructions to Cabinet, not the other way around. This would signify an effective separation of executive and legislative powers: a fundamental issue in the Constitution of any parliamentary democracy and one which, so far in Malta, exists only on paper.

Our Constitution needs to reflect the basic need for transparency and accountability. This should be applicable not just to those elected to political office but also to those having a delegated authority on any matter, however small.

The electoral system requires substantial change. This is primarily due to the fact that the constitutional rules on proportionality are defective and discriminatory. They only apply in a Parliament composed of two political parties: in practice they thus apply only in favour of the Labour Party and the Nationalist Party who designed them to suit their needs. The electoral process also needs revisiting to address the gender imbalance in our parliamentary representation.

Malta is continuously changing. This change is proceeding at a varying rate that has been accelerating since we joined the European Union, but more so since the positive divorce referendum of 2011.

Malta in the 21st century is substantially different to the Malta of 1964. In many aspects it is also a better Malta that has generally successfully adapted to change. In this context, in a 60-year timeframe Malta has developed from a confessional state to a lay one with the co-existence of contrasting values.

In Malta today one can speak of ethical pluralism and it is this plurality of values of today’s Malta that should be the basic foundation stone of the constitutional reform process on which we will be embarking in the coming weeks and months.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday 10 November 2019

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

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!

Standards fil-Ħajja Pubblika: għadna nistennew

Is-sit tal-Ministeru tal-Ġustizzja jindika b’mod ċar li l-Att XIII tal-2017 imsejjaħ Att dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika għadu ma daħalx fis-seħħ. Din il-liġi irċiviet il-kunsens tal-President tar-Repubblika nhar it-30 ta’ Marzu 2017 wara li damet perjodu twil pendenti fuq l-aġenda tal-Parlament. Jidher li għad baqgħalna x’nistennew, għax il-partiti politiċi fil-parlament ma tantx jdher li għandhom għaġla.

Il-liġi tipprovdi għall-ħatra ta’ Kummissarju dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika. Dan il-Kummissarju jista’ jkun approvat biss kemm-il darba jikseb il-kunsens ta’ żewġ terzi tal-membri parlamentari. Fi ftit kliem irid ikun hemm qbil dwar il-ħatra tiegħu jew tagħha bejn il-Gvern u l-Opposizzjoni li, sa fejn naf jien, għandhom ma qablux. S’issa ħadd ma jaf xejn, l-anqas jekk ġewx proposti ismijiet, minn min u x’kienet ir-reazzjoni dwarhom.

Il-liġi approvata tapplika għall-Membri kollha tal-Parliament, inkluż il-membri tal-Kabinett. Tapplika wkoll għal dawk il-persuni maħtura f’posizzjoni ta’ fiduċja (position of trust) fil-Ministeri u s-Segretarjati Parlamentari.

Meta iktar kmieni matul din il-ġimgħa iltqajt mal-Ispeaker tal-Kamra tar-Rappreżentanti, l-Onorevoli Anġlu Farrugia, jiena emfasizzajt li dan id-dewmien biex tkun implimentata din il-liġi dwar l-imġieba xierqa tal-Membri Parlamentari u dawk maħtura f’posizzjoni ta’ fiducja qiegħed jibgħat messaġġ ċar ħafna: li l-Membri Parlamentari m’għandhom l-ebda ħeġġa biex iwieġbu għal egħmilhom.

Jiena niftakar lill-Ispeaker, xi snin ilu, jemfasizza li hu ma kienx sodisfatt mill-kontenut tad-dikjarazzjonijiet tal-assi sottomessi minn uħud mill-Membri Parlamentari. Issa għandu l-għodda biex jinvestiga dwar il-veraċitá ta’ dawn id-dikjarazzjonijiet imma sfortunatament m’huwiex jitħalla jagħmel użu minnhom! Il-Membri Parlamentari għandhom jagħtu kont ta’ egħmilhom, iżda l-fatt li l-liġi dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika għadha ma daħlitx fis-seħħ qiegħed jostakola dan milli jseħħ.

Meta tħares lejn dan in-nuqqas ta’ implimentazzjoni tal-liġi waħdu tista’ tinterpretah bħala tkaxkir tas-saqajn mill-Membri Parlamentari u l-mexxejja tagħhom li jippreferu ma jitqegħdux taħt il-lenti tal-iskrutinjun pubbliku. Imma meta dan kollu tqisu fil-kuntest tar-rapport annwali tal-Ombudsman għas-sena 2017 huwa ċar li dan it-tkaxkir tas-saqajn m’huwiex limitat iżda hu mifrux ħafna. Id-dritt tal-aċċess għall-informazzjoni dwar il-ħidma tal-amministrazzjoni pubblika qiegħed taħt assedju.

Il-kontabiltá u it-trasparenza m’humiex slogans. L-anqas huma negozjabbli. Huma valuri fundamentali li jiffurmaw parti essenzjali mis-sisien tal-istat demokratiku.

Jiena tlabt lill-Ispeaker biex jiġbed l-attenzjoni tal-Kumitat tax-Xogħol tal-Kamra li dan it-tkaxkir tas-saqajn biex ikun implimentat l-Att dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika mhuwiex aċċettabbli. Huwa essenzjali li l-liġi tkun implimentata malajr kemm jista’ jkun jekk iriduna nemmnu li għall-partiti politiċi fil-parlament il-kontabilitá tfisser xi ħaga.

B’żieda mar-responsabbiltá li jinvestiga l-imġieba kemm tal-Membri Parlamentari kif ukoll dik tal-persuni ta’ fiduċja, il-Kummissarju għall-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika ser ikollu ukoll l-inkarigu li jfassal kemm il-linji gwida kif ukoll ir-regolamenti proposti dwar l-attivitá tal-lobbying. Dwar din l-attivitá b’implikazzjonijiet etiċi sostanzjali l-partiti politiċi fil-Parlament ma qablux meta din il-liġi kienet qed tiġi ikkunsidrata quddiem il-Kumitat Parlamentari għall-konsiderazzjoni tal-abbozzi ta’ liġijiet. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan Il-materja intefgħet f’ħoġor il-Kummissarju dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika li meta jinħatar ser ikun hu li jkollu jfassal kemm il-linji gwida kif ukoll r-regolamenti proposti.

Il-lobbying hi attivitá essenzjali fil-ħajja pubblika. Jeħtieġ iżda li issir b’mod li jkun assigurat illi d-deċiżjonijiet mittieħda mill-politiċi jkunu kemm trasparenti kif ukoll b’rispett sħiħ lejn r-regoli bażiċi tal-etika.

Il-lobbying huwa ta’ influwenza kontinwa fuq id-deċiżjoniiet li jittieħdu. Huwa essenzjali li dan issir b’mod mill-iktar trasparenti biex ikun ċar għal kulħadd dwar liema interessi jkunu qed jiġu mmexxija l-quddiem. Dan bla dubju jfisser li ikun meħtieġ il-pubblikazzjoni ta’ ammont mhux żgħir ta’ informazzjoni li presentement hi fil-pussess ta’ membri tal-Kabinett u li ġeneralment tibqa’ fil-files – meta tkun miktuba. Din hi informazzjoni li ġeneralment tkun il-bażi għall-azzjonijiet u d-deċiżjonijiet li jittieħdu.

Bla ebda dubju, il-linji gwida u r-regolamenti dwar il-lobbying iridu jindirizzaw u jirregolaw x’jista’jagħmel membru tal-Kabinett meta jispiċċa mill-ħatra, materja magħrufa bħala revolving door policy. Dan minħabba li s-settur regolat mill-Ministru jkollu għatx għal informazzjoni (kunfidenzjali) li dan ikun kiseb kemm ikun ilu fil-ħatra kif ukoll għall-kuntatti u influwenzi akkumulati fuq dawk li jieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet. Xi drabi għaldaqstant meta Ministru jew Segretarju Parlamentari, hekk kif itemm il-ħatra tiegħu ikun offrut impieg f’dak l-istess settur li ftit qabel ikun dipendenti minnu jeħtieġ li nieqfu ftit. Dan ovvjament għax miegħu iġorr aċċess akkumulat kemm għal informazzjoni miksuba kif ukoll għal kuntatti u influwenza fuq il-proċess deċiżjonali. Il-linji gwida u r-regolamenti jridu jistabilixxu kemm jeħtieġ li jgħaddi żmien qabel ma dan ikun jista’ jseħħ. .

Huwa dan kollu li qed nistennew. Hemm ħafna li jeħtieġ li jsir imma ma jidher li hemm l-ebda impenn biex dan isir.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : 1 ta’ Lulju 2018 

Standards in Public Life: still waiting for Godot

The website of the Ministry of Justice clearly indicates that Act XIII of 2017 entitled Standards in Public Life Act is not yet in force. This statute received Presidential assent on  30 March 2017 after an elephantine gestation period. It seems that we are in for a long wait as the parliamentary political parties do not seem to be in any hurry.

The Act provides for the appointment of a Commissioner for Standards in Public Life. The Commissioner can only be appointed if two-thirds of Members of Parliament agree with the nomination, and as far as I am aware there has been no agreement so far between Government and Opposition on the matter. The name or names proposed to date are not in the public domain.

The Act applies to all Members of Parliament, including the members of Cabinet. Moreover, it also applies to those appointed to a position of trust in Ministries and Parliamentary Secretariats.

When I met the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Hon Anġlu Farrugia, earlier this week, I emphasised the fact that the delay in implementing this legislation on the ethical behaviour of Members of Parliament and those appointed in positions of trust is sending one clear message: that Members of Parliament are not that eager to be accountable for their actions.

I do remember the Speaker – some years back – emphasising the fact that he was not satisfied with the contents of the asset declarations submitted annually by some MPs. He now has the tools to investigate the veracity (or otherwise) of such declarations but is, unfortunately, being prevented from doing so. MPs should be accountable for their actions, but the non-implementation of the Standards in Public Life Act is preventing such accountability.

On its own, this lack of implementation could be interpreted as a reluctance of MPs and their leaders to be personally placed under the spotlight of public opinion. However, when viewed in the context of the 2017 Ombudsman’s annual report, it is very clear that this reluctance is widespread. The right of access to information on the workings of the public administration is under siege.

Accountability and transparency are not slogans and, moreover, they are non-negotiable. They are fundamental values which underpin the democratic state.

I have asked Mr Speaker to draw the attention of the House Business Committee to the fact that this procrastination in implementing the Standards in Public Life Act is not acceptable. Its implementation is a must if we are to believe that the commitment of parliamentary political parties goes beyond slogans.

In addition to investigating the behaviour of Members of Parliament and that of people appointed to positions of trust, the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life will have the task of drawing up guidelines and a proposal for regulations on lobbying activities. This is another ethical minefield in respect of which there was no agreement between the parliamentary political parties when the draft legislation was under consideration in the Parliamentary Committee for the Consideration of Bills. As a result, instead of spelling out the required regulatory regime, the matter was postponed and added to the responsibilities of the future Commissioner for Standards in Public Life, whoever he or she may be.

Lobbying is an essential and unavoidable element of public life. However, it has to be placed under the spotlight to ensure a fuller transparency of the decisions taken by the holders of political office. In addition to subjecting lobbying to clear transparency rules, it is essential that the ethical issues linked to lobbying are addressed forthwith.

Lobbying continually influences decision-making. It is imperative that transparency rules are applied to lobbying so that it be clear to one and all as to whose interests are being advanced and defended. This would undoubtedly include the publication of a substantial amount of information to which Cabinet Ministers are currently privy, which information (generally) forms the basis for their actions and decisions.

Undoubtedly, lobbying guidelines and regulations have to address the issue of revolving doors recruitment, as a result of which politicians may be available for sale at the taxpayers expense. A policy addressing the issue of revolving doors recruitment would also regulate the cooling-off period required for a Minster or Parliamentary Secretary to take up employment (after termination of office) in the sector which was subject to his regulation authority.

This is what we are waiting for. Like Samuel Beckett’s characters in his “Waiting for Godot”. Godot never arrives.

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 1 July 2018

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

L-Iżvilupp Sostenibbli

Environment

Illum il-ġurnata, diversi jitkellmu dwar “sostenibilitá” u dwar “l-iżvilupp sostenibbli”. Sfortunatament, bosta drabi ma jkunux jafu x’inhuma jgħidu. Bħala riżultat jispiċċaw iwasslu messaġġi żbaljati.

Mela, ejja nibdew minn hawn. Meta nitkellmu dwar sostenibilitá inkunu qed nirriferu lejn dak li nagħmlu. Dan ikun sostenibbli kemm-il darba, d-deċiżjonijiet tagħna ma jippreġudikawx lil ġenerazzjonijiet futuri milli huma ukoll ikunu jistgħu jieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet tagħhom. Min-naħa l-oħra, l-iżvilupp sostenibbli hi t-triq li permezz tagħha nistgħu noqorbu u eventwalment naslu viċin li nkunu sostenibbli.

Fi ftit kliem is-sostenibilitá tħares fit-tul.

Dan kollu ma jikkonċernax biss l-ambjent. Imma jiġbor flimkien kemm il-politika ambjentali, kif ukoll dik ekonomika, il-politika soċjali kif ukoll il-politika kulturali. Ifisser li f’dak kollu li nagħmlu irridu nħarsu fit-tul u rridu nassiguraw li l-ħarsien ambjentali, l-iżvilupp ekonomiku u soċjali jimxu id f’id u b’rispett għall-kisbiet kulturali.

Dan iwassal għal numru ta’ konklużjonijiet loġiċi li jiffurmaw il-bażi tal-politika għall-iżvilupp sostenibbli. Kienet Gro Harlem Brundtland, soċjal demokratika Norveġiża li serviet kemm bħala Prim Ministru kif ukoll bħala Ministru għall-Ambjent ta’ pajjiżha li fasslet it-triq meta fl-1987 mexxiet il-ħidma tal-Kummissjoni Dinjija għall-Ambjent u l-Iżvilupp tal-Ġnus Magħquda u ippreżentat ir-rapport intitolat Our Common Future.

B’mod prattiku, l-iżvilupp sostenibbli għandu jwassal għal deċiżjonijiet konkreti li permezz tagħhom, l-iżvilupp li jseħħ ikun wieħed li jirrispetta lin-nies, lin-natura u l-kultura. Fi ftit kliem, il-profitti li tiġġenera l-ekonomija ikunu ibbażati fuq kriterji etiċi. Kien għal din ir-raġuni li sa mis-snin disgħin, meta l-iżvilupp sostenibbli issemma l-ewwel darba fil-liġijiet Maltin, dan kien responsabbiltá diretta tal-Prim Ministru. Ta’ l-inqas fuq il-karta.

Għax il-politika dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli tmiss l-oqsma kollha tal-ħajja pubblika u allura teħtieġ politiku ta’ esperjenza. Sfortunatament l-ebda wieħed mill-Prim Ministri li kellna s’issa ma mexxa hu f’dan il-qasam għax dejjem iddelegah lill-Ministru (jew lis-Segretarju Parlamentari) responsabbli għall-Ambjent. Dan hu żball għax il-Ministru responsabbli mill-Ambjent rari ħafna jkun f’posizzjoni li jagħti direzzjoni lill-Ministri l-oħra, li ngħiduha kif inhi, ftit li xejn ikollhom interess fl-iżvilupp sostenibbli.

B’eżempju forsi ninftehmu aħjar dwar kemm f’Malta, l-politika dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli hi biss logħob bil-kliem.

Inħarsu ftit lejn l-infrastruttura tat-toroq tagħna, inkluż it-trasport pubbliku. B’mod mill-iktar ċar din mhiex sostenibbli u ilha hekk għal ħafna żmien.

Marbuta mal-infrastruttura tat-toroq hemm il-mobilitá u l-kwalitá tal-arja. Dan flimkien mal-konġestjoni tat-traffiku, l-impatti fuq is-saħħa prinċipalment minħabba l- kwalitá fqira tal-arja kif ukoll l-impatti fuq l-ekonomija tal-ħin moħli fi traffiku ma jispiċċa qatt.

F’Mejju 2014 l-Istitut għat-Tibdil fil-Klima u l-Iżvilupp Sostenibbli tal-Universitá ta’ Malta kien ikkummissjonat mill-uffiċċju rappresentattiv tal-Unjoni Ewropeja f’Malta biex iħejji studju dwar l-impatti tat-traffiku f’Malta. Minn dan l-istudju, intitolat The External Costs of Passenger and Commercial Vehicles Use in Malta , jirriżulta li l-impatt tal-konġestjoni tat-traffiku hu stmat li hu ekwivalenti għal 1.7% tal-Prodott Gross Nazzjonali. Din l-istima tieħu konsiderazzjoni kemm tal-petrol/diesel kif ukoll tal-ħin li jinħela bħala riżultat tal-konġestjoni tat-traffiku. Hu stmat li f’Malta kull sewwieq, kull sena, jaħli medja ta’ 52 siegħa  wieqaf fit-traffiku.

L-istudju iżid jgħid li din l-istima tiżdied u tilħaq l-4% tal-Prodott Gross Nazzjonali jekk jittieħed ukoll konsiderazzjoni tal-inċidenti tat-traffiku, l-impatt tat-tniġġiz tal-arja, l-effett tat-tniġġiż mill-ħoss kif ukoll il-gassijiet serra. Għall-paragun, tajjeb li nirrealizzaw li t-tkabbir ekonomiku għas-sena 2017 huwa stmat li ser ikun ta’ 3.5% tal-Prodott Gross Nazzjonali.

Dan hu biss eżempju wieħed. Bħalu hemm bosta oħra.

Il-loġika tal-iżvilupp sostenibbli kellha inevitabilment twassal għal servizz effiċjenti ta’ transport pubbliku snin ilu bil-konsegwenza ta’ tnaqqis sostanzjali ta’ karozzi mit-toroq tagħna. Huwa dak li għandna nippretendu f’pajjiż żgħir bħal tagħna fejn kważi kullimkien qiegħed biss tefa’ ta’ ġebla ‘l-bogħod. Imma, kollox bil-maqlub!

Darba l-Kabinett kien approva Strateġija Nazzjonali għall-Iżvilupp Sostenibbli  ………….. imma sadanittant il-politika tat-trasport f’Malta għadha tinkoraġixxi iktar karozzi fit-toroq tagħna.

 ippubblikat fl-Illum : il-Ħadd 8 ta’ Jannar 2017

The logic of sustainable development

four_pillar-sustainable development

 

Political discourse is nowadays peppered with the terms “sustainability” and “sustainable development” but often, unfortunately,  their use is out of context and thereby transmits the wrong message.

So, let us first be clear as to what the terms really mean. Being in a state of sustainability means that our actions, attitudes and behaviour are such that future generations are not precluded from taking their own decisions. On the other hand, sustainable development is the path to be followed to achieve sustainability.

This is not just a matter of environmental concern. It is an intertwining of environmental, economic, social and cultural policy. It means that our actions must take the long view and be compatible with the forces of nature, the economy, human development and a respect for culture.

All this leads to a number of logical conclusions which form the basis of the politics of sustainable development. This was first outlined by Gro Harlem Brundtland, a former Norwegian social democrat prime minister and minister for the environment in her seminal  1987 report Our Common Future,drawn up for the UN World Commission on Environment and Development. In her report, Brundtland, made ample use of the conclusions of an earlier debate in the World Council of Churches in 1974.

In practical terms, the politics of sustainable development should lead  to a number of concrete decisions, as a result of which modern-day living is simultaneously respectful of society, nature, the economy and the accumulated cultural heritage in its widest sense. Sustainable development is, in fact, a balanced approach to development. It is for this reason that, since the 1990s, when sustainable development first made it to Malta’s statute book, it was retained (on paper) as a direct political responsibility of the Prime Minister.

Sustainable development permeates all areas of policy and hence requires a senior politician in Cabinet to be in charge. Unfortunately, not even one of our prime ministers assumed direct political responsibility for the matter as, formally or informally, all of them delegated the matter to the Minister (or Parliamentary Secretary) responsible for the environment.

The Minister responsible for the environment cannot make much headway as he is dependent upon – and can in no way can he be expected to direct – his cabinet colleagues, most of whom are not really interested in sustainable development, anyway. A simple example will illustrate how all the talk on sustainable development by governments in Malta has been an exercise in managing hot air.

Consider the management of Malta’s road infrastructure, including public transport. This is clearly unsustainable and has been so for a long time. The public transport reform carried out under the direction of former Minister Austin Gatt was a public disservice as it made a bad situation even worse.

The management of Malta’s road infrastructure brings to the fore a number of issues, including mobility and air quality. Linked to these are traffic congestion, health impacts primarily due to poor air quality and the impact of the clogging of our roads on our economy through a substantial amount of time spent fuming at our steering wheels.

In May 2014, the Institute for Climate Change and Sustainable Development of the University of Malta was commissioned by the European Union representation in Malta to carry out a study on the external costs of traffic and congestion in Malta. Among other things, this study, entitled The External Costs of Passenger and Commercial Vehicles Use in Malta, estimated that 1.7 per cent of Malta’s GDP is wiped out annually as a result of traffic congestion. This conclusion took into consideration both fuel wasted and time lost: approximately 52 hours per annum per commuter.

The study further emphasises that this estimate would rise to four per cent of the GDP if it also took into consideration traffic accidents, the impacts of air and noise pollution as well as the impact of greenhouse gases emitted.  (For comparison purposes, it is pertinent to remember that the real Malta GDP growth for 2017 is projected at 3.5 per cent.)

This is just one example. There are many more.

The logic of sustainable development would have inevitably led to an efficient public transport system ages ago and a substantially reduced number of cars on our roads. It is what one would expect in a small country where practically everywhere is within a stone’s throw of everywhere else.  Yet we get the complete opposite.

Once upon a time, the Cabinet had approved a National Strategy for Sustainable Development – yet Malta’s transport policy is still one which encourages more cars on the road.

 published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 8 January 2017