The Basis of Good Governance

article published in The Times on Saturday 16 February 2008
by Carmel Cacopardo 
Being green means being transparent and ensuring full accountability. Not just of the political process. Not just relative to environmental issues. It is a basic principle enshrined in the Charter of the Global Greens approved in Canberra in 2001. It is also a basic principle in the Manifesto for a Coalition issued by Alternattiva Demokratika – the Green party in Malta for the March 8 general election.

Transparency is a basic requirement for good governance. It is not a familiar word in the Gonzi Administration dictionary accept during election time. In fact, this government has only recently considered it necessary to put pen to paper and propose a Freedom of Information Act. Some, like yours truly, have been harping on the issue since the mid-1990s, well before Lawrence Gonzi considered it necessary to return to national politics.

Transparency and accountability are inseparable twins. Accountability is, in fact, non-existent or severely diluted in the absence of transparency.

Within this context, the financing of political parties is fundamental in ensuring transparency of the political process. AD has been harping on the issue for ages, yet the only reactions from the other parties are the occasional grunt. A coalition government will, within the next few weeks, ensure that this issue is tackled. The construction industry has ensured its unsustainable existence at the expense of our environment on the basis of bankrolling the political system. It is no wonder that the PN and the MLP never act decisively on all issues that affect this industry. Transparency is the right of the public to know what is being carried out on its behalf. Its objective is not curiosity. At times it is, unfortunately, a reactive measure when, in reality, it should be a proactive requirement of any democracy.

In a democratic environment transparency means active disclosure of information, irrespective of whether one asks or not.

The public wants to know why and how decisions are taken. It needs to be convinced as to who is financing the political process and thereby reach conclusions as to the real motivation behind particular decisions.

All of us active in politics would do well to heed the 10 rules of transparency:

What’s done in private is eventually public.
What’s acceptable today probably won’t be tomorrow.
If it looks bad today, tomorrow it will look worse.
Today’s penalties will be worse tomorrow.
Each denial generates more pressure to disclose.
With each denial, enemies and detractors multiply.
With each denial, more friends desert you.
The more denials, the more severe the punishment.
Covering up is more damaging than the original sin.
Nothing is forgotten and seldom forgiven.
Further comments are unnecessary!

Mr Cacopardo, an architect by profession, is the spokesman on sustainable development of Alternattiva Demokratika – the Green party in Malta – and will be contesting the March 8 election on a Green ticket on the third and 11th electoral districts.

Cacopardo’s Coalition

(originally published in The Times on 8th February 2008)

by Harry Vassallo – Chairman Alternattiva Demokratika The Green Party

It was not the result of the first transport of a sudden passion that brought Carmel Cacopardo to Alternattiva Demokratika. Carmel is known for his lucid analysis and the precise articulation of his thoughts. When he acts, he acts very deliberately, with the conviction born of a careful dissection of the facts.Unlike most of the very few other political defections in the past, this one is not to a majoritarian party. Carmel comes from the self-styled natural party of government to the Greens. Why? He has always seen political activity as a duty and not as a personal investment. Now it is clearer than ever.He makes no bones about it. His letter of resignation tells it all. He lists his years of service in the highest echelons of the party and a 30-year membership, his election to the posts of information secretary, assistant secretary general and president of the council of administration. He was a candidate for the PN in the 1987, 1992 and 1996 elections. It is his life. Why has he shed it all?Approval in hotly-contested internal elections is significant, but it is only the result of certified commitment. Carmel’s public support of the PN cost him his job in the 1980s and significantly disturbed his career path. He has first-hand experience of political arrogance and discrimination with thousands of others who knew it under a Labour government. He has cast-iron credentials.He is justifiably proud of his share in bringing the PN to power in 1987. Thousands of us who voted for change in 1987 feel the same way. Most of us simply cast our vote. Few of us can boast of a share in the process to match Carmel’s.So why has he changed his mind about the PN? He puts it succinctly. He has no regrets that he joined the PN 30 years ago, but he would not subscribe to today’s PN. His reasons are worth pondering. The non-chalant treatment of those who are guilty of improper conduct in public and party affairs is the first but not the only reason. Those who have consistently misbehaved have been accorded protection; those who have resisted string-pulling, as he did in his work at the Mepa audit office, have had obstructions heaped before them.It is not the systematic frustration of his investigations that has made him resign but the reason for it: the intolerance for those capable of criticism and independent thought. Those who do not quietly submit are being sidelined. He does not go into the details since the facts have been publicly documented months ago.The repeated instances of what he describes undeniably point to a higher responsibility. It is not only those who prevented or obstructed the proper working of the planning system who are responsible but also and principally those who did nothing when the failures were made public. The failure to decide is a definite and damning decision. In the context of a single-party government, it is not possible to detach the responsibility for such a wholesale deviation of the rule of law from the party by attaching it to the government alone. In Carmel’s view responsibility must be borne also by the PN leadership per se.And this is where Carmel comes home to the Greens. It is his realisation that the single-party governments in the past 41 years have rendered Parliament unable to hold the government of the day to account. A vital part of our democratic structure has been absent for four decades. We are Alternattiva Demokratika, not as an alternative to the PN or to the MLP but as the means to provide an alternative to the two-party system, a democratic alternative with rule of law, civil rights, transparency and accountability credentials without equal. Carmel has come home.He understands the urgent need for the presence of a third party in Parliament. He speaks the thoughts and the conviction of everybody in the Green party but none of us can speak with his authority and the weight of his experience. Those who entered politics to bring about change (from within the major parties) have been absorbed by the system and have ended up justifying the unjustifiable. That is why Carmel has left the PN after 30 long years of very active politics.

He could have left in disappointment and disgust and gone home to share the quiet despair of thousands. Not Carmel; he has never learned helplessness. He has always had the courage of his convictions. If he can point out the responsibility of others, he also knows his own. With nothing to gain and more to lose he has joined the Greens. He has returned to his first days in politics, working for a change he believes in. It is all that matters.

He knows that his example is powerful, of unquestionable significance. Only he could decide to bring it to bear on our common future, and decide he did. Confronted with that decision, the Prime Minister could only show respect for it. There must be not a few of Carmel’s former colleagues in the PN whose consciences are troubled. They have a matter of days to decide whether to be in his coalition or to remain accomplices in the defeat of their dearest aspirations, their most profound beliefs.

Will 2,500 voters back him in the districts he will contest with AD? Every one of the 46,000 people who can vote for him will face a small part of the private dilemma he has resolved clearly and publicly. It may not be easy but it must be done. Do we want change or do we want single-party government forever?

If I voted in his constituency, I would be ashamed not to vote for him. Come hell or high water, he would have my number one vote. He stands head and shoulders above his competition in other parties. How can anyone even consider lesser-evil voting when a candidate of his stature stands before us? What pathetic excuse could I give myself for letting him down?

I fully expect Carmel Cacopardo to be elected to Parliament in a few weeks’ time. His contribution to political development in Malta will have been immense already on his first day in office; his and Arnold Cassola’s, Ralph Cassar’s, Edward Fenech’s, Victor Galea’s and every other Green candidate’s. I have been in excellent company for many years. It gets better all the time.