Pluraliżmu anke fil-valuri

Wieħed mill-argumenti qawwija li lewnu d-dibattitu dwar id-dħul ta’ Malta fl-Unjoni Ewropeja kien li Malta ħtieġilha tidħol fis-seklu għoxrin qabel ma taħseb biex tissieħeb fl-Unjoni. Kien argumentat li kien hemm il-ħtieġa ta’ progress fuq ħafna fronti qabel ma Malta setgħet tissieħeb fl-UE. In-naħa l-oħra tal-argument, ovvjament, dejjem kien li s-sħubija minnha innifisha setgħet tkun il-katalist għat-tibdil tant meħtieġ fis-soċjetá Maltija. Għax il-bidla tista’ ddum biex isseħħ, imma fl-aħħar mhux possibli li tkun evitata. Kif jgħidu, tardare sí, scappare no!

Malta ssieħbet fl-UE fl-2004. Il-bidla fis-soċjetá Maltija għadha għaddejja, kultant b’ritmu mgħaġġel ħafna. Ir-referendum dwar id-divorzju li sar f’Mejju 2011 ħoloq terrimot, li, nistgħu ngħidu illi għadu għaddej.

Il-liġi dwar l-ugwaljanza fiż-żwieġ li l-Parliament approva iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa kienet pass ieħor f’din id-direzzjoni. Kienet deskritta bħala “immorali” (Edwin Vassallo), “Marxista” (Clyde Puli), “kommunista” (Herman Schiavone) kif ukoll “tal-Korea ta’ Fuq ” (Tonio Fenech).

Dawn it-tikketti juru kif jaħdem moħħ dawk li qed jirreżistu din il-bidla. Mid-dehra ħadd minn dawn il-kritiċi tal-leġislazzjoni dwar l-ugwaljanza fiż-żwieg ma fehem li dan il-pass kien ukoll il-konsegwenza loġika tal-emenda kostituzzjonali, approvata mill-Parlament fil-leġislatura l-oħra liema emenda kienet iċċarat li d-diskriminazzjoni minħabba l-ġeneru kienet ipprojibita ukoll. L-intolleranti fost l-Insara fostna jgħidu li dawk li jappoġġaw l-ugwaljanza fiż-żwieġ huma “bla valuri”. Dawn għadhom ma irrealizzawx li l-valuri tagħhom m’humiex l-unika valuri. Qed ngħixu f’soċjetá bi pluralitá ta’ valuri. Ħadd m’għandu monopolju, la dwar il-valuri u l-anqas dwar dak li hu tajjeb jew ħażin.

Uħud mill-kelliema ewlenin tal-Opposizzjoni, minkejja li ddikjaraw l-appoġġ għal-liġi taħt konsiderazzjoni, xorta dehrilhom li kellhom jużaw il-ħin ta’ diskorshom bi kliem dispreġġattiv dwar dak propost. Dan il-lingwaġġ mimli insulti użat fid-dibattitu parlamentari sfortunatament jirrifletti fuq l-Opposizzjoni Nazzjonalista kollha, anke fuq dawk li għamlu sforz ġenwin u qagħdu attenti li jużaw  lingwaġġ konċiljattiv biex jikkomunikaw ħsiebijiethom.

L-opposizzjoni konservattiva qegħda fir-rokna. Min-naħa l-waħda riedet tħabbar mal-erbat irjieħ tal-pajjiż li issa kkonvertiet u ser tkun fuq quddiem biex tiddefendi d-drittijiet tal-komunitá LGBTIQ. Min-naħa l-oħra iżda, l-Opposizzjoni ma setgħetx tinjora l-fatt li għad għandha dipendenza qawwija fuq appoġġ minn l-agħar elementi ta’ intolleranza reliġjuża fil-pajjiż, dawk jiġifieri li għadhom iqiesu d-drittijiet LGBTIQ bħal materja ta’ “immoralitá pubblika”.  Edwin Vassallo kien l-iktar wieħed ċar fi kliemu meta iddikjara li l-kuxjenza tiegħu ma tippermettilux li jivvota favur dak li huwa ddeskriva bħala proposta leġislattiva “immorali”.

Fi ftit sekondi Vassallo (u oħrajn) ħarbat dak li kien ilu jippjana Simon Busuttil sa minn meta kien elett Kap tal-PN.  Dan wassal lil uħud biex jispekulaw dwar jekk l-Insara intolleranti, id-demokristjani u l-liberali fil-PN jistgħux jibqgħu jikkoabitaw wisq iktar.

Dan kollu jikkuntrasta mal-mod kif ġiebu ruħhom il-konservattivi fil-Partit Laburista. Dawn, minħabba kalkuli politiċi, ippreferew li jew jibqgħu ħalqhom magħluq inkella qagħdu attenti ħafna dwar dak li qalu. Jidher li tgħallmu xi ħaġa mid-dibattitu dwar id-divorzju!

L-approvazzjoni mill-Parliament tal-liġi dwar l-ugwaljanza fiż-żwieġ huwa pass ieħor il-quddiem favur il-pluraliżmu tal-valuri. Il-Parlament aċċetta l-pluraliżmu tal-valuri u iddeċieda li kulħadd jixraqlu r-rispett. Għandna bżonn nifhmu, lkoll kemm aħna, li qed ngħixu f’soċjetá bi pluralitá ta’ valuri li lkoll jixirqilhom ir-rispett. Hu possibli li ma naqblux, imma li ninsulentaw lil xulxin minħabba li nħaddnu valuri differenti ma jagħmilx sens. Xejn m’hu ser jibdel il-fatt li ħadd ma għandu monoplju fuq il-valuri li f’numru ta’ każi jikkontrastaw.

Malta illum introduċiet l-ugwaljanza fiż-żwieġ. M’aħniex ser indumu biex nindunaw li dan ser jagħmel lis-soċjetá tagħna waħda aħjar, għal kulħadd.

ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 16 ta’ Lulju 2017

Value Pluralism

One of the arguments made during the debate prior to Malta joining the European Union was that before it did so, Malta should open its doors to the 21st century. It was argued that much progress needed to be made before Malta could join the EU. The flip side of this argument was that EU membership could be the right catalyst for change that Maltese society needed, because change can be obstructed and delayed but, in the long term, it cannot be stopped.

Malta did join the EU in 2004 and the opening of the doors (and windows) of change is currently work-in-progress. The divorce referendum held in May 2011 opened the floodgates to a recognition of the fact that Maltese society was in a state of rapid change, making up for lost time.

The Marriage Equality Reform legislation approved in Parliament earlier this week was another step. It was described as “immoral” (Edwin Vassallo), “Marxist” (Clyde Puli), “communist” (Herman Schiavone) or even “North Korean” (Tonio Fenech).

These labels identify the frame of mind of those resisting change. Apparently, none of these critics of marriage equality legislation has yet realised that this step is the direct legal consequence of the Constitutional amendment, approved by Parliament some years back, which spelled out in unequivocal terms the prohibition of discrimination based on gender.

The intolerant Christian right argues that legislation proposing marriage equality is the result of a society which has lost its values. They have not realised that their “values” are not the only ones around: we live in a society where a plurality of values is a fact. The Christian right has no monopoly: either on values or on what is right or wrong.

A number of leading Opposition spokespersons, notwithstanding their declaration of support for the proposed legislation, deemed it fit to hurl never-ending insults against the proposals being debated and all that these represented. This insulting language used during the parliamentary debate is a sad reflection on the whole of the PN Opposition, even on those who sought to apply the brakes and in fact used more conciliatory language to convey their thoughts.

The conservative opposition is in a tight corner. On the one hand it wanted to announce in unequivocal terms its recent “conversion” to championing LGBTIQ rights. At the same time the Opposition could not ignore the fact that it is still chained to an intolerant Christian right which labels LGBTIQ rights as morally reprehensible. Edwin Vassallo was the most unequivocal when he declared that his conscience would not permit him to vote in favour of what he described as an “immoral” legislative proposal.

In a couple of seconds, Vassallo and others blew up what had been carefully constructed by Simon Busuttil since assuming the PN leadership, causing some to speculate whether the cohabitation of the conservative Christian right, Christian Democrats and liberals in the PN can last much longer.

In contrast, even if for political expediency, the conservatives in the Labour Party parliamentary group have either kept their mouth shut or else watched their language. It seems that they have learnt some lessons from the divorce referendum debate.

Parliament’s approval last Wednesday of the Marriage Equality Legislation is another step in entrenching the acceptance of value pluralism. Parliament has accepted value pluralism and decided that it was time to respect everyone.

We need to realise that we form part of a society with a plurality of values, all of which deserve the utmost respect. It is possible to disagree, but insulting people because they have different values than one’s own is not on. A society with a plurality of values is a fact and nobody will or can change that.

Malta has now introduced marriage equality. As a result, our society will show a marked improvement that will have a positive impact on all of us.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 16 July 2017

Thirteen elections, two electoral systems

 

 

This Sunday morning, the news will be dominated by the counting process at Naxxar. During the night, until approximately 10.00am this morning, all ballot boxes will be opened and a reconciliation of the votes actually cast is made. The actual counting is scheduled to commence at 10am.

Depending on the difference in votes between the large parties, we may have the first forecast of the result within 30 minutes. However, if the difference is minimal, as was the case in 2008, it will take much longer for accurate forecasts to be made:  it may well be in the early afternoon.

In actual fact, we have in play two different electoral systems, running concurrently on the basis of different rules.

The first electoral system is the Single Transferable Vote system, which is applicable in each and every one of the 13 electoral districts. In fact, we speak of general elections, as in reality we have 13 different and independent elections running in parallel in the various electoral districts. The Single Transferable Vote system is exclusively dependent on the electors’ choices in the last count.

The second electoral system will begin when the counting process in all 13 districts has been completed and seeks to introduce a correlation between the accumulated final count result with the accumulated first count in the electoral districts. As is well known, a correction factor is thereafter applied to remove any discrepancies between the first count and the final count and consequently restore proportionality according to the first count.

This correction of discrepancies is, however, carried out in only two circumstances: namely if a political party surpasses the 50 per cent threshold, and also if only two political parties are elected to Parliament.  In more than two political parties are elected, and none of them exceeds the 50 per cent threshold, then the correction of proportionality discrepancies is simply ignored.

The existence of two parallel electoral systems has its roots in gerrymandering carried out, as a result of which electoral boundaries are periodically tweaked to favour one or the other of the major parties. The most notable cases of such gerrymandering having been carried out prior to the 1971 and the 1981 general elections.

The 1971 gerrymandering exercise did not materialise for just five votes while, as we all know, the 1981 one was successful in that it returned a Labour Government with a three-seat majority when it should have returned a PN government with a one seat majority.

The 1987 Constitutional amendments negotiated by Dom Mintoff and Guido de Marco established a simple and rudimentary majority rule principle. This was subsequently tweaked with additional constitutional amendments in 1996 and 2007, as a result of which the applicability of the proportionality rules were extended to apply where there only exists a relative majority of votes at first count stage. 

The Constitutional rules makes one basic assumption: that only two parliamentary political parties exist and in fact the 2007 amendments extended the applicability of the adjustment mechanism to both parties.

The physical counting of votes will be carried out under the watchful eyes of representatives of all political parties and the candidates themselves.

Human error, and maybe more, contributes to a number of mistakes during the counting process. Some are generally identified and corrected immediately. Others pass by un-noticed, nobody being aware of their potential impact. During the 2013 General Elections count – as a result of an obvious lack of attention of the party representatives – two such mistakes cost the PN two Parliamentary seats, only for the Constitutional Court to decide on the matter 44 months later.

Given these mistakes in 2013, in all probability the atmosphere in the counting hall will be more tense than usual, with the PN and PL representatives competing over who has the best scrutinising skills.

To the many predictions that have already been made as to the possible results I will certainly not add mine. One thing is however certain: this Sunday will be a very long day.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday 4 June 2017 

 

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

Is-siġġijiet tal-PN u l-proporzjonalitá

constitution-article-521

Il-Qorti Kostituzzjonali tat deċiżjoni dwar l-ilment kostituzzjonali tal-PN u iddeċidiet illi l-PN għandu jingħata żewġ siġġijiet addizzjonali fil-Parlament. Din hi d-deċiżjoni finali tal-Qrati Maltin dwar il-każ, u allura issa ser tkun implimentata.

Hi deċiżjoni li jixirqiha kull rispett, imma dan ir-rispett ma jfissirx li hi deċiżjoni tajba, għax fil-fatt hi deċiżjoni żbaljata. Għax ma kellhomx jiżdiedu s-siġġijiet, imma kellhom jitnaqqsu! Il-calculator tal-Prim Imħallef ħa żball. Kulħadd jista jiżbalja, mhux hekk?

Ovvjament il-Partit Nazzjonalista bħalissa qiegħed jippontifika dwar il-proporzjonalitá bejn voti miksuba u siġġijiet mirbuħa fil-Parlament. Peró l-proporzjonalitá li jemmen fiha l-PN hi dik bejn il-PN u l-Labour. Din wasslet biex għal żball ta’ ħamsin vot il-PN jippretendi żewġ siġġijiet Parlamentari, imma fl-istess ħin il-5506 vot fl-ewwel għadd ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika fl-aħħar elezzjoni ġenerali huma injorati.

Sewwa, 50 vot, skond il-PN, jixirqilhom rappresentanza imma 5506 vot għandhom ikunu injorati.

Ser ikun hemm min iwieġibni u jgħidli: jekk Alternattiva Demokratika jidhriha xi ħaġa messha tmur il-Qorti hi ukoll. It-tweġiba tiegħi hi waħda ċara: Alternattiva Demokratika diġá għandha parir legali li meta l-Kostituzzjoni ta’ Malta tipprovdi għal proporzjonalitá unikament għal żewġ partiti u tinjora lil bqija din qegħda tiddiskrimina.

Nafu li għandna raġun.

Il-problema hi biss li l-establishment jaħsibha mod ieħor. Meta jidhrilna li jkun il-mument opportun, nieħdu l-passi neċessarji.

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!

Wanted: an impartial regulator for political party financing

Financing of Political Parties Act

Earlier this week, Parliament’s Standing Committee for the Consideration of Bills concluded its detailed discussion on the Bill regarding the financing of political parties. I was invited by the Committee to participate in the discussion in representation of Alternattiva Demokratika.

The Bill was improved as a result of the discussion. Around 34 clauses of the Bill were, in fact, amended, most amendments receiving unanimous consent.

However Alternattiva Demokratika’s major objection to the Bill was not addressed. When the White Paper on the regulation of the financing of political parties was published with government’s initial proposals, AD was already making the point that the choice of the Electoral Commission as the regulator was not a suitable option.

This lack of suitability clearly results from the very composition of the Electoral Commission. It is composed of nine people, four of whom are nominated by the Prime Minister, a further four are nominated by the Leader of the Opposition and the ninth person is the chairman of the Commission, who occupies that post in virtue of his having been appointed by the Prime Minister as head of The Electoral Office.

How can nominees of the parliamentary political parties regulate impartially the very parties nominating them as well as other political parties? Over the years, the Electoral Commission had the responsibility of receiving and vetting the returns submitted by candidates for elections (local, national and European) in which returns the candidates should have listed the donations they have received as well as their electoral expenditure. A cursory look at the newspapers published during past election campaigns would immediately provide ample proof that a number of such returns were – without any doubt – false declarations. Over-spending and undeclared financing was rampant, yet the Electoral Commission never took any action. Had it done so, I think that quite a number of our Members of Parliament in past legislatures or MEPs would have been unseated.

Yet the Hon. Minister Owen Bonnici keeps defending the government’s political choice of selecting the Electoral Commission as the regulator. In the government’s defence, he stated that the Electoral Commission is a constitutional body entrusted with the conduct of elections which, he said, it has carried out to the satisfaction of everyone.

Minister Owen Bonnici is incorrect. The Electoral Commission, in conducting elections, does not have any elbow room. Its discretion is substantially limited by electoral legislation which is very tight and precise. And whenever the Electoral Commission had any practical room for manoeuvre it made a mess of it.  In simple words, the Electoral Commission is constructed on partisan foundations. There are historical reasons for this but it is a basic truth which cannot be camouflaged.

While the Electoral Commission’s hands are generally tied up where electoral legislation is concerned, it is a different kettle of fish when dealing with the regulation of political parties and their financing. There will be issues and submissions that require interpretation and an eventual decision.

Already, way back in February 2014, Alternattiva Demokratika had proposed an alternative regulatory authority in the person of the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life, a post resulting from a Bill which was proposed by a Parliamentary Select Committee led by Mr Speaker Anġlu Farrugia. This Select Committee concluded its work and presented its final report on 24 March 2014, almost 16 months ago. For those who seek to act in good faith there was ample time for considering the proposals made. Yet the proposed Bill is still pending on the Parliamentary agenda.

In the Bill [Standards in Public Life Bill] the Select Committee proposed that the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life should be appointed, subject to obtaining the support of two-thirds of Members of Parliament. The election of the Commissioner would thus be on a par with that of the Ombudsman: the requirement that the support of two-thirds of Parliament has to be achieved would ensure that the selected person would, irrespective of his/her views be acceptable to a very wide-cross section of society.

This is the way forward initially proposed by Alternattiva Demokratika, but supported at a later stage by the PN.

The government never spoke against the AD proposal but only stated that it preferred the Electoral Commission as the regulatory authority as it was in a hurry. Minister Owen Bonnici said many a time that the GRECO (Council of Europe – Group of States Against Corruption) was breathing down his neck and as a result he had no time to spare for institution building!

This law will most probably be applied with effect from 1st January 2016. It is generally designed on the basis of a one-size-fits-all template that does not distinguish between political parties having a turnover measured in millions of euros and others which handle just a few thousands of euros per annum.

Political parties will be required to present annual audited accounts to the regulator, which will be published. They will also be required to submit a report on donations received over a calendar year. In addition, they will be required to publish the names of those donating in excess of €7,000 in a calendar year up to the permissible maximum of €25,000.

Alternattiva Demokratika will be examining the law in detail and taking legal advice before deciding whether to initiate legal action contesting the selection of the Electoral Commission as the regulator. The proposed law is generally a step in the right direction but, unfortunately, is tainted by the lack of identification of an appropriate regulator. It is indeed a pity that, when taking such a bold step forward, the government preferred the partisan path. In so doing it has diluted the efforts of all those who have worked hard in previous years to achieve this goal.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 19 July 2015

Trying to squeeze out the small political parties?

Financing of Political Parties ActStandards in Public Life Bill

 

Legislation regulating the financing of political parties in Malta is long overdue. Alternattiva Demokratika has been harping on about this subject since its foundation in 1989 and has referred  to it in all the general election campaigns since.

Former MP Franco Debono has been a driving force over the last few years in ensuring that the financing of political parties has been an item retained on the national agenda.

The Parliamentary Committee for the consideration of Bills is currently examining the Financing of Political Parties Bill in detail. On behalf of Alternattiva Demokratika, I had the opportunity to be present at a number of sittings and also participated in the ensuing discussion after being invited to do so by the Parliamentary Committee.

While the general thrust of the Bill is reasonable, it contains three basic mistakes which, if unchecked, will impact the whole regulatory process. The first is over-regulation. The second is the retention of absolute control directly in the hands of representatives of the Parliamentary political parties which, in turn, leads to the third fault- this being a one-size-fits-all template.

I will take each in turn.

The over-regulating aspect of the Bill has been watered down, as  Minister Owen Bonnici was very flexible when faced with this criticism. He accepted various amendments to the Bill, scaling down  various  provisions relating to the proposed regulation of political parties.

The government is proposing that the regulating authority on party political financing should be the Electoral Commission. It attempts to justify its stance by pointing out  that the General Elections Act already assigns responsibility to the Electoral Commission to receive, and where necessary vet, the expenses made and donations received by candidates in general, local and European elections in Malta. However, Minister Owen Bonnici, who is piloting the Bill,  was not in a position to explain why the Electoral Commission had never taken any action when faced with a blatant disregard for the rules by candidates in past elections.

The alternative proposal, initially piloted by Alternattiva Demokratika but subsequently also taken up by the PN Opposition, would see the regulatory authority on political party financing vested in the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life. This Commissioner would be a  Parliamentary Official, to be elected subject to the support of two-thirds of Members of Parliament when the Standards in Public Life Bill, currently pending on Parliament’s agenda, is approved. Enjoying the support of two-thirds of MPs would signify that the person selected would enjoy widespread support and consequently his or her moral authority would be substantial and effective.

During the discussion Minister Owen Bonnici declared that the Council of Europe’s GRECO (Group of States Against Corruption) was  breathing down his neck  and consequently the government could not afford to await alternative institution building.

A major stumbling block is the composition of the Electoral Commission itself. This is determined in the Constitution, with four of its members being nominated by the Prime Minister and  another four members  being nominated by the Leader of the Opposition. The chairman of the Electoral Commission is always a civil servant nominated by the Prime Minister. This signifies that the parliamentary political parties, through their absolute control of the Electoral Commission, end up regulating themselves through their nominees. But what is even worse is the fact that they also control the regulatory process for all other political parties which may consider registering.

It seems that this rigid control of the regulatory process by the parliamentary political parties is not enough.  To be sure of tightening even further the resulting control, the Financing of Political Parties Bill also adopts a one-size fits-all template. It does this by ignoring reality and makes no distinction between the political parties having seven-digit turnover and the rest. Nor does it distinguish between the political parties run by full-time professionals paid for their services, at least in part through funds arising from donations, and political parties run by volunteers with an annual turnover averaging €10,000. The one-size-fits-all approach is, however, not extended to state financing. For the past 20 years, both the Nationalist Party and the Labour Party parliamentary groups have been receiving €100,000 in public funds annually.

The proposed  rigid reporting and auditing requirements that may be reasonable for political parties with seven-digit budgets are certainly quite unreasonable for a political party such as Alternattiva Demokratika, run by volunteers on a shoestring budget which averages €10,000 annually.

The limited administrative capacity of small parties is not factored in the Bill under consideration.

The end result may well be that there will be considerable administrative difficulties for political parties not presently in parliament to register as political parties once the Bill under discussion becomes law. (It has to be borne in mind that only political parties registered in terms of an eventual   Financing of Political Parties Act will be able to present candidates in all elections in Malta. All other candidates will be considered as independent candidates and grouped together at the lower part of the ballot paper.)

Mixed messages have come through during the debate on this Bill. Unfortunately, however, the message at these final stages is that there is also a clear but undeclared objective of the Financing of Political Parties Bill– to squeeze out the small political parties.

In the coming months we will see whether this undeclared objective can be overcome.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday, 5 July 2015

 

 

Il-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali iġġammjat

Kostituzzjoni ta' Malta

Fi tmiem il-ġimgħa li għaddiet smajna diversi kummenti dwar il-ħtieġa li  l-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali tiċċaqlaq. Jidher ċar li preżentement hi ġġammjata!

Tkellmet l-Eċċellenza Tagħha l-President fl-okkazjoni ta’ l-ewwel anniversarju mill-ħatra tagħha fil-kariga u qalet li kienet tittama li sa tmiem is-sena (li qegħdin fiha) jkun hemm progress.

B’reazzjoni għal dak li qalet il-President tkellem ukoll l-Avukat Franco Debono li sentejn ilu, fil-bidu ta’ din il-leġislatura kien inħatar mill-Gvern bħala l-koordinatur tal-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali.

Dr Debono qal li inħela ħafna żmien u għadu ma sar xejn.

Id-diffikulta li forsi Dr Franco Debono ma japprezzax biżżejjed hi li filwaqt li l-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali għadha ma bdietx, anzi filwaqt li l-konvenzjoni innifisha għadha l-anqas biss ma ġiet iffurmata, diġa għandna l-koordinatur tagħha appuntat. Nazzarda ngħid li għandna koordinatur li hu impost fuq il-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali.

Jiena dejjem fhimt illi kieku hemm rieda tajba biex l-affarijiet mhux biss isiru, imma jsiru sewwa, kienet tkun il-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali innifisha illi taħtar lill-koordinatur tagħha. Dan il-koordinatur jista’ jkun Dr Franco Debono, imma jista’ jkun ukoll xi ħaddieħor.

Huwa inutli li noqgħodu nistaħbew wara subgħajna: kulħadd jaf li din hi ir-raġuni ewlenija għala s’issa kollox hu iġġammjat dwar il-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali. Il-proċess huwa delikat u seta jkun iffaċilitat ħafna iktar kieku id-deċiżjonijiet jittieħdu b’kunsens mhux b’imposizzjoni.

Dak li ġara s’issa xejn ma jawgura tajjeb għall-futur tal-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali. Hemm ħafna x’jista’ jsir. Iżda il-parti l-kbira ta’ dak li jista’ jsir jirrikjedi kunsens għax fl-aħħar ser ikun meħtieġ l-approvazzjoni ta’ tnejn minn kull tlett membri tal-Parlament. Dan il-kunsens mhux ġej bħala riżultat ta’ strateġija ta’ imposizzjoni. Jista’ iżda jinbena ftit ftit jekk ikun hemm min jifhem li bil-kunsens biss nistgħu naslu.

Min għandu widnejn, ħa jisma’.

Taking care of tax evaders

HSBC Geneve

 

Joseph Muscat and the Labour Party pride themselves with emphasising that this Government has removed the statutory limitation (prescription) relative to corruption when holders of political office are criminally prosecuted.

It certainly was a step in the right direction. It still however requires the test of time to verify whether it is compatible with the human rights provisions of our Constitution and the European Convention of Human Rights as was explained by former Strasbourg Judge Giovanni Bonello in his article Bribery and Genocide : the same? (Times of Malta April 20, 2013)

Such a clear stand against corruption contrasts with the provisions of Legal Notice 256 of 2014 entitled Investment Registration Scheme Regulations 2014 which launched the latest amnesty that can be utilised by Maltese citizens who evaded payment of income tax. Camouflaged through the use of Orwellian terminology as an “Investment Registration Scheme”, this amnesty, as others before it, did not treat holders of political office any differently from other tax evaders. It afforded them the same opportunities to be able to “regularise” their position absolving them from having committed an economic crime.

Apparently, this government considers tax evasion to be a crime which is substantially inferior to corruption. In fact, the recent cases brought to light by Swiss Leaks have revealed the ease with which former Cabinet Ministers have wriggled out of their tax evasion crimes that they had successfully concealed for around 40 years, including when in office.

During all these years, most of the funds which were accumulated in various bank accounts until they ended in an HSBC Genève account, reaped interest at varying rates depending on market conditions, which, as a result, increased the quantum of the undeclared funds. Had both the funds originally invested as well as the accumulated interests  been appropriately declared to the tax authorities in Malta , they would have been subject to between 35 per cent and 65 per cent  taxation in terms of Income Tax legislation. Yet the Investment Registration Scheme of 2014 allows self-confessed tax evaders off the hook subject to a  maximum 7.5 per cent registration fee! They even get a discount if they repatriate the funds! Apparently it pays to be a tax evader.

There are, however, some matters  which are not at all clear, yet.

Before insisting on his imaginary “right” not to be pestered by the press, former Minister Ninu Zammit had informed The Malta Independent on Sunday  that all his affairs were now “regularised”, having  made use of the 2014 amnesty to reap the benefits of his hoard stacked in Genève. He was also reported as having stated that the sources of his hoard was income derived from his professional activity  as well as various deals in landed property.

It is public knowledge that Zammit’s land deals were negotiated through the Malta registered limited liability company by the name of LENI Enterprises Limited of which he was both a shareholder and a director.  It is logical that any income from land deals would not only have a bearing on Ninu Zammit’s tax status but also on the reported performance and possible tax liabilities of LENI Enterprises Limited. In this respect, the  company’s financial reporting would certainly make very interesting reading.  Have its audited accounts been submitted to the Malta Financial Services Authority or its predecessors in terms of law?  Who has certified these accounts? What about the role of the auditors of LENI Enterprises Limited?  Is there the need to revisit the audited accounts of LENI Enterprises Limited due to the fact that at least one of its directors has benefited from the latest tax evasion amnesty?

As far as I am aware,  Legal Notice 256 of 2014 only absolves self-declared tax-evaders resident in Malta from their non-observance of income tax legislation. Other crimes could still be actionable .

Such other crimes would include false declarations to Cabinet in terms of the Ministerial Code of Ethics. There may also be other issues should these result from the investigations which the Commissioner of Inland Revenue is currently carrying out on the basis of the information which is now known.

There is however one important thing which we should never underestimate. The benevolence of the state towards tax evaders has no limits. It knows how to take care of these small details too.

 

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday – 1st March 2015