The Guardian of the Constitution

Our Constitution expects that the President of the Republic protects and defends the Constitution of Malta. However, that same Constitution fails to provide the President with the required tools in order that this responsibility can be fulfilled. Consequently, to date, the President of the Republic has relied on moral persuasion to carry out this basic duty.

However, in this day and age, when we expect much more than a ceremonial Presidency with a rubber stamp, this is certainly insufficient. We expect a Presidency that can act in specific circumstances, even if it has no general executive powers.

The President cannot rely on moral persuasion alone to bring a government into line and respect our Constitution, when such action is required. The President’s office requires legal teeth to be in a position to fulfil its duty of protecting and defending the Constitution of Malta.

Earlier this week, Her Excellency the current President of the Republic has gone public with a specific proposal. In an interview published on Indepth, the online edition of The Malta Independent, outgoing President Marie-Louise Coleiro-Preca opined that the President should have the authority to send legislation back to Parliament for its reconsideration. This would also signify that the President’s office should be provided with the resources required in order that the President is provided with appropriate advice in real time in order that this essential function can be carried out.

This begs the question as to what extent should the President be actively involved in the local political debate. Sending back legislation to Parliament for its reconsideration would definitely be a very strong political statement. Would a President elected by Parliament in the present political scenario be willing to politically engage with Parliament in this manner? Even if one were to concede that this would be a rare event, it would be logical to conclude that were such an occurrence to happen it would definitely be a highly political and contentious act. The very nature of the Presidency would change dramatically. It could also be a change for the better.

The proposal made by President Coleiro-Preca is valid, but must, however, be seen in a wider context. Alternattiva Demokratika-The Green Party is on record as having proposed, in previous electoral manifestos, that the President of the Republic should be elected by an electoral college that is much wider than Parliament. Alternattiva Demokratika is of the opinion that Local Councils should be involved alongside Parliament in the election of the President.

Parliament should not be in control of all the country’s institutions. The involvement of local councils in the election of the President of the Republic would serve to increase the dignity of the office of President and would help remove the stigma that it is some sort of retirement club for old boys and girls.

Establishing such an electoral college would free the President from political dependence on Parliament. Consequently, the President, would in practice, be shielded from political backlash if he/she acts in defence of the Constitution, by sending back legislation to be reconsidered by Parliament.

The proposed authority of the President to return legislation for reconsideration should be limited to such cases where there is incompatibility between proposed legislation and the Constitution. It would transform the President’s current moral authority to real and effective authority to block legislation when there is a case to be made that such legislation is unconstitutional.

As a result, when the President gives his or her assent to legislation approved by Parliament it would not be simply applying the rubberstamp.

It is an important check on the powers of Parliament that is required in a revised Constitution. Guardianship of the Constitution should not be just lip-service, it should be real and effective.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 17 March 2019

Constitutional reform: identifying the basic building blocks

Malta’s Constitution should be regarded as a living document: one that reflects our values and aspirations. These, naturally, change over time and it is consequently logical that they are reflected in an up-dated Constitution.

Unfortunately, we have only very rarely had the opportunity to consider updates to our Constitution, except in times of political turmoil. The current endeavours of HE President Marie-Louise Coleiro-Preca in leading a steering committee to pave the way for a Constitutional Convention is unique in our constitutional history: it is an experiment which should be allowed to mature.

In its present form, Malta’s Constitution is mostly the result of political backroom dealings and compromises over an almost 60-year time-frame – and the results are, at times awkward. Gaps have developed over the years, that are being exploited by those who seek power at all costs.

In order to improve our Constitution, we cannot start afresh. Our point of departure is the baton handed over by our predecessors, warts and all. It is not easy, as there are many vested interests to be overcome – primarily of those who seek to avoid the adoption of constitutional norms which ensure that authority is at all times exercised in a responsible manner.

The invitation by the President to Alternattiva Demokratika-The Green Party to air its views on constitutional reform at a meeting of the Steering Committee earlier this week was welcome.

AD’s views and proposals on the matter have been in the public domain for quite some time. We need to start at the basic building blocks of democracy. Malta’s electoral legislation needs to change in order to ensure that every vote cast by a Maltese citizen is valued.

Having lived through the political turmoil of the 1980s, I am aware of the difficulties faced in producing a workable solution. The electoral constitutional amendments of 1987 have since been tweaked a couple of times but, however, both the original amendments as well as the improvements made have only served the interests of the PN and the PL. Amendments were always drafted with the specific intention of excluding other political parties from an effective participation in the electoral process and this has to stop.

It is essential to ensure that proportionality between the votes cast and the parliamentary seats elected is not a right reserved for the exclusive perusal of the PN and the PL. This, I submit, is the cause of all the problems faced by our young republic. The deliberate exclusion of alternative voices in Parliament has ensured that Malta’s political engagement has developed into a politics of confrontation, squeezing out the politics of consensus.

This is not all. It is also time to tackle, head on, the issue of gender balance in our parliamentary elections. Humiliating quotas intended to correct results are in my view unacceptable: gender-balanced party lists are the only practical way forward.

In addition to addressing the applicability of proportionality to everything we also require an overhaul of the method of voting. Gender-balanced party lists are used in various European countries specifically to address the gender mismatch in parliamentary representation. Gender balance is not just for man and women: it should also include those who identify themselves with neither of these genders.

A revised Constitution should recognise the fact that, today, the country,  embraces ethical pluralism. Hence, instead of the Constitution being linked to one religious set of beliefs, the Roman Catholic, it should spell out its respect for all religions compatible with the democratic state.

During the meeting with the Constitution Reform Steering Committee, AD emphasised that, unlike in 1964, Malta is now a lay state and this fact should be reflected in the constitutional reform through an abrogation of article 2 of the Constitution. This would reflect the great strides forward made by the Maltese nation as a result of the referendum on divorce, as well as through the introduction and recognition of civil rights for the LGBTIQ community.

Alternattiva Demokratika also discussed the need for the President of the Republic to be elected by an electoral college that is much wider than Parliament. Local Councils should be involved in the election of the President.

Revision of the Constitution should widen the use of the referendum by extending it further to include the introduction of propositive referenda, as a result strengthening the democratic process.

In the coming weeks, Alternattiva Demokratika will be publishing a detailed document containing all of its proposals on Constitutional reform, which will include proposals to strengthen the country’s institutions. Protection of the environment in all its aspects will also feature in such proposals as it is essential that a government that ignores –  or does not give sufficient attention to – the guiding principles in Chapter 2 of the Maltese Constitution should be held accountable.

After five wasted years, the first steps in the process leading to the constitutional convention have at last been taken.

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

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’.

Greening the Constitution

Chadwick Lakes 02

Alternattiva Demokratika – The Green Party –  is in agreement that 50 years after its adoption Malta’s Constitution needs to be updated.  However such an exercise, as emphasised in AD’s 2013 electoral manifesto, should be carried out with the direct involvement of civil society. The Constitution belongs to all of us.

There are a number of issues which require careful consideration. In AD’s 2013 electoral manifesto at least fourteen such issues are identified. They vary in scope from electoral reform to widening the issues in respect of which discrimination is prohibited, by including protection from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. AD also proposes the introduction of a Constitutional provision in favour of a balanced budget, thereby ensuring that government is forced to discard budget deficits and consequently to control the spiralling public debt.

One very important issue is the need to entrench environmental rights and duties in the Constitution. The proposed Constitutional Convention, supported by AD, should aim at Greening the Constitution. That is, it should aim at addressing environmental rights and duties such that they are spelled out in unequivocal terms.  Environmental rights and duties should as a minimum be spelled out as clearly as property rights in the Constitution. They are worthy of protection just as the rights of individual persons.

Article 9 of the Constitution very briefly states that “The State shall safeguard the landscape and the historical and artistic patrimony of the nation.”  Further, in article 21 of the Constitution we are informed that this (and other safeguards) “shall not be enforceable in a Court” but that this (safeguard) shall be “fundamental to the governance of the country” and that it shall be the aim of the State to apply it in making laws.

It is not conducive to good governance to first declare adherence to specifc safeguards, but then specifically excluding the Courts from ensuring that such safeguards are being observed.

The strategy of announcing principles but then not providing the legislative framework for their implementation was also taken up in environmental legislation. In fact articles 3 and 4 of the 2010 Environment and Development Planning Act  announce a whole list of sound environmental principles. However  in article 5 of the same Act it is then stated that these cannot be enforced in a Court of Law!

When I had the opportunity of discussing the Environment and Development Planning Bill with Mario de Marco (then Parliamentary Secretary responsible for Tourism and the Environment) I had proposed on behalf of the Greens that the declarations  in articles 3 and 4 of the Bill should not be just guiding principles. They ought to be made enforceable by our Courts subject to the introduction of  a suitable transition. Unfortunately Dr de Marco did not take up the Greens proposal.

As things stand today, article 3 of the Environment and Development Planning Act announces very pompously that the government,  as well as every person in Malta, has the duty to protect the environment. Furthermore it is announced that we are duty bound to assist in the taking of preventive and remedial measures to protect the environment and manage resources in a sustainable manner.

Article 4 goes further:  it  states that government is responsible towards present and future generations.  It then goes on to list ten principles which should guide government in its endeavours.  Integrating environmental concerns in decisions on socio-economic and other policies is first on the list. Addressing pollution and environmental degradation through the implementation of the polluter pays principle and the precautionary principle follows immediately after.  Cooperation with other governments and entities enshrines the maxim of “think global, act local” as Malta both affects and is affected by environmental impacts wherever they occur.  The fourth guiding principle is the need to disseminate environmental information whilst the fifth one underlines the need of research as a basic requirement of sound environment policy.  The waste management hierarchy is referred to in the sixth principle followed immediately by underlining the requirement to safeguard biological diversity and combatting all forms of pollution.  Article 4 ends by emphasising that the environment is the common heritage and common concern of mankind and underlines the need to provide incentives leading to a higher level of environmental protection.

Proclaiming guiding principles in our Constitution and environmental legislation is not enough. Our Courts should be empowered in order that they are able to ensure that these principles are actually translated into concrete action.   Government should be compelled to act on the basis of Maltese legislation as otherwise it will only act on environmental issues when and if forced to by the European Union as was evidenced in the past nine years.

Greening the Constitution by extending existing environmental provisions and ensuring that they can be implemented will certainly be one of the objectives of the Greens in the forthcoming Constitutional Convention.

published in the Times of Malta 18 May 2013

Mill-Manifest Elettorali ta’ AD dwar bidliet fil-Kostituzzjoni : (14) Lingwa tas-sinjali

sign language

(14) Lingwa tas-sinjali

Il-lingwa tas-sinjali bil-Malti għandha tiġi rikonoxxuta mill-Gvern bħala lingwa ufficjali.

(silta mill-Kapitlu Numru 9 tal-Programm Elettorali ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika)

Mill-Manifest Elettorali ta’ AD dwar bidliet fil-Kostituzzjoni :(13) Reviżjoni tal-artiklu 2 tal-Kostituzzjoni


(13) Reviżjoni tal-artiklu 2 tal-Kostituzzjoni

L-Artikolu 2 tal-Kostituzzjoni għandu jiġi rivedut . L-ewwel, billi jiġi ddikjarat, minflok li r-reliġjon ta’ Malta hija r-reliġjon Kattolika Rumana, li l-istat jirrikonoxxi kull reliġjon li hija kompatibbli ma’ soċjetà demokratika u pluralista. It-tieni, li ma jkunx meħtieġ it-tagħlim obbligatorju tar-reliġjon fl-iskejjel.

(silta mill-Kapitlu Numru 6 tal-Programm Elettorali ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika)

Mill-Manifest Elettorali ta’ AD dwar bidliet fil-Kostituzzjoni: (11) Orientazzjoni sesswali


(11) Orientazzjoni sesswali

Il-projbizzjoni tad-diskriminazzjoni skont is-sess għandha titwessa’ biex tkopri d-diskriminazzjoni skont l-orjentazzjoni sesswali.

 (silta mill-Kapitlu Numru 6 tal-Programm Elettorali ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika)

Mill-Manifest Elettorali ta’ AD dwar bidliet fil-Kostituzzjoni : (10) Drittijiet ambjentali


(10) Drittijiet ambjentali

Id-dikjarazzjoni tal-prinċipji ġenerali fil-Kostituzzjoni għandha tiġi riveduta biex tinkludi prinċipji ambjentali bħad-dritt għall-arja nadifa u l-ilma. Ir-reviżjoni trid timmira li tittrasforma din it-taqsima tal-Kostituzzjoni minn taqsima dikjarattiva għal waħda inforzabbli fil-Qrati Maltin wara tranżizzjoni ta’ għaxar snin.

(silta mill-Kapitlu Numru 6 tal-Programm Elettorali ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika)