Aħdar ir-risposta

(diskors li għamilt illum is-Sibt 6 t’April 2019 f’egħluq Laqgħa Ġenerali Straordinarja li approvat il-kandidati u l-Manifest Elettorali ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika għall-elezzjonijiet ta’ Mejju 2019)

Il-Manifest Elettorali li għadna kif iddiskutejna u approvajna huwa mibni fuq erba’ argumenti: l-ugwaljanza, l-ekoloġija, is-saħħa u d-demokrazija. Hija r-rabta kontinwa li nfittxu bejn il-politika ambjentali u l-politika soċjali.

Kif ngħidu fil-Manifest li għadna kif approvajna, “Biex tkompli tinbena Ewropa b’saħħitha li tiddefendi liċ-ċittadin hemm bżonn li tissaħħaħ id-demokrazija. Id-demokrazija trid titħaddem dejjem iżjed fl-istituzzjonijiet kollha, b’mod li d-deċiżjonijiet kollha li jittieħdu mhux biss ikunu trasparenti imma fuq kollox jittieħdu minn persuni eletti u politikament kontabbli. Iċ-ċittadini għandu jkunilhom possibli li jinvolvu ruħhom direttament f’dan il-proċess demokratiku.

Għal dan l-iskop, anke l-lobbying għandu jkun trasparenti, b’regoli ċari li japplikaw għal kulħadd. (hu ta’ sodisfazzjoni li illum qrajna fil-gazzetti li l-Kummissarju tal-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika beda jaħdem dwar l-ewwel regoli dwar il-lobbying)

Għax mhux aċċettabbli f’soċjetà Demokratika li ma jkunx magħruf min qed jipprova jinfluwenza d-deċiżjonijiet, kif u għaliex.

Dan ma’ jgħoddx biss fl-Unjoni Ewropeja imma fuq kollox għandu jgħodd f’kull wieħed mill-istati membri.

Ir-rapporti ippubblikati dwar Malta mill-Kunsill tal-Ewropa, mill-Kummissjoni Venezja u il-GRECO (il-kumitat kontra l-korruzzjoni) lilna ma ssorpreduniex. Fihom ħafna affarijiet li mhux biss Alternattiva Demokratika ilha żmien titkellem dwarhom imma dwarhom ukoll għamilna proposti konkreti matul is-snin, inkluż fil-Manifesti Elettorali differenti.

Il-Gvern qed jipprova jiddefendi ruħu li l-kritika qed issir dwar liġijiet li saru żmien ilu li l-gvern tal-lum wiret mingħand il-gverijiet ta’qabel. Filwaqt li f’numru ta’ kazijiet dan hu minnu jibqa’ l-fatt li l-Gvern preżenti sabha komda li jibqa’ għaddej fuq dak li sab, għax hu komdu ħafna li meta tiġi dahrek mal-ħajt twaħħal f’ dawk li ġew qablek.

Ħu per eżempju l-poteri li għandu l-Prim Ministru u l-Ministru tal-Intern li jawtorizza l-intercettazzjoni tat-telekomunikazzjoni (tapping). Ma kellniex bżonn li l-GRECO jiġbdulna l-attenzjoni għaliha din. Ilna ngħiduha, kif għamilna anke fil-Manifest Elettorali tal-2017 ta’ AD. Kif jista’jkun li jibqa’ jkun il-politku li jiddeċiedi jekk jingħatax permess jew le biex isir it-tapping? Kif ser jiddeċiedi l-politiku meta jkun iffaċċjat b’talba biex ikunu investigati dawk ta’ madwaru? Dan mhux konflitt ta’ interess kbir? Hu għalhekk li ilna ngħidu li l-awtorità li jsir it-tapping għandha tingħata lill-ġudikatura li bla dubju tfittex li toqgħod attenta illi fil-ġlieda kontra l-kriminalità mhux biss titwarrab il-politika partiġjana u l-protezzjoni tal-ħbieb tal-politiku imma fuq kollox tassigura li jkun imħarsa d-drittijiet fundamentali.
Għidna ferm iktar minn hekk. Fl-2017 fil-Manifest Elettorali tkellimna ukoll fuq l-FIAU (Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit) fejn insistejna li m’għandiex tkompli tkun imexxija mill-AG (Avukat Ġenerali) u li r-rapporti tagħha m’għandhomx imorru għand il-Pulizija imma direttament għand il-Magistrat tal-Għassa. Irid ikun assigurat li r-rapporti tal-FIAU meta jaslu għand il-Pulizija ma jispiċċawx fil-bir tas-skieken imma li dawn ikunu investigati sewwa u li jittieħdu passi kull fejn jirriżulta meħtieġ.

Il-Kummissjoni Venezja u l-GRECO qalulna li istituzzjonijiet f’Malta għandna ħafna imma li dawn huwa dgħajfa. Qalu tajjeb, imma l-opinjoni pubblika f’Malta ilha konxja minn dan. Imma dan ġie injorat mill-Gvern immexxi mill-Partit Laburista. Il-PN min-naħa l-oħra, kellu jkun fl-Opposizzjoni biex jirrealizza dwar id-djgħufija tal-istituzzjonjijiet. Uħud minnhom ħoloqhom hu stess, iddiżinjati dgħajfa apposta, u dwar oħrajn sakemm inqeda għalaq għajnejh.

Huwa f’dan il-kuntest li ilna naħdmu għal dawn is-snin kollha.
Il-ħidma tagħna f’din il-kampanja elettorali b’differenza is-soltu mhiex limitat inkella iffukatan kważi esklussivament fuq il-Parlament Ewropew. Għall-ewwel darba qed niffaċċjaw l-elezzjonijiet tal-Kunsilli Lokali kollha fl-istess jum.

Ser nippreżentaw tal-inqas 9 kandidati, l-parti l-kbira minnhom żgħażagħ li qed jikkontestaw għall-ewwel darba fuq il-Mellieħa (Luke Caruana), Marsaskala (Daniel Desira), B’Kara (Anna Azzopardi), Naxxar (James Gabarretta), u Ħaż-Żebbuġ (Samwel Muscat). Għandna ukoll Irlandiż li jgħix Malta (Donal Kelly) li offra s-servizz tiegħu bħala kandidat fuq ix-Xgħajra u l-attivist ambjentali fil-Gżira (Jamie Mercieca). Ma dawn ngħodd ukoll lill-veteran tagħna fil-Kunsill Lokali ta’ H’Attard Ralph Cassar, li issa ilu jiġi elett għal snin twal – madwar għoxrin sena.

Grazzi lilkom ilkoll li qed toffru s-servizz tagħkom.

Ma dawn kollha, bħala partit iddeċidejna li għandi nikkontesta jiena ukoll fil-lokalità ta’ San Ġiljan. Għażilna din il-lokalità għax bħala partit irridu nagħtu kontribut dirett lir-residenti f’San Ġiljan li qed jiffaċċjaw problemi kbar. San Ġiljan hu fost dawk il-lokalitajiet li huma l-iktar milquta mill-iżvilupp bla rażan li bħalissa qed iħarbat il-ħajja ta’ kuljum ta’ bosta mill-Maltin.

Fiċ-ċentru tal-ħidma politika tagħna bħalissa hemm il-ħarsien tal-ambjent urban. Tul dawn il-ġimgħat dorna diversi lokalitajiet nitkellmu dwar il-kundizzjonijiet tat-toroq, dwar il-politika tat-trasport intenzjonata biex tkompli iżżid il-karozzi fit-toroq, dwar in-nuqqas ta’ aċċessibilità kif ukoll dwar it-teħid tal-ispazji pubbliċi, inkluż il-bankini, min-negozji għad-detriment tar-residenti.

F’diversi lokalitajiet, primarjament mal-kosta r-residenti ġew ridotti għal priġuniera f’darhom għax il-bankini okkupati minn imwejjed u siġġijiet li qed joħlqu diffikultajiet kbar kemm għall-aċċess tar-residenti għal djarhom kif ukoll għal servizzi bażiċi bħall-ġbir tal-iskart.

It-traskuraġni amministrattiva tul is-snin irrediet lokalità bħall-B’Kara bħala lokalità perikoluża kull meta jkollna maltempata. B’Kara għadha tiffaċċja l-għargħar kull meta jkun hawn ħalba xita, qawwija u mhux. Il-Gvernijiet repetutament fittxew li jindirizzaw l-effett u ftit li xejn saret ħidma dwar il-kawża ta’ dan kollu. Parti mhux żgħira mill-bini ta’ dan l-aħħar ħamisn sena fiħ nuqqas ta’ bjar (jew bjar ta’ qisien żgħar) bil-konsegwenza li f’kull ħalba xita miljuni ta’ litri ta’ ilma tax-xita jispiċċa fit-toroq ta’ B’Kara flok fil-bjar li suppost inbnew. Dan mhux biss hu ħtija ta’ nuqqas ta’ bjar f’B’Kara imma ukoll fil-lokalitajiet fil-madwar. F’dan is-sens B’Kara hi l-vittma ta’ amministrazzjoni pubblika inkompetenti li tul is-snin injorat ir-responsabbiltà li tara illi kull binja hi mgħammra b’bir ta’ daqs adegwat.

Hemm il-ħtieġa li nenfasizzaw iktar fuq il-ħtieġa li tkun implimentata mingħajr iktar dewmien l-istrateġija nazzjonali dwar it-trasport li teżiġi li jonqsu l-karozzi mit-toroq tagħna, primarjament għax m’għandniex bżonn din il-kwantità ta’ karozzi. Għandna bżonn investiment ikbar fit-trasport pubbliku, inkluż transport pubbliku reġjonali u lokali għax dan iservi biex inaqqas l-użu ta’ karozzi privati fit-toroq tagħna għal distanzi qosra. Irridu nirrealizzaw li 50% tal-vjaġġi li jsiru bil-karozzi privati fit-toroq Maltin isiru għal distanzi qosra li jdumu inqas minn 15-il minuta.

Fuq kollox hemm bżonn ta’ investiment ikbar fl-infrastruttura lokali, iffukata fuq il-ħtieġa li niffaċilitaw dejjem iktar l-aċċessibilità għal in jagħżel li jimxi inkella li jsuq ir-rota.

Il-kwalità tal-ambjent urban jirrifletti l-kwalità tal-ħajja tagħna. Jeffettwa l-arja tant essenzjali biex ngħixu. Jeffettwa l-ispazji pubbliċi tant essenzjali biex bħala l-pulmun tal-lokalitajiet tagħna jagħtuna in-nifs u l-ispazju fejn ngħixu.

Il-karozzi ħadulna t-toroq. In-negożji ħadulna l-bankini. Irriduhom lura. Dawn huma essenzjali għall-ħajja urbana. Huma l-ispazji pubbliċi bażiċi li flimkien mal-pjazez tagħna jimmarkaw lill-komunitajiet tagħna.

Neħtieġu toroq u bankini li jkunu aċċessibli għal kulħadd. Il-Kunsilli Lokali, għandhom ikunu fuq quddiem biex iħeġġu lill-gvern sabiex mis-€700 miljun li qed jipproġetta bħala nefqa biex jirranġa t-toroq, jitbiddlu ukoll il-bankini. Ħafna minnhom saru biex jaġevolaw il-karozzi fil-garaxxijiet bil-konsegwenza li diversi bankini spiċċaw tlajja u nżul kontinwi b’detriment għal min huwa vulnerabbli. Bl-istess mod, il-Kunsilli Lokali għandhom jaraw li l-bankini ikunu ħielsa minn ostakli li ħafna drabi iġiegħlu lir-residenti, partikolarment dawk l-iktar vulnerabbli jimxu fin-nofs tat-triq.

Għal kunsilliera f’isem Alternattiva Demokratika, din hija kwistjoni prijoritarja ta′ aċċessibilità għar-residenti kollha.

Irridu nsellmu lill-dawk il-kunsilliera kollha li tul is-snin ħarġu għonqhom b’konvinzjoni kbira biex inħarsu l-wirt storiku u l-wirt ekoliġiku ta’pajjiżna. Mhux xogħol faċli. Ħidma li f’Alternattiva Demokratika nagħmluha bla waqfien. Uħud mill-proġetti l-kbar li huma fuq l-aġenda tal-pajjiż għax-xhur u s-snin li ġejjin huma ta’ ħsara kbira. M’għandix f’moħħi biss il-mina bejn Malta u Għawdex li barra li mhiex meħtieġa ser tagħmel ħsara mhux biss lill-Għawdex fit-totalità tiegħu imma ukoll lill-agrikultura madwar in-Nadur f’ Ta’ Kenuna kif ukoll lill-Wied tal-Pwales u z-zona tal-Għerien fil-limiti tal-Mellieħa. Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa ippreżentajna oġġezzjini għall-bini tat-torri tat-Toyota f’Ħaż-Żebbuġ li qed ifittex li joħloq mostru ta’ 14-il sular, 11 minnhom il-fuq mit-triq f’zona li ser ikollha impatti kbar fuq ir-residenti ta’ Ħaż-Żebbuġ.

Aħna qegħdin hawn biex inservu. Ilkoll.

Qed noffru mill-ġdid is-servizz tagħna fil-Parlament Ewropew u fil-Kunsilli Lokali. Hi ħidma li ser tkun imsejsa fuq il-valuri bażiċi li fuqhom hi mibnija l-ħidma ħadra: l-għarfien ekoloġiku, il-ġustizzja soċjali, id-demokrazija parteċipattiva, n-non-vjolenza, s-sostenibilità u r-rispett lejn id-diversità.

Qegħdin nippreżentaw Manifest li jiftaħ il-bibien u t-twieqi għal żiffa li tnaddaf, għal diskussjoni li tfittex risposti għall-mistoqsijiet u teżamina s-soluzzjonijiet possibli. Irridu b’mod kontinwu nisfidaw l-istatus quo u f’dan il-proċess inneħħu l-għanqbut li hemm f’diversi irkejjen mhux biss f’Malta imma ukoll fi Brussell.

Il-politika ħadra tfisser li ma tibża’ tiddiskuti xejn.

Jekk inti tfittex u tistaqsi kif il-kwalità tal-ħajja tagħna lkoll tista′ tkun aħjar, kif għandha tonqos u eventwalment tkun eliminata l-emarġinazzjoni, kif tissaħħaħ id-demokrazija, m’għandekx wisq minn fejn tagħżel.

Pajjiżna ma jistax jibqa’ b’rasu fir-ramel: għalhekk l-aħdar hu r-risposta għall-mistoqsijiet tiegħek.

Alternattiva Demokratika hi l-unika garanzija li leħen kulħadd jinstema’ .

 

Il-Manifest Elettorali issibu hawn

Advertisements

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!

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

Pass kbir il-quddiem

Financing of Political Parties Act

Fil-Parlament il-bieraħ fil-għaxija ġiet fi tmiemha d-diskussjoni dwar il-liġi dwar il-Finanzjament tal-Partiti. Dan sar fil-kumitat permanenti li jikkunsidra l-liġijiet.

F’isem Alternattiva Demokratika jiena kont mistieden nieħu sehem f’din id-diskussjoni li ilha sejra diversi ġimgħat. F’din id-diskussjoni l-abbozz ta’ liġi ġie analizzat kelma kelma. Forsi virgola, virgola ukoll.

Għalkemm hemm affarijiet fil-liġi li setgħu saru aħjar, inkluż uħud li għal Alternattiva Demokratika m’humiex aċċettabbli, fi tmiem id-diskussjoni l-abbozz ta’ liġi  xorta hu wieħed aħjar milli kif kien imfassal oriġinalment.

L-oġġezzjoni prinċipali ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika hija dwar ir-regolatur. Jiġifieri dwar min ser ikollu l-awtorità li jara li l-liġi taħdem sewwa u li tkun osservata. Sa mill-bidu nett tad-diskussjoni l-Gvern ippropona li din l-awtorità regolatorja tkun il-Kummissjoni Elettorali.

L-oġġezzjoni ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika hi ibbażata fuq il-mod kif inhi magħmula l-Kummissjoni Elettorali. Din fiha 9 membri. Erba’ minnhom jaħtarhom il-Prim Ministru. Erba’ oħra jaħtarhom il-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni. Id-disa’ membru jaħtru l-Gvern tal-ġurnata għax ikun l-impjegat tal-Gvern li jmexxi x-xogħol amministrattiv kollu tal-Kummissjoni Elettorali. Il-Kummissjoni Elettorali, mela, hi magħmula minn rappreżentanti taż-żewġ partiti fil-Parlament.

Diġa hi problema kbira li ż-żewġ partiti fil-Parlament għandhom f’idejhom kontroll esklussiv tal-proċess kollu elettorali. Problema li tittaffa ftit bil-fatt li l-liġijiet elettorali jidħlu f’ħafna dettall u ankè jorbtu idejn il-Kummissjoni Elettorali kważi f’kollox.

Imma fil-każ tal-finanzjament tal-partiti ser ikun hemm ħafna affarijiet li ser ikunu jeħtieġu diskrezzjoni. Ser ikun hemm bżonn interpretazzjoni u ser ikun hemm bżonn deċiżjonijiet. Kulħadd hu tad-demm u l-laħam u wisq nibża’ li dan ser ikun rifless fid-deċiżjonijiet li jittieħdu.

Kien ikun ħafna aħjar kieku flok il-Kummissjoni Elettorali bħala awtorità regolatorja intagħżel il-Kummissarju għall-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika, kariga li ser tinħoloq permezz ta’ liġi oħra li għadha pendenti fuq l-aġenda Parlamentari. Min jokkupa din il-kariga ser jintagħżel mill-Parlament u biex jintagħżel ikun jeħtieġlu l-appoġġ ta’ mhux inqas minn żewġ terzi tal-Membri tal-Parlament. B’dan l-appoġġ, min ser jokkupa din il-kariga bil-fors li jkun persuna li tispira fiduċja u għaldaqstant tkun persuna aċċettabbli ukoll biex tkun l-awtorità li tieħu ħsieb l-amministrazzjoni tal-liġi li tirregola l-finanzjament tal-partiti politiċi. Din kienet il-proposta ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika, li iktar tard kisbet ukoll l-appoġġ tal-Partit Nazzjonalista.

Il-Gvern qatt ma qal li ma jaqbilx mal-proposta ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika. Qal biss li kien jippreferi li l-awtorità regolatorja tkun il-Kummissjoni Elettorali għax kien mgħaġġel. Kellu l-GRECO tal-Kunsill tal-Ewropa (Group of States Against Corruption) jiġri warajh u għaldaqstant ma kellux ċans joqgħod jibni l-istrutturi (institution building)!

Il-liġi probabbilment li tibda taħdem ftit xhur oħra. Il-partiti ser ikunu meħtieġa li jkollhom il-kontijiet tagħhom ivverifikati (audited). Ser ikun meħtieġ ukoll li kull sena jippreżentaw rapport dwar id-donazzjonijiet li jirċievu. Iridu ukoll jippubblikaw l-ismijiet ta’ dawk il-persuni li  fuq perjodu ta’ tnax-il xahar ikunu taw donazzjoni lill-partiti politiċi bejn €7,000 u €25,000. Ħadd ma jista’ jagħti donazzjoni ta’ iktar minn €25,000 f’sena, u għaldaqstant l-ebda partit politiku ma jista’ jaċċetta donazzjoni ta’ din ix-xorta.

Il-kontrolli, rapporti, verifiki u poteri tal-Kummissjoni Elettorali li tinvestiga huma kollha intenzjonati li jkun assigurat li jkun hemm trasparenza sħiħa fil-finanzjament tal-partiti politiċi u li din it-trasparenza twassal ukoll għal politka iktar nadifa.

Naslu? Issa naraw. Imma nemmen li bil-mod il-mod naslu ukoll.

Nemmen li bid-difetti b’kollox li fiha l-liġi din hi pass kbir il-quddiem.

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