The last straw

The situation is now unbearable. The discriminatory gender mechanism introduced in the Constitution by consent of the PNPL duopoly is definitely the last straw. The PNPL duopoly have now been at it for quite some time: they are undermining our very democracy.

Some years back they introduced the proportionality adjustment mechanism in the Constitution. They fine-tuned it over the years. Yet it is only applicable when just two political parties make it to parliament. The moment that a third party makes it to parliament the Constitution ceases to guarantee proportionality except to the one party which obtains over fifty per cent of the votes in a general election. All the others are excluded from benefitting from the proportionality adjustment mechanism.

Act XXII of 2021, given the Presidential assent on the 20 April 2021, introduces another adjustment mechanism to general election results. It is a gender adjustment mechanism and is likewise applicable when candidates of two political parties make it to Parliament.

Twelve additional members of Parliament will be added from the under-represented sex. These will “be apportioned equally between the absolute majority party or the relative majority party and the minority party”. There is no provision for the applicability of the gender adjustment mechanism when parliament is made up of more than two political parties.

Way back in March 2019 government had set up a “Technical Committee for the Strengthening of Democracy” which was entrusted to draw up proposals on the need to achieve gender balance in parliament. In July of the same year, after an exercise in public consultation, this Technical Committee published its findings and final proposals.

The Technical Committee in its report acknowledges the receipt of a position paper submitted by the Maltese Green Party which emphasised the need of a “broader electoral reform” than the one under consideration. Unfortunately, the Technical Committee failed to engage and discuss the only alternative submitted to its entrenched position. An alternative which could possibly have delivered a solution without creating additional discrimination was ignored completely.

The Technical Committee’s proposal, which was eventually adopted by parliament, adds another layer of discrimination to our electoral laws. To date proportionality is only constitutionally guaranteed to political parties in a two-party parliament.  The second layer of discrimination will likewise guarantee a gender balance only when two political parties are present in parliament.

Encouraging gender balance is an important objective which I and all my colleagues share. It cannot however be the cause of creating further discrimination in our electoral legislation. This was a unique opportunity which could have been utilised by the so-called “Technical Committee for the Strengthening of Democracy” to eradicate the existent electoral discrimination rather than further strengthen it. As a result, the Technical Committee ended up strengthening the existent parliamentary duopoly.

It is unacceptable that the electoral law treats us differently from the large parties. Equality before the law is supposed to be a basic democratic principle underpinning all legislation.

The electoral system has been treating us unfairly for too long a time. Adding further to this unfairness is definitely the last straw. It is now time to address this unfairness head-on and possibly settle matters once and for all.

With this in mind we are planning to challenge constitutionally the two adjustment electoral mechanisms as both of them are designed to function as discriminatory tools.

It is however possible to have both proportionality and gender balance in our parliament without making use of discriminatory action.

Unfortunately, the PLPN duopoly have not been able to deliver fairness in our electoral system. The Courts are our only remaining hope to address and remove discrimination from electoral legislation.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 25 April 2021

Constitutional top-ups: a democratic deficit

Earlier this week Parliament started discussing Bill 119, proposing constitutional amendments “to ensure de facto equality between men and women in politics”.  A very noble aim which all progressive politicians share. Unfortunately, in addressing the issue of equality between men and women in politics Bill 119 creates another problem: it goes about it in a discriminatory fashion. It discriminates against third parties through excluding them almost completely.

Bill 119 aims to top-up the number of elected members of parliament by a total of not more than twelve additional MPs through a process identifying unelected electoral candidates from the minority gender when the general electoral process has been concluded. The minority gender being that which has a representation below 40 per cent of the total number of elected MPs.

Clause 3 of the Bill starts immediately on the wrong foot. It lays down that the provisions of the gender top-up based constitutional amendments under consideration are only applicable in general elections “in which only candidates of two parties are elected”.

This wording is a cut-and-paste from another Constitutional top-up which was introduced in 1987 and fine-tuned throughout the years through a number of constitutional amendments relating to proportionality. Even then the constitutional solution was based on a basic discriminatory premise that it is only applicable if candidates of two political parties are elected to Parliament.

It is proposed by Bill 119 that the additional MPs “are to be apportioned equally by the absolute majority party or the relative majority party and the minority party”.

As has been emphasised many times, the proportionality Constitutional top-up, while ensuring majority rule, has created a democratic deficit in our Constitution in view of the fact that it is generally not operative when more than two political parties make it to Parliament. The gender balance top-up, faithfully follows in its footsteps. An existing democratic deficit is being made even worse.

The day when a third party makes it to Parliament on its own steam is fast-approaching. When that day comes, and it may be close, a Constitutional crisis may arise due to myopic legal drafting. This basic (intentional) error has been repeated in the Constitutional amendments under consideration by Parliament at this point in time.

I was surprised when I noted that during the Parliamentary debate, earlier this week, Opposition MP Herman Schiavone gave notice of amendments to address the gender top-up Bill. His proposals are an excellent first step but, in my view, they are not enough as they do not address all the possibilities that may arise when eventually the provision is to be applied. The matter can be explored further when the actual amendments are debated, at which point possible solutions can be explored.

The matter was also emphasised in Parliament by the Leader of the Opposition, possibly indicating that the PN has now changed strategy and has thrown away its previous policy of trying to cannibalise third parties which have the potential to make it to Parliament. A cannibalisation exercise which has been heavily resisted by the Maltese Greens throughout the years.

When the proposal for the gender Constitutional top-ups was published for public consultation, the Maltese Greens had participated and published a document outlining possible alternatives. One cannot keep patching up our electoral system. A fresh holistic revision is needed which will address both the proportionality and the gender representation issues. A possible solution exists through the use of party electoral lists which need be gender balanced. This is already done in various other countries.

We did not receive any reaction to our proposal. The Commission entrusted with examining the matter did not seek to meet us to explore alternative potential solutions. Unfortunately, the Commission too was trapped in a two-party frame of mind and consequently it concluded its exercise by adopting a solution which further reinforces the existing democratic deficit in the Constitution.

The setting up of such obstructions make our life more difficult as it increases unnecessary and artificial obstacles which seek to complicate the political work of third parties. This is not just unfortunate: it lays bare the “democratic credentials” of government and its advisors.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 17 January 2021

Co-option flok Gavin Gulia

Ir-riżenja ta’ Gavin Gulia minn membru parlamentari, ftit minuti wara li ħa l-ġurament tal-ħatra, hi kemmxejn stramba. S’issa mhux magħruf x’inhuma r-raġunijiet għal din ir-riżenja. Ma rridx noqgħod nispekula dwarhom jew inkella inżejjen b’aġġettivi lil min jista’ jkun involut f’dak li bla dubju ġara wara l-kwinti.

Gavin Gulia mhux l-ewwel membru parlamentari li rriżenja b’dan il-mod. Qablu kien hemm it-Tabib Peter Micallef li irriżenja biex jiġi co-opted Adrian Delia. Anke Micallef irriżenja ftit minuti wara li ħa l-ġurament tal-ħatra.

Meta l-proċedura tal-co-option tintuża b’dan il-mod, il-votant ikun qiegħed jingħata bis-sieq. Għax il-votant ikun għamel għażla u din l-għażla tkun qed tkun skartata kapriċċjożament favur min ma kellux id-diċenza jikkontesta l-elezzjoni ġenerali.

Wasal iż-żmien li r-regoli li diġa jeżistu dwar il-co-options ikunu segwiti. L-Att dwar L-Elezzjonijiet Ġenerali (General Elections Act) jipprovdi ir-regola bażika dwar il-co-option fl-Iskeda 13 tiegħu.

L-artiklu 22 (2) ta’ din l-iskeda jgħid hekk : Meta  jiġi  biex  jimtela  l-post  ta’  Membru  bil-għażla, għandhom jitqiesu li kemm jista’ jkun, ikun hemm l-istess interessi u fehmiet li kien jidher għalihom u li kellu dak il-Membru illi postu jkun tbattal. (bl-Ingliż: In filling a vacancy by co-option, regard shall be had to the representation as nearly as may be of the interests and opinions represented and held by the vacating Member.)

Tiftakru x’pogrom kien inqala’ meta l-Eżekuttiv tal-PN kien għażel li flok il-Membru Parlamentari Għawdxi David Stellini jagħmel co-option ta’ Jean-Pierre Debono li ma kellu x’jaqsam xejn mad-Distrett Għawdxi? L-Eżekuttiv tal-PN kellu jagħmel U-turn u eventwalment għażel lill-Għawdxi Kevin Cutajar.

Il-liġi jiġifieri diġa tipprovdi li l-partiti m’għandhomx id-dritt jagħmlu li jridu meta jkun hemm ħtieġa ta’ co-option imma għandhom limitazzjonijiet ċari li sfortunatament rari ħafna ġew osservati.

Issa nistennew u naraw x’ser jiġri meta tittieħed deċiżjoni dwar il-co-option flok Gavin Gulia.

The fragility of democracy

The events on Capitol Hill in Washington last Wednesday clearly show the fragility of democracy. We should never take it for granted.

The storming of Capitol Hill by Trump’s mob has damaged American democracy, which damage will be felt for many years to come. Damage which will take considerable time to heal.

Instigating and making use of violence for political ends, to instill fear and condition political opponents is nothing new. It has been used in countries and by politicians of dubious democratic credentials since time immemorial. On these islands we have had more than our fair share of this throughout the years.

In my younger days I used to live in Valletta, one block away from Parliament. We were used to having “spontaneous demonstrations” whenever Parliament had some hot item on its agenda, or whenever the political climate was tense, which was quite often. An orgy of violence many a time was the anticipated conclusion of such “spontaneous demonstrations” as the business community can confirm.  This is what incited crowds do: they transform themselves into deadly weapons used unscrupulously by those who pull the strings to silence or try to condition their political opponents.

Whenever the mob was let loose it left a trail of damage, not just physical damage, but more importantly reputational damage which takes quite a time to heal and repair.

Some of you may remember when a bull was let loose in the streets of Paola in September 1976 as part of the then election victory celebrations. After being force-fed a whole bottle of whisky it ended being directed towards the local PN club where it destroyed everything in its path.

The setting on fire of The Times in Valletta and the subsequent orgy of violence of the 15 October 1979 is another instance when instigation directed at highly charged political-mobs ends destroying everything in sight. The reputational damage is the most serious in such circumstances.

The objective, in such instances is always the retention, buttressing and consolidation of raw political power. Fortunately, this is history now, but it still lingers on in the collective memory, the cause of occasional collective nightmares.

The international media has rightly reacted sharply to the developments down Pennsylvania Avenue. In a couple of hours, in addition to the loss of four lives, injury to at least 14 police officers and damage to property, the Trump mob has inflicted lasting damage to American democracy.

Do not just blame Donald Trump for the chaos at Capitol Hill on Wednesday. His enablers have a sizeable share of the blame. The agitators were not just those in the streets in hoodies and army fatigues. They were also in suits, products of Yale, Harvard, Stanford and Princeton Universities sitting in front of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Mike Pence, participating in the joint session of the US Congress.

Both Trump as well as his enablers have blood on their hands.

The rule of law and the respect of democratic institutions are not just for export! The United States of America needs to practice what it preaches in order to start restoring its credibility.

As a result of the election of Joe Biden, described as “sleepy Joe” by Donald Trump throughout the electoral campaign, the US could slowly start the difficult uphill path to reconciliation. Having the support of influential minorities will undoubtedly be an asset in achieving this objective. The successful mobilisation by the Biden campaign of the black vote throughout the United States was pivotal in achieving its electoral success, the latest being the election for the first time in the last thirty years of two Georgian Democratic Senators. One must now look ahead towards the future to reconstruct the social and democratic infrastructure dismantled in the recent past.

Democracy is very fragile. It is easily damaged and takes quite a time to heal. We should never take democracy for granted. It is continuously under threat and should be defended assiduously every day.

Published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 10 January 2021

Il-każ numru 22: il-konsulent Konrad Mizzi

Nhar it-Tnejn 12 t’Ottubru fis-2.30pm ser jiltaqa’ il-Kumitat Permanenti dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika. Fuq l-aġenda għandu item wieħed:

Rapport dwar Investigazzjoni mill Kummissarju għall Istandards (Każ K/022).

Daqshekk biss tgħid l-aġenda.

Il-każ K/022 tressaq minni għall-attenzjoni tal-Kummissarju għall-Istandards. Fil-fatt nhar it-28 ta’ Jannar 2020 kont ktibt lil Dr George Hyzler u wara li rreferejtu ghall-kuntratt ta’ konsulenza li l-Awtorita tat-Turizmu tat lil Onorevoli Konrad Mizzi wara li spicca minn Ministru, li dakinhar stess il-Ministru Julia Farrugia ħabbret li gie annullat, talbtu biex  jinvestiga l-ghoti ta’ dan il-kuntratt u dan bl-iskop li tkun ezaminata l-imgieba ta’ Joseph Muscat (Prim Ministru), Konrad Mizzi (ex-Ministru u Membru Parlamentari), Gavin Gulia (Chairman tal-Awtorita tat-Turizmu) u Johann Buttigieg (Chief Executive Officer tal-Awtorita tat-Turizmu).

Nhar it-Tnejn jiena ġejt infurmat mill-uffiċċju tal-Kummissarju dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika li l-investigazzjoni li jiena, għan-nom ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika, kont tlabt f’Jannar li għadda kienet konkluża u li r-rapport finali kien ġie sottomess lill-kumitat permanenti tal-Parlament dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika.

Fuq talba tiegħi jiena ltqajt ma’ Dr George Hyzler Kummissarju dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika fejn tlabtu kopja tar-Rapport. Dr Hyzler infurmani li ma setax jagħtini kopja għax huwa l-Ispeaker biss li jista’ jagħmel dan skond il-liġi.

Jiena naf, anke minn informazzjoni fuq is-sit elettroniku tal-Kummissarju dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika stess li rapport dwar investigazzjoni fejn jirriżulta nuqqas ta’ xi ħadd li jkun ġie investigat qatt ma jkun rilaxxjat mill-kummissarju. Għalhekk, fil-fehma tiegħi jidher li l-Kummissarju sab li hemm nuqqas gravi u miexi strettament ma’ dak li tgħid il-liġi, bħal meta ikkonkluda li Joseph Muscat kien naqas meta aċċetta l-inbid Petrus.

Hu fl-interess tat-transparenza li l-Ispeaker għandu jippubblika dan ir-rapport immedjatament.

Il-bieraħ kellimt lill-Ispeaker Anglu Farrugia u tlabtu kopja tar-rapport. Huwa assigurani li hekk kif ikollu l-awtorizzazzjoni tal-Kumitat tal-Kamra jippubblika r-rapport.

Nistenna li nhar il-Tnejn il-Kumitat Parlamentari jaqbel bla diffikulta li r-rapport kollu jara d-dawl tax-xemx.

We need a Carbon Budget

Searching for the word “climate” through the 2021 Pre-Budget document published earlier this week entitled Towards a Sustainable Economy one finds the word three times: twice referring to the United Nations Agenda which has to be addressed by Malta as a prospective UN Security Council member, while a third reference is to policy documents under preparation in Malta. The word climate in the pre-budget document is not associated with any climate change policy implementation or action and its impact on the Maltese economy.

It is already five years since the Paris Climate Summit and its conclusions are still being “studied” in Malta. If we keep on procrastinating, achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 will be very difficult to attain.

When Parliament approved the Climate Action Act in 2015 it identified that one of the tools to be used in the politics of climate change was the formulation of a Low Carbon Development Strategy. Consultation on a Vision to develop such a strategy was carried out in 2017, but three years down the line the final policy document is nowhere in sight, even though the Minister for Climate Change Aaron Farrugia has indicated that it may be concluded towards the end of this year. 

A Low Carbon Development Strategy will identify those sectors which are of considerable relevance in developing a low carbon strategy. Some of them are major carbon emission contributors to be addressed. Other sectors are part of the solution as they provide alternative tools which serve to decouple the economy from intensive energy use, in the process reducing carbon emissions.

The Vision which was subject to public consultation three years ago identifies a number of sectors as areas for climate action, namely: enterprise, energy, transport, waste, water, agriculture, tourism, information and communication technologies (ICT) and finance.

The Low Carbon Development Strategy, when published, should address these areas of action. It would also be expected that such a strategy would also identify the manner in which we will be in a position to achieve our target of carbon neutrality. Such a strategy would also, for completeness be expected to be coupled with a carbon budget which would break down the general target into specific manageable objectives which could be achieved over a specific and reasonable timeframe.

At the Paris Climate Summit, together with all other countries, Malta made pledges to take action in order to lay the foundations for reducing climate impacts. If all the pledges made at Paris are honoured, however, we will still be very far off from achieving the target of not exceeding a two-degree Celsius temperature rise. Much more is required.

Unfortunately, Malta’s climate related policies are double faced. On one hand the Malta government publicly pledges action to address climate change. Simultaneously, however, it proceeds with massive road infrastructural projects which encourage more cars on our roads. On the other hand, plans for the electrification of our roads are apparently subject to an elephantine gestation period. In the meantime, car emissions compete with power generation emissions as Malta’s major contributor to climate change.

It is unfortunate that the Low Carbon Development Strategy and the associated Carbon Budget are taking too long to be formulated. It will take much longer to implement them as special interest groups will undoubtedly seek to protect their specific areas to the detriment of attaining our carbon-neutral objective.  

Malta should be at the forefront of climate change action. Parliament’s declaration recognising the existence of a climate emergency is not enough. Words must give way to action. As an island, Malta should be aware that a primary climate change challenge in the years to come will be a rising sea level as a result of which the coastline may recede inwards at a rate so far unknown. The coast, we may remember, is home to most of our maritime and tourism infrastructural facilities, all of which are under threat. Even residential areas close to the sea level will be impacted. This would include all sandy beaches and the residential/commercial areas at l-Għadira, Xemxija, Salini, Gzira, Msida, Sliema, Ta’ Xbiex, Pietà, Marsa, Marsaxlokk, Marsaskala, Birzebbuga, Xlendi, and Marsalforn. Impacts could also move towards inland low-lying areas such as Qormi.

If we take too long to bring our own house in order, it may be too late.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 13 September 2020

Gambetti lill-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali

Il-Ministru tal-Ġustizzja Edward Zammit Lewis, kien ewforiku dwar il-bidliet kostituzzjonali li ftehmu dwarhom il-Partit Nazzjonalista u l-Gvern Laburista. “Ftehim storiku” qal.

Ikun opportun li ninnutaw li dan il-ftehim bejn Gvern u Opposizzjoni sar bil-bibien magħluqin. Għal darb’oħra ma kienx hemm konsultazzjoni pubblika. Il-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali, presentement fil-limbu, ngħatat gambetta oħra.  Kif ġie emfasizzat iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa minn Pieter Omtzigt, rapporteur Olandiż tal-Kunsill tal-Ewropa dwar  Malta u s-saltna tad-dritt, il-bidliet ta’ din ix-xorta għandhom isiru bis-serjeta.

Filwaqt li l-partiti fil-Parlament kontinwament jitkellmu favur il-ħtieġa tal-konvenzjoni kostituzzjonali, b’għemilhom jimminawha kontinwament.  Tal-PLPN jidher li jemmnu li għandhom xi dritt divin li jiddettaw it-tibdil meħtieġ għall-kostituzzjoni. B’għemilhom kontinwament jagħtu l-ġemb lill-konsultazzjoni pubblika.  Il-Kostituzzjoni, imma, mhiex tagħhom biss, iżda hi tagħna lkoll. Il-Parlament għaldaqstant m’għandu l-ebda dritt li jimponi riformi kostituzzjonali mingħajr konsultazzjoni pubblika adegwata.

Il-qbil li, fil-futur, il-President tar-Repubblika jkun elett b’appoġġ li ma jkunx inqas minn żewġ terzi tal-Membri tal-Parlament hu pass il-quddiem mis-sitwazzjoni attwali. Imma jikkuntrasta ma’ proposta ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika li ilha li ġiet ippreżentata lill-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali  li biha l-Kunsilli Lokali, flimkien mal-Membri Parlamentari jkunu involuti direttament fil-ħatra tal-Kap tal-Istat.  Meta l-PLPN iddeċidew dwar din il-proposta kif ukoll dwar emendi oħra, bejniethom, bil-bibien magħluqin, kienu għal darb’oħra qed jagħtu bis-sieq lill-konsultazzjoni pubblika.  Il-ħatra tal-Kap tal-Istat m’għandhiex tibqa’ l-prerogativa tal-Parlament: ir-rapprezentanza demokratika fil-lokalitajiet ukoll għandha tkun involuta attivament f’din l-għażla.

Apparti li hemm bżonn mod aħjar milli għandna illum kif nagħżlu l-Kap tal-Istat wasal iż-żmien li nikkunsidraw jekk il-President tar-Repubblika għandux ikollu l-possibilità  li jirrifjuta li jiffirma liġi jekk ikun tal-fehma li din tmur kontra l-Kostituzzjoni. Anke dwar dan Alternattiva Demokratika ipproponiet lill-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali li l-President għandu jkollu din ir-responsabbiltà li meta liġi jqisha li tmur kontra l-Kostituzzjoni jibgħatha lura lill-Parlament biex dan jikkunsidraha mill-ġdid.  Permezz tal-ġurament tal-ħatra l-President tar-Repubblika jwiegħed li jħares il-Kostituzzjoni, iżda mbagħad ma jingħata l-ebda għodda kostituzzjonali biex ikun jista’ jwettaq dan l-obbligu. L-awtorità morali tal-Kap tal-Istat mhiex biżżejjed biex jissavagwardja l-Kostituzzjoni meta l-Parlament ikun jidhrilu li jista’ jiġi jaqa’ u jqum minn kollox u minn kulħadd.

Mezzi oħra tal-media presentement qed jiffukaw fuq ir-rwol tal-istazzjonijiet tat-televiżjoni u r-radju tal-partiti politiċi. Anke dwar dan, repetutament, Alternattiva Demokratika emfasizzajna li f’demorkazija moderna dan ma jagħmilx sens, għalkemm dejjem irridu nżommu quddiem għajnejna ċ-ċirkustanzi li minħabba fihom il-partit laburista u l-partit nazzjonalista għandhom dawn il-mezzi.  Alternattiva Demokratika ipproponiet lill-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali li l-istazzjonijiet tal-partiti politiċi għandhom jingħalqu u dan f’kuntest ta’ riforma mill-qiegħ tax-xandir fil-pajjiż. Il-PLPN għandhom kull interess li dibattitu bħal dan jostakolawh għax inkella jispiċċaw jitilfu l-kontroll li għandhom fuq ix-Xandir.

Il-proposti pendenti quddiem il-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali huma bosta.

Bi qbil bejn il-PLPN, il-President tar-Repubblika intalab li jikkoordina l-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali. Dan qed isir bl-assistenza ta’ kumitat magħmul minn rappresentanti tal-PLPN, tlieta minn kull naħa. Dan ilu għaddej is-snin, sa minn qabel ma nħatar il-President tar-Repubblika attwali.  S’issa, imma, jekk sar xi progress m’aħniex infurmati bih! Għax jidher li s-segretezza, sfortunatament, invadiet il-Palazz Presidenzjali ukoll.

Flok ma joqgħodu jilgħabu bil-Kostituzzjoni kull tant żmien, ikun ferm aħjar jekk induruha dawra sew flimkien u dan wara konsultazzjonI pubblika. Ir-riformi li jinħmew wara l-bibien magħluqin, il-metodu operattiv preferut tal-PLPN mhuwiex aċċettabbli.

ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 9 t’Awwissu 2020

Undermining the Constitutional Convention

Edward Zammit Lewis, Justice Minister, has been euphoric on the constitutional changes agreed between the Labour government and the Nationalist Party. He describes it as a historic agreement.

It is however pertinent to point out that the agreed changes have been arrived at between Government and the Opposition behind closed doors. Once more public consultation has been discarded. The Constitutional Convention, currently in limbo, has been once more undermined. As emphasised earlier this week by Pieter Omtzigt, Dutch rapporteur of the Council of Europe on Malta and the rule of law: paper reforms are not enough.

In contrast to their public statements on the need for a constitutional convention, the parliamentary parties are continuously doing their utmost to undermine it. They seem to believe that they have some divine right to dictate the required improvements to the constitution. In so doing they continuously short-circuit public consultation. The Constitution belongs to all of us. Parliament has no right to impose constitutional changes without adequate public consultation.

The agreement relative to the election of future Heads of State by a two-thirds parliamentary majority, for example, while being an improvement on the present state of affairs, contrasts sharply with a Green proposal submitted to the Constitutional Convention, which proposal would require that local councils should be directly involved together with members of parliament in the process to elect a Head of State.

By deciding on the change behind closed doors the PNPL in Parliament have effectively short-circuited the public debate on this proposal. The election of the Head of State should not remain the prerogative of Parliament. Democratic representatives at a local level should be actively involved in this selection too.

In addition to improving the method of selection of the Head of State it is about time that we consider whether the incumbent should have the authority to refuse to sign legislation approved by Parliament which, in his/her opinion, is anti-Constitutional.

Greens have proposed to the Constitutional Convention that the Head of State should have the authority to send back to Parliament, for its reconsideration, any legislation which he/she considers to be in conflict with the Constitution. The Head of State, in terms of the constitutional oath of office, is bound to defend the constitution yet no constitutional tool is provided in order that this defence can be carried out. The Head of State’s moral authority is not enough to defend the Constitution whenever Parliament feels that it should ignore its provisions.

Other sections of the media are currently highlighting the role of political TV and radio stations. Maltese Greens have time and again drawn attention to the fact that the political media is a misfit in a modern democracy. Even in this respect a Green submission to the Constitutional Convention advocates the dismantling of the political stations within the framework of a radical broadcasting reform. PNPL have an interest in procrastinating a debate which could lead to their being cut down to size and losing control of the broadcasting waves.

Where do we go from here? The proposals pending at the secretariat of the Constitutional Convention are many.

As a result of a PNPL agreement, the President of the Republic has been appointed to lead the Constitutional Convention. The Head of State is presumably coordinating the input received with the assistance of a committee made up of PLPN representatives. This exercise has been going on for ages, since well before the current President was appointed.  Whatever progress has been possibly achieved is not known as everything, so far, is being done behind closed doors. Unnecessary secrecy has also invaded and taken control of the Presidential Palace!

It is about time that instead of having piecemeal adjustments to the Constitution, this is given a complete overhaul after adequate public consultation.  Paper reform behind closed doors, the preferred method of operation of the PNPL is definitely not acceptable.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 9 August 2020

Dynamics of the AD/PD merger: one step at a time

by Carmel Cacopardo & Timothy Alden

 

The merger between Alternattiva Demokratika (AD) and the Democratic Party (PD) is on. It has been developing gradually over the past weeks and, Covid-permitting, it will be formalised at the end of September. The discussions leading to the merger have been in hand for some time, inevitably slowing down as a result of Covid-19. They are now practically concluded.

The first practical step in the merger process was taken some months ago as a result of which AD and PD have made an effort to speak with one voice, whenever this was possible. Now that the discussions are practically concluded, a joint meeting of the Executive Committees of AD and PD was held yesterday Saturday 1 August.

Ironically both AD and PD have developed around former dissenting Labour Party Members of Parliament, at different times and in different circumstances. Yet they have, over the years, attracted support from both sides of the political divide. The ecology, good governance and the never-ending political struggle against corruption are core issues of both AD and PD.

Both AD and PD have, over the years, developed into separate and distinct parties: they will now merge into one, continuously cognisant of their roots. The merger will start as the summation of two distinct parties which will be slowly moulded into one.

We need a strong third voice in Parliament: the merger is a step in this direction. It is a step forward in reducing the existing fragmentation and as a result it will enable the better use of the available human resources.

AD and PD have developed on the basis of dissent: a determination to address important issues which others conveniently try to ignore. Over the years it has been AD and subsequently PD who have been at the forefront of the struggle for a better environment, good governance, transparency and accountability. Others have at times sought to parrot the political positions taken by AD and PD. Their political baggage, however, betrays their lack of political commitment: there is a stark contrast between their actions and their words.

The merger is not a time to sing our praises. It is rather a time to take stock of our strong points as well as our weaknesses. It is time to build bridges without in any way compromising our beliefs.

Encouraging the political debate is crucial to our political development. This is also in the country’s interest. Nurturing a constructive debate within our political parties is of fundamental importance. Silencing internal debate, as has been recently done by the PN relative to its youths, is a negation of the future. It is through analysis and debate that we identify our faults and the potential for improvement. It is thus suicidal to censor those who have the commitment and the courage to speak their minds. We mould the future by inspiring and encouraging active participation of all youths and not by subjecting them to disciplinary action when they dare speak up.

The road ahead is not a walk in the park. It is as tough as that covered by our predecessors. It is however as challenging as ever. The merger between AD and PD will build on the achievements to date to create a more efficient vehicle for the third voice of Maltese politics.

Our doors are open not just to those who are disillusioned by the prevailing duopoly. We can only be an instrument for improvement if we involve ourselves in moulding the future. This is our challenge.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 2 August 2020

The Parliamentary Opposition

The fact that government has been forced by the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe to loosen its stranglehold on the Commissioner of Police appointment process is a positive democratic development. It is not as good as it could be, but it is definitely a welcome first step: there is however room for substantial improvement in the process.

In this context the Opposition’s decision to boycott the public hearing process is retrograde.

The Parliamentary Opposition, in any democratic jurisdiction worthy of being so described, is the champion of transparency and accountability. A Parliamentary Opposition demands more opportunities to scrutinise major appointments to public office. Boycotting the first substantial opportunity to scrutinise an appointee to the post of Commissioner of Police is not just a lost opportunity. It risks undermining the democratic requests for more public scrutiny of top appointments to public office.

The PN Parliamentary Opposition is arguing that the existence of the possibility for government to terminate the appointment of the new Police Commissioner within a one-year probationary period is unacceptable as it would keep the new appointee on a leash. The justified preoccupation of the Opposition is that the probationary period could be abused of. This is not unheard of. There is however a solution in seeking to subject the possible dismissal of the Police Commissioner at any stage to a Parliamentary decision as a result of which the Minister for the Interior would be required to set out the case for dismissal and the Police Commissioner himself would be afforded the right to defend himself. This would place any government in an awkward position as it would not seek dismissal unless there is a very valid justification for such a course of action. This would ensure, more than anything else, the integrity of the office of Commissioner of Police.

The Opposition has also sought to subject the appointment of the Commissioner of Police to a two-thirds parliamentary approval, indirectly seeking a veto on the appointment to be considered.

It would have been much better if the debate focused on the real decision taker in the whole matter: that is to say the Public Service Commission (PSC). Originally set up in the 1959 Constitution, the PSC has a role of advising the Prime Minister on appointments to public office and on the removal or disciplinary control of appointees to public office. Section 109 of the Constitution emphasises that when the PSC is appointed by the President of the Republic, he acts on the advice of the Prime Minister who would have consulted with the Leader of the Opposition.

Wouldn’t it be more appropriate if both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition are taken out of the equation in such matters? Parliament should seriously consider squeezing them both out of the process not just in the appointment of the PSC but in the case of the appointment of all Constitutional bodies. That is an instant where it would be justifiable in ensuring that all appointments are subject to a two thirds approval threshold in Parliament.

In boycotting the scrutinising process, the Opposition is doing a disservice to the country.

Since 2018 it has been possible for Parliament to scrutinise a number of public sector appointments. Perusal of the proceedings of the Parliamentary Public Appointments Committee indicates the very superficial manner in which consideration of appointments is dealt with. Serious objections raised on the non-suitability of candidates are ignored before the proposed appointment is generally rubber-stamped.

Unfortunately, Parliament is not capable of holding government to account. Having a retrograde Parliamentary Opposition certainly does not help in overturning a rubber-stamping practice!

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 14 June 2020