Owen’s latest gimmick

Earlier this week, Justice Minister Owen Bonnici explained to the press the measures proposed by the government in order that Parliament will be in a position to examine its political appointees nominated to head various state agencies or institutions as well as those appointed to ambassadorships from outside the civil service.

Naturally, the first reaction to Owen Bonnici’s declaration is that government’s proposal is a positive small first step. However, when the detailed proposal was published, it was clear that this was another gimmick. It is proposed that a Parliamentary Standing Committee will be able to examine potential political appointees through written questions. On the basis of the answers received, and supplementary (written) questions, the Parliamentary Standing Committee will be expected to advise the government on the appointments under consideration.

This is a far cry from what is expected in a modern democracy.

Parliament, either directly or through a standing committee, should not be expected to simply advise. It should decide on the suitability or otherwise of the government nominees. This should be done after the nominees have been examined in a public hearing in the same manner as that of the US Senate Committees or the Parliamentary Committees of various other countries. This can only be done if Parliament reclaims the powers it has ceded to the government over the years.

Parliamentary scrutiny means much more than answering a set of written questions. Examining the nominees to ascertain their suitability for the post they have been nominated goes much further than the superficial examination of their professional competence. It also entails the examination of their past performance in order to ascertain whether they are capable of withstanding political pressure which seeks to sway their judgement in favour of political expediency and consequently influence their behaviour.

Such an exercise cannot be done through written questions but through a viva voce examination where it is not only what is said that matters. Interpreting body language and reactions to unexpected questions or statements is generally more relevant than deciphering boring, long-winded answers that go around in circles and generally avoid providing an answer at all.

During the general election campaign a few months ago, we were told that we needed “Labour-proof institutions”. In reality, government institutions and agencies should be at arms length from the government of the day in all day to day matters. This is done by ensuring that the running of government institutions and agencies is not the prerogative of political cronies but of suitably qualified appointees.

The government proposal is one that ensures that Parliament, through it’s Standing Committees, will not be in a position to carry out any meaningful scrutiny.  Parliament needs to have the authority to block the appointments which it considers to be unsuitable and in order to be able to act in this manner, the government’s proposal needs to be heavily revisited.

It is for this reason that – in the recent general election manifesto (and even in that of the previous general election) – we Greens proposed a much more effective policy: that parliament (or its committees) should have the authority to decide, and not merely advise on, public appointments and that this should be done through a public hearing without limitations.

These are the essential building blocks of a healthy democracy.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 1st October 2017

Advertisements

Anġlu Farrugia qed iħawwad

artiklu 3 Standards in Public Life

Il-Parlament il-lejla ddiskuta d-deċiżjoni li ħa l-Ispeaker Anġlu Farrugia li ma aċċettax bħala valida l-mozzjoni ta’ Marlene Farrugia għax din fittxet li tiċċensura lil Keith Schembri l-Kasco, ċ-Chief of Staff fl-uffiċċju tal-Prim Ministru.

Presentment hemm pendenti fuq l-aġenda tal-Parlament, abbożż ta’ liġi imsejjaħ Att tal-2014 dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika.

Dan l-abbozz ta’ liġi hu riżultat ta’ diskussjoni dwar l-etika fil-ħajja pubblika li saret f’kumitat magħżul tal-Kamra li fih ħa sehem ukoll l-Ispeaker Anġlu Farrugia. Punt interessanti li joħroġ minn dan l-abbozz hu li skond l-artiklu 3 tal-abbozz l-persuni “in a position of trust” huma ukoll soġġetti għal skrutinju tal-Parlament.

Anġlu Farrugia kien qabel ma dan. Allura issa għaliex bidel il-ħsieb?

Dan x‘taħwid hu Anġ?

L-imġieba ta’ Konrad u ta’ Keith tal-Kasko

Standards in Public Life Bill

Waqt li għaddejja l-argumenti dwar il-kumpaniji ta’ Konrad Mizzi u Keith Schembri tal-Kasco fil-Panama tajjeb li nħarsu ftit lejn l-aġenda tal-Parlament.

Fiha hemm item pendenti bl-isem ta’ abbozz ta’ liġi dwar l-Istandards fil-ħajja pubblika. Dan l-abbozz ta’ liġi japplika għall-membri parlamentari [bħal Konrad Mizzi] u għal persuni impjegati in a position of trust [bħal Keith Schembri tal-Kasco].

Il-Gvern ilu kwazi sentejn ikaxkar saqajh dwar din il-liġi għax minkejja li kien hemm qbil unanimu dwarha fis-Select Committee, din baqgħet fuq l-ixkaffa.

Kieku Joseph Muscat serju u verament jemmen dak li qed jgħid, kieku din il-liġi ilha approvata.

Kieku l-liġi dwar l-istandards fil-ħajja pubblika ġiet approvata diġa inħatar Kummissarju għall-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika li għada it-Tnejn kien jibgħat għal Konrad u Keith Schembri tal-Kasco u jitlobhom spjegazzjoni dettaljata dwar il-kumpanija tagħhom fil-Panama u jiftaħ investigazzjoni immedjatament.

Imma kieku …………. jibqa’ kieku ………….. għax Joseph u l-Partit Laburista fil-Gvern għadhom qed ikaxkru saqajhom.

Lobbying: influencing decision-taking

 

what to do

Lobbying risks corruption. Establishing clear standards of acceptable behaviour in public life ought to include the regulation of lobbying, yet the Standards in Public Life Bill currently pending on the Parliament’s agenda ignores this important matter completely.

Potentially, lobbying is not a dirty matter. It is perfectly legitimate for any citizen, group of citizens, corporations or even NGOs to seek to influence decision-taking. It is done continuously and involves the communication of views and information to legislators and administrators by those who have an interest in informing them of the impacts of the decisions under consideration.  It is perfectly legitimate that individuals, acting on their own behalf or else acting on behalf of third parties, should seek to ensure that decision-takers are well informed before taking the required decisions. Obviously, lobbying should not be the process through which the decision-takers make way for the representatives of corporations to take their place.

I am not aware of the reason why the Parliamentary Select Committee, led by Hon Speaker Anġlu Farrugia, failed to identify lobbying as a matter which requires regulation within the framework of the Standards in Public Life Bill. Perusal of the final report dated 24 March 2014, as well as the minutes of the Select Committee, does not reveal any indication that the matter was ever even mentioned in the Select Committee’s deliberations. In fact in my opinion, perusal of Parliament’s Motion 77, which contains the Select Committee’s terms of reference, indirectly includes lobbying as one of the matters which had to be examined.

Lobbying requires a considerable dose of transparency. It needs to be unchained from the shackles of secrecy. In other jurisdictions this is done through actively disclosing lobbying activities, thereby placing them under the spotlight of public opinion. The public has a right to know who is seeking to influence the decision-taking process and this helps ensure that lobbying is not used as a tool to secretly derail or deflect political decisions.

Other jurisdictions require that lobbying activities are documented and that the official being lobbied is always accompanied. Subsequently a list of lobbying meetings and the resulting documentation is released or made available. Such disclosure is normal in various democracies.

Lobbying can be regulated in two ways: by regulating the lobbyist activities and by regulating the potential recipient of lobbying.

The activities of the lobbyist can be regulated either through a compulsory registration of lobbyists or else through a regular disclosure of the names of those carrying out lobbying activities.

On the other hand, the potential recipient of lobbying ought to be regulated through a disclosure of all information related to lobbying, including minutes of meetings as well as any memoranda exchanged or submitted for the consideration of the decision-taker.

Full transparency is undoubtedly the best tool which – together with guidelines on the permissible receipt of gifts as well as whistle-blowing – will reduce the risk of lobbying being transformed into an instrument of corruption.

This is not all. Malta also requires rules that regulate the lobbying that is carried out through revolving-door recruitment. At times, this is the easiest way in which special interest groups recruit former Ministers, as well as the former high ranking civil servants regulating them, immediately on concluding their term of office. In this manner, they seek to tap contacts and quasi-direct access to or knowledge of information of extreme sensitivity. It also happens in reverse, when the public sector recruits lobbyists directly into the civil service without first having allowed sufficient time for cooling off so that former lobbyists thus recruited risk being Trojan horses in the public sector areas which previously regulated them.

If we are really serious about tackling corruption at its roots, it would be better if the need to regulate lobbying is urgently considered. Together with legislation on the financing of political parties just approved by Parliament (even if this is defective, as I have explained elsewhere), the regulation of lobbying would create a better tool-kit in the fight against corruption.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday 26 July 2015

Lobbying risks corruption

 

EU.lobbying

In a democratic society, lobbying is a potentially legitimate activity. It involves the communication of views and information to legislators and administrators by those who have an interest in informing them of the impacts of the decisions under consideration.  It is perfectly legitimate that individuals, acting on their own behalf, or else acting on behalf of third parties, seek to ensure that decision takers are well informed before taking the required decisions. Obviously lobbying should not be the process through which the decision takers make way for the representatives of corporations to take their place.

Free and open access to decision takers is an important matter of public interest. It is perfectly legitimate but ought to be regulated and the resulting information adequately and appropriately disclosed. The difficulty, as always, is where to draw the line. It must be ensured that society protects itself against the corruption risks involved in lobbying when this is secretive and unregulated.

The manner in which Dalligate is unfolding in the EU institutions clearly underlines this preoccupation.  The European Institutions have lobbying rules.  The basic issue of Dalligate is in my view not whether former EU Commissioner John Dalli resigned or was dismissed. Rather, in line with the Code of Conduct for Commissioners, the issue is whether he “acted in a manner that is in keeping with the dignity and duties” of his office when meeting with lobbyists away from the Commission offices, unaccompanied, and such that what went on during the meetings is not documented but known only to a couple of persons. Even if everything said in such meetings was above board, the fact that they were held is itself unacceptable. John Dalli claims, most probably correctly, that he was entrapped by the tobacco industry. Being so naive as to facilitate his own entrapment, it was right that he should go without a whimper. Instead we were regaled with theatrics which have served no useful purpose, not even for John Dalli.

All this is further compounded by the additional very serious allegation that representatives of the tobacco industry met with other senior officials of the EU Commission without these meetings being disclosed and documented.  Emily O’Reilly Ombudsman of the European Union is currently carrying out an investigation at the request of Corporate Europe Observatory on fourteen such meetings.

Corporate Europe Observatory, a watchdog based in Brussels and campaigning for greater transparency and accountability in decision taking, estimates that in Brussels alone there are around 30,000 lobbyists. Compare this to the around 24,000 staff employed by the European Commission as on 31 December 2013 and you get a glimpse of what’s going on in the corridors of Brussels. Lobbying in Brussels is a billion euro industry which seeks to influence and at times deflect political decisions. The regulation of lobbying seeks to place a spotlight on the source of influence and hopefully to counter attempts to derail or deflect political decisions.

There is a continuous debate in the EU institutions on fine tuning the rules regulating lobbying. In 2011 the European Parliament approved an “Inter-institutional agreement on a Common Transparency Register between the Parliament and the Commission”. This register provides for the voluntary registering of lobbyists active in the EU institutions. It is hoped that during the current EU Parliament’s term the registration of lobbyists in Brussels will be a compulsory matter. This may happen when the issues raised by Dalligate are finally addressed, possibly within the next few months.

Closer to home, a Parliamentary Select Committee has concluded its workings on Standards in Public Life. The Select Committee generally did a good job. It produced a final report which Mr Speaker laid on the Table of the House on the 24 March 2014. The report, including the proposed legislation attached to the said report, deals with the behaviour of Members of Parliament (including members of Cabinet) and persons appointed to positions of trust in the public sector (including statutory authorities) primarily with reference to their declaration of assets as well as with reference to a Code of Ethics which has been in force since 1994.  Surprisingly there is no direct reference to lobbying in the workings and conclusions of the Parliamentary Select Committee.

Lobbying, as is normal, is very much existent in Malta too. It would be appropriate if it is addressed by ensuring that it is regulated, documented and disclosed where appropriate. However it seems that currently there are no plans to regulate lobbying in Malta. If we are really serious on tackling corruption at its roots it would be better if the need to regulate lobbying is urgently reconsidered. Together with legislation on the financing of political parties, the regulation of lobbying would create a quasi complete tool-kit in the fight against corruption.

published in The Times of Malta – 21 July 2014

The Financing of Political Parties: (3) The Bill. The regulatory authority

parlament

 

The Bill on the financing of political parties is designed on the basis that what is administratively suitable for the PN and the PL has been deemed to be suitable for all: a one size fits all attitude.

Through the Bill Government is proposing that the Electoral Commission should be the regulatory authority. The manner in which the Electoral Commission is composed, half appointed by Government with the other half appointed by the Opposition (and a Government appointed Chairman) places the two parliamentary parties in such a position that they directly control the whole proposed process. All other political parties, Alternattiva Demokratika included, are excluded from this process.

Reference is made to the proposal approved by the Parliamentary Select Committee chaired by the Speaker. The Select Committee has now finalised its report which includes another Bill entitled: Standards in Public Life Act 2014. This other Bill provides for the appointment of a Commissioner and a Permanent Parliamentary Committee on Standards in Public Life.

The Bill on Standards in Public Life deals with the behaviour of politicians elected to Parliament as well as advisors and persons appointed to positions of trust. The regulatory authority in this case is exercised by a Commissioner for Standards in Public Life who as provided in Clause 4 of the  Bill on Standards in Public Life requires the consent of not less than two thirds of members of the House of Representatives in order to be appointed.

This Commissioner is to be supervised by a Permanent Committee led by the Speaker together with 4 Members of Parliament, two from the Government side and two from the Opposition.

Alternattiva Demokratika  is of the opinion that the support of two thirds of parliament is a guarantee of impartiality and seriousness. In addition the role of a Parliamentary Committee is a  guarantee of transparency as the meetings of the Parliamentary Select Committee are held in public.  The procedures  taking place are therefore more easily subject to the scrutiny of the Press.

For these reasons Alternattiva Demokratika is of the opinion that the regulatory authority on the financing of politics should be within the structures which  Parliament is slowly and patiently constructing relative to Standards in Public Life with the involvement of the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life. This would be much better than the structure proposed in the Bill on the Financing of Political Parties.

It is understood that the identification of the Electoral Commission as the regulatory authority on the financing of political parties has been lifted from the experience of the United Kingdom. It should however be borne in mind that the UK experience has no parallels in Malta when one considers the requirements of an independent regulatory authority. In UK legislation both the electoral process as well as  the monitoring of the financing of political parties is under the control of  the House of Commons and the UK Electoral Commissioners (ten in all) in contrast to the Maltese practice cannot be persons who are in any way associated with political parties. This is a substantial and fundamental difference.

 

 

A Voice for 5,500 votes

5500+ votes

The Green Vote in last week’s general elections increased by 45% over the 2008 polls. Alternattiva Demokratika candidates polled a total of 5,506 votes: a 1.8% share of the national vote.  But these voters have no voice in the newly elected Parliament.

We have heard during the past days of the constitutional mechanisms which restore proportionality in Parliament between votes cast in the general election and the parliamentary strength of the political parties. Malta’s electoral system guarantees proportionality but only for the Nationalist Party and the Labour Party.  Our parliamentary democracy must be based on fairness, and the current state of affairs is anything but fair.

The fact that 5,500 voters chose to be represented by Alternattiva Demokratika is a bold political statement. Every voter has the right to be represented. That is what representative democracy is about. It is useless to emphasise that we should all work together and simultaneously ignore such a statement. The voice of these 5,500 Maltese citizens should be heard loud and clear. They are subject to the same duties and responsibilities as the other voters who are represented. They are subject to the same laws and pay the same taxes.

It is a basic principle of parliamentary democracy that there should be no taxation without representation. This constitutional principle was forcefully made 800 years ago in the Magna Carta  in 1215 when the British monarchy was forced to relinquish part of its absolute powers laying the foundations for the formation of the mother of democratic Parliaments at Westminister. This constitutional principle signifies that Parliament derives its moral and legal authority from its being representative. Being representative gives Parliament its moral authority to legislate. Our Parliament is in fact aptly called the House of Representatives.

AD voters demand that their right to be represented is respected.  This respect can only be manifested if their choices made on the 9th March 2013 are translated into effective representation in the House of Representatives. The House as presently constituted does not represent the 5,500 AD voters as none of the MPs elected are authorised to speak on their behalf.

Throughout the years Parliament has discussed electoral reform many a time. It has tweaked the system through the introduction of constitutional amendments in 1987, 1996 and 2007. The electoral system is certainly much better today than it was in 1981. The amendments then were required but they only addressed the interests of major political parties and their voters. The interests of voters opting for democratic change outside the two party system was conveniently ignored.

The constant message sent by the PN and the PL that change is only possible through the two large parties has been constantly rejected by a small but significant number of voters. We speak of democratic change as ultimately accepting the will of the majority. This however does not include the suffocation of minorities irrespective of their size. But this is what has been done throughout the years.

In Malta’s political history there was a time when both the PN and the PL were small in size and almost insignificant.

The Labour Party was represented in Malta’s Parliament by one solitary MP, Sir Paul Boffa, in the pre-war years. It was a political party organised outside and in opposition to the two-party system. It prevailed throughout the years and proved the power of the ballot to defy the two party system.

Likewise the Nationalist Party was small and insignificant in the post-war years when the Labour Party under the leadership of Sir Paul Boffa achieved the largest electoral landslide (59%) ever registered by a political party in Malta. Yet it was possible for the PN to rise once more from being a party of insignificant size to a major political force.

In view of the above the declarations of Labour MP Evarist Bartolo that AD’s 5,500 voters should be represented in Parliament in a truly democratic system is welcome. Evarist Bartolo has been consistent in his position as he made similar statements in 2008. Unfortunately then, Parliament’s Select Committee entrusted with considering constitutional changes to reinforce democratic governance did not function.

Alternattiva Demokratika also welcomes the statements made by the Prime Minister Joseph Muscat that the matter should be addressed.

The changes to the electoral system also require the support of the Nationalist Party which has not expressed itself on the matter, even though a number of its electoral candidates have already expressed their support publicly.

It is time to stand up and be counted. AD has always been available to cooperate and present its proposals as it has done continuously. But voters also demand that AD be respected and its electoral strength duly represented in Parliament. To date those voting AD have had their voice suffocated. We await government’s reactions which will hopefully indicate that it really believes that the will of all voters is respected.

originally published in The Times of Malta on Saturday 16 March 2013

Public appointments and Parliament’s responsibilities

Il-Parlament Malti

Two press conferences yesterday evening placed more information relative to the oil commissions scandal in the public domain, just a few hours after two other businessmen were arraigned in Court.

With four men in court on charges of corruption, bribery and money laundering the two press conferences resulted in various other declarations which would result in a queue of resignations in any civilised country.

There seems to be anticipated delight in the pot calling the kettle black.

In this scenario, a number of omissions by those elected to Parliament over the years assume additional significance.

One undoubtedly queries the lack of a Whistleblowers Act which if enacted in accordance with electoral commitments would have established long ago clear parameters to be followed by those divulging information on economic crime (corruption, bribery and money laundering). In its absence we are still dependent of the elected politicians’ use of the instrument of “state evidence” on the basis of ad hoc criteria.

Alternattiva Demokratika yesterday focused on another important point: the manner in which appointments to public office are made. To date the powers of Parliament  have been usurped and transferred to Cabinet such that it is the Prime Minister or his Minsters who appoint  members of Boards or Authorities.

Parliament should reclaim its responsibilities as it should be Parliament that should decide on the appointment of Boards and Authorities of a national importance. Nominated members  of Boards of Public Authorities as well as the senior officials of such Authorities should be scrutinised by Parliament either directly or through its committees in order to ascertain that those nominated can truely serve the country and not the political interests of the political party in government.

Parliament should moreover be in a position to monitor the functions of Boards and Authorities on a continuous basis and should seek explanations from the Boards of Public Authorities and their Senior Executives on their method of operation. Parliament should ensure that whenever the operations of any public authority are scutinised by the Ombudsman his recommendations and their implementation should be discussed by Parliament.

Parliament should reclaim back from government its role of overseeer of the governance of public institutions. Unfortunately over the years a two-party Parliament has siphoned off Parliament’s responsibilities and assigned them to a government made out of just one political party.

AD in Parliament will ensure that Parliament reclaims back its functions and holds government to account continuously.

Originally published in di-ve.com on 22nd February 2013

Snippets from AD’s electoral manifesto: (11) An Alert Parliament

Il-Parlament Malti

 

The following extract is taken verbatim from Chapter 14 of AD’s Electoral Manifesto

An Alert Parliament.

Members of Parliament should not have an active role in the running of the new Authority which substitutes MEPA and MRA. Parliament should make the necessary tools available such that a Parliamentary Select Committee dealing with the Environment, Resource Management and Land Use Planning can oversee the new Authority querying its Board of Directors and its principal officers on its operations whenever this is required. In this manner both the Authority’s Board of Directors and the Minister/Parliamentary Secretary politically responsible for the Authority will be ultimately accountable to Parliament on a continuous basis.

L-Estratt segwenti hu mehud kelma b’kelma mill-Kapitlu 14 tal-Manifest Elettorali ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika

Il-Parlament bil-Lenti

Il-Membri tal-Parlament m’għandhomx jibqgħu jkollhom rwol attiv fit-tmexxija tal-Awtorità li tinħoloq flok il-MEPA u l-MRA. Minflok il-Parlament għandu joħloq l-għodda neċessarja biex, permezz ta’ Kumitat Magħżul tal-Kamra dwar l-Ambjent, ir-Riżorsi u l-Ippjanar, ikun jista’ jissorvelja lill-awtorità l-ġdida u jitlob spjegazzjonijiet mingħand id-diriġenti tal-istess awtorità u l-uffiċjali ewlenija tagħha dwar l-aġir tagħhom kull meta meħtieġ. B’dan l-mod il-membri tal-Bord tal-Awtorità kif ukoll il-politiċi (Ministru u Segretarju Parlamentari) inkarigati jkunu ultimament kontabbli lejn il-Parlament kontinwament.

Weeding out corruption

corruption

One of the Bills currently pending before Parliament is the Private Member’s Motion presented by Franco Debono.  Motion 288 was presented on January 21, 2012. Entitled “An Act to regulate the formation, the inner structures, functioning and financing, of political parties and their participation in elections”. This Bill will be discarded once Parliament is dissolved.

Parliament did not discuss the Bill, although the Parliamentary Select Committee headed by Franco Debono and including MPs Francis Zammit Dimech and Jose’ Herrera discussed the matter at length in two public sessions in which representatives of all political parties and civil society participated.

The 2013 general elections will proceed on the basis of the current “rules” of party financing: a free for all. The circus which will be organised at Pieta’ and Ħamrun up till next Sunday will place common people at the forefront with their small donations to the political parties of their choice. There is nothing wrong with that. But unfortunately those making genuine donations will camouflage others whose objective is not so genuine.

Fat cats will pay homage at Pieta’ and Ħamrun contributing to the party coffers. These will be in addition to those who have already done so quietly. These later ones do not advertise donations. It is only occasionally that inadvertently their activity comes to light.

Readers will remember the case of Noel Borg Hedley, former private secretary of the Finance Minister Tonio Fenech who admitted in court the criminal charges brought against him that he accepted bribes from  building developers. He accepted tips and donations which he used to finance the electoral campaign of his boss, Minister Tonio Fenech.

The Minister has denied knowledge of the source of the finances used in his election campaign. It is not known whether the police have investigated the Hon Minister as to whether, notwithstanding his denial, he actually knew anything about the matter. No one is above the law, we are told.

This is one case which the public knows about. After the Borg Hedley case Minister Tonio Fenech was retained by Lawrence Gonzi as part of the Cabinet indicating clearly Dr Gonzi’s standards.

The government led by Lawrence Gonzi  did not have the political will to  introduce a regulatory structure which determines and limits the permissible amounts which can be donated as well as determining the compulsory disclosure of the names of those who make donations to political parties and their candidates.

Alternattiva Demokratika considers that the public has a right to know the identity of those financing all the political parties and their candidates. In particular regulation of party financing should establish a limit on the maximum donation which may be received from any one donor.  AD’s electoral manifesto to be published in the coming weeks will once more place this matter on the general election agenda emphasising that donations received by political parties (including their candidates) in excess of €5,000 per annum should be disclosed as well as that it should be illegal to receive donations in excess of €40,000 per annum from one source.

All political parties, year in year out, piously declare themselves in favour of transparency. Yet when push comes to shove those who have the power to legislate have repeatedly failed to act.

Regulating the financing of political parties is an essential building block in the fight against corruption. The fact that no such legislation is in place is adequate proof that there is no political will to weed out corruption.

First published on di-ve.com: December 14, 2012