Constitutional reform: identifying the basic building blocks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflections from Carthage

Tunisia-Med

 

At the University of Carthage in Tunisia between Thursday and today the international community has been engaging with Tunisian civil society. The Fifth Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy – Decentralisation by Participation exchanged views and experiences with all sectors of Tunisian civil society: young people, women and trade unionists were at the forefront, with very passionate views on the Tunisian roadmap to democracy.

Why has the Arab Spring in Tunisia provided different results from those reaped in Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria?

Yahd Ben Anchour, lawyer, former Chairman of the High Commission for the Preservation of the Revolution, and charged with overseeing  constitutional reform in a post Ben Ali Tunisia, emphasised the fact that the roots of this more successful outcome can be traced to a number of policy decisions in the late 1950s. The then Tunisian strongman Habib Bourguiba had championed free access to education, including higher education. He had, moreover, championed gender equality right from the first days of independence.  Tackling these issues made Bourguiba an exception in the Arab world.

From outside Tunisia, Bourguiba’s personality cult, the large scale clientelism over the years as well as the leadership of a one party-state naturally overshadowed his otherwise significant  social achievements, which are considered by many as the essential building blocks of today’s Tunisia civil society.

Even though a number of Tunisian women are still shackled by tradition, the number of them active in public life is impressive. It is this exceptionalism which has given the Arab Spring in Tunisia the edge over neighbouring countries and consequently the reasonable chance of success.

Mohammed Bouazizi’s  self immolation and subsequent death on the 4 January 2011 brought together all those dissatisfied with the Tunisian regime, leading to its downfall and laying the foundations for the first democratic state in the Arabic family of nations.

The debate in the Global Forum focused on the discontinuity of the electoral process in contrast to the permanence of political dialogue and participation. In a society which has rediscovered its hold over its own destiny, it is emphasised that political participation bridges the gaps of political time and goes beyond political monoplies. All Tunisian participants emphasised the fact that direct democracy reinforces – and is complimentary to – representative democracy.

Power originates from the people, who ultimately remain its sole arbitror. This can be done through referenda, not just to delete legislation but also to propose measures which the elected representatives did not consider necessary.

It is an ongoing debate that sees young people, women and trade unionists together with a new generation  of political activists debating the next steps to be taken by a democratic Tunisia.

It is in Malta’s interest to nurture this democratic development on our southern borders. We are not accustomed to having this type of neighbour!   During a recent meeting with Tunisian Premier Habib Essid, Malta’s Foreign Minister George Vella stated that Malta was willing to support Tunisia’s democratic process.  Back in 2012, in the first months after the revolution, Michael Frendo, then Speaker of Malta’s House of Representatives,  had also been in Tunisia, offering Malta’s  hand of friendship and cooperation to our neighbours.

Some positive developments for a change to our south.

Published in The Independent on Sunday : 17 May 2015

Scottish referendum : the kingdom remains united

UK-Scotland

Early this morning the final votes cast in the Scottish referendum were counted and the result announced.

The Scots for various reasons opted not to be independent.

It was a democratic decision which will be respected by all. It may seem strange and difficult to understand that a nation refuses independence offered on a plate.

Yet this is a real lesson in democracy to all those around the world who opt to take decisions by using bullets rather than ballots.

 

Snippets from the EGP Manifesto: (7) Citizens: the decision makers

European Citizens' Initiative

 

We want to strengthen the opportunities for EU’s citizens to influence decisions. We want to work for more participatory democracy. Greens helped introduce the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) which allows for EU citizens to call on the European Commission to make legislative proposals. Now it is time to take the next step. We want to broaden the scope of the ECI and make it more efficient and citizen-friendly. We also want to create a legal basis for EU-wide referenda.

Where citizens are being deprived of their rights in an EU member state without remedy from that country’s judicial system they should have the possibility of taking collective legal action in the EU’s Court of Justice. We will continue to fight hard against the well-established and well-funded lobbies like the agro-chemical industry or the giant seed companies. We are calling for food democracy, where citizens reclaim control over what they eat and can create fair and sustainable food production and supply systems.

(EGP 2014 Manifesto section entitled  : Citizens as European decision makers)

Trid li jonqsu d-drittijiet demokratiċi tiegħek ?

time is running out2

Mela issa għandna, jew ser ikollna dalwaqt, żewġ petizzjonijiet.

Tal-ewwel hi petizzjoni favur l-għasafar, biex fir-rebbiegħa dawn ikunu protetti billi tispiċċa darba għal dejjem il-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa. Il-protezzjoni fir-rebbiegħa hi meħtieġa għax hu f’dan iż-żmien tas-sena li l-għasafar ibejtu. Hu l-iżjed żmien li huma dgħajfa w allura hu l-iżjed żmien li jeħtieġ li jkunu protetti. Din hi l-petizzjoni li ġiet ippreżentata ftit iktar minn ġimgħatejn ilu lill-Kummissjoni Elettorali biex issejjah referendum biex iħassar ir-regolamenti li jippermettu li jkun hawn il-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa.

Tat-tieni hi petizzjoni li ser titressaq mill-kaċċaturi wara l-21 t’April u li permezz tagħha fi ħsiebhom jinfurmaw lill-Parlament li huma ma jaqblux li d-dritt tar-referendum ikun jistgħa jintuża biex jipproteġi l-għasafar. Jidhirlhom li huma ghandhom id-dritt li joqtlu, anzi huma jsejħulu privileġġ! Skond it-Times din il-petizzjoni iffirmawha ukoll it-tfal.

L-ewwel petizzjoni hi waħda posittiva. Tfittex li tipproteġi l-għasafar. It-tieni waħda hi negattiva. Tfittex li tnaqqas id-dritt tar-referendum. L-uniku dritt ta’ demokrazija diretta li għandna fil-gżejjer Maltin.

L-ewwel petizzjoni titlob li l-votanti kollha jieħdu sehem fid-deċiżjoni dwar jekk għandiex tispiċċa l-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa. It-tieni petizzjoni titlob lill-Parlament biex inaqqas id-drittijiet demokratiċi li akkwistajna tul is-snin.

Ikun interessanti ħafna x’posizzjoni ser jieħdu l-Membri Parlamentari fuq in-naħa tal-Gvern.

Min minnhom jaqbel li jonqsu d-drittijiet demokratiċi?

Id-demokrazija niġġieldu għaliha kuljum.

Meta taqbeż iċ-ċinga

spring huntng

Qrajt l-istqarrija oriġinali li l-uffiċjali tal-FKNK qraw waqt il-konferenza stampa li kellhom il-bieraħ. Hemm differenza sostanzjali bejn dak li qalu huma u dak li irrappurtaw il-media.

Il-media kienet prudenti  u ħalliet barra l-attakki vojta u bla sens li l-FKNK għamlet kontra l-Birdlife, il-Fondazzjoni Gaia, Arnold Cassola Chairman ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika u David Camilleri Tal-Bediq kandidat Għawdxi ta’ Alternattiva Demorkatika.

Lill-uffiċjali tal-FKNK  Lino Farrugia u Joe Perici Calascione m’għandi xejn xi ngħid kontra tagħhom personalment. Ilni snin twal nafhom it-tnejn li huma. Il-kritika tiegħi hi kontra l-idejat li qed imexxu l-quddiem. Għandhom kull dritt imexxu l-quddiem l-ideat u l-ideali tal-membri tal-FKNK.  Naf li m’għandhomx bżonn lili biex jgħidilhom dan. Huwa dritt li jiena nirrispetta anke jekk diversi drabi, fil-fehma tiegħi, jesaġeraw kemm f’dak li jgħidu kif ukoll fil-mod kif jgħiduħ.

L-FKNK allura, issa bdiet ħidma fuq l-inizzjattiva tagħha. Triq li l-liġi dwar ir-referendum tkun emendata b’mod li jkunu rispettati dak li huma qed isejħu d-drittijiet tal-minoranzi.  Issa l-liġi dwar ir-referendum diġa tipproteġi dawn id-drittijiet. Fil-fatt id-drittijiet bażiċi tal-bniedem fil-Kostituzzjoni kif ukoll fil-Liġi dwar il-Konvenzjoni Ewropeja dwar id-Drittijiet tal-Bniedem ma jistgħu jintmissu minn l-ebda referendum.  Dwar il-minoranzi, kontra dak li qed jgħidu tal-FKNK, jeżistu konvenzjonijiet u trattati li jiddefinuhom. Fosthom fil-Ġnus Magħquda. Fil-qasam tal-ħarsien tad-drittijiet tal-minoranzi normalment nifhmu minoranzi reliġjużi, minoranzi kulturali jew assoċjati ma’ lingwa minoritarja kif ukoll minoranzi etniċi. Hemm ukoll obbligi li jirriżultaw minn liġijiet lokali u trattati internazzjonali li permezz tagħhom hi imħarsa d-diversita’ : dik dwar orjentazzjoni sesswali, kulur tal-ġilda jew razza.

Il-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa ma taqa’ taħt l-ebda waħda minn dawn il-kategoriji.

Il-proposta tal-FKNK li biha qed jitolbu lill-Parlament jibdel il-Liġi tar-Referendum biex referendum kontra l-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa ma jkunx jista’ jsir jirrifletti l-egħruq fondi tal-valuri demokratiċi li jħaddnu l-istess FKNK.  Jidher ċar li qabżitilhom iċ-ċinga. Għax tilfu kull tama li jikkonvinċu jridu jattakkaw il-proċess demokratiku tar-referendum.

Ir-referendum: għodda b’saħħitha f’pajjiż demokratiku

referendum.EU

Il-bieraħ fil-għodu Alternattiva Demokratika għamlet sejħa lis-soċjeta ċivili biex tingħaqad u issejjaħ referendum abrogattiv dwar il-liġi li l-Parlament  kellu u fil-fatt approva l-bieraħ stess biex ikun possibli illi l-Gvern ibiegħ iċ-ċittadinanza lil min ikun lest li jħallas €650,000.

Is-sejħa ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika intlaqgħet tajjeb mill-parti l-kbira ta’ dawk li ikkummentaw.

Hemm min iżda għadu ma fehemx b’mod ċar dak li qiegħed jiġi propost.

Il-proposta hi li jitħaddmu l-proċeduri tal-liġi dwar ir-Referenda b’mod li deċiżjoni li ħa l-Parlament, f’dan il-każ approvazzjoni ta’ liġi, tkun imħassra.

Kien hemm min qal li għax  il-Gvern ma jaqbilx ma dan allura jaħsbu li dan ma jistax isir. Kien hemm min ikkummenta li l-maġġoranza Parlamentari ta’ 9 voti li għandu l-Gvern ifisser li prattikament jista’ jagħmel li jrid.

Is-sejħa ta’ referendum abrogattiv (jiġifieri referendum li jħassar liġi jew strument legali bħalma huma regolamenti) ma jiddependix mill-Gvern.  Jiddependi minn jekk ikunx hemm 10% tal-votanti reġistrati fl-aħħar reġistru elettorali li jaqblu li jissejjaħ tali referendum. Dawn l-10% tal-votanti bħalissa jammontaw għal madwar 35,000 persuna.

Mela jekk 35,000 persuna jiffirmaw il-petizzjoni biex jissejjaħ ir-referendum il-proċess għal dan ir-referendum jibda u ma jkun jista’ jżommu ħadd ħlief il-Qorti.

Allura, qalu uħud, ser jibda jkollna referendum fuq kull ħaġa ta’ xejn?

It-tweġiba hi li le, mhux ser jibda jkollna referendum fuq kull ħaġa ta’ xejn.

Hemm affarijiet li dwarhom ma jistax jissejjaħ referendum.   Dawn l-affarijiet jinkludu kull leġislazzjoni fiskali (bħat-taxxi), il-Kostituzzjoni ta’ Malta, il-Liġi li inkorporat il-Konvenzjoni Ewropeja dwar id-Drittijiet tal-Bniedem fil-liġi Maltija, trattati Internazzjonali li Malta rratifikat, il-liġi dwar l-Elezzjoni Ġenerali u l-liġi dwar l-interpretazzjoni.

Il-liġijiet Maltin jipprovdu għal tlett tipi ta’ referenda.

L-ewwel tip ta’ referendum hu biex ikunu approvati uħud mill-emendi għall-Kostituzzjoni ta’ Malta.

It-tieni tip ta’ referendum huwa dak li jsir biex il-Gvern jikkonsulta ruħu, bħalma sar bir-referendum dwar t-tisħib ta’ Malta fl-Unjoni Ewropeja, dak dwar l-Indipendenza jew dak dwar l-Integration, kif ukoll ir-referendum dwar id-divorzju. Dan jissejjaħ referendum konsultattiv.

It-tielet tip ta’ referendum huwa dak li jħassar liġijiet (jew regolamenti). Dan it-tip ta’ referendum jissejjaħ referendum abrogattiv. S’issa għadu qatt ma sar referendum abrogattiv  f’Malta.

Bħalissa qed jinġabru l-firem biex isir l-ewwel referendum abrogattiv dwar il-kaċca fir-rebbiegħa. Twaqqfet koalizzjoni magħmula minn Alternattiva Demokratika u tlettax-il għaqda ambjentali. Il-proposta f’dan il-każ hi li jitħassru regolamenti li jippermettu din it-tip ta’ kaċċa. Kif tħabbar, s’issa inġabru 20,000 firma. Jiġifieri jonqos madwar 15,000 firma oħra.

Fil-proposta tal-bieraħ Alternattiva Demokratika stiednet lis-soċjeta ċivili biex tingħaqad flimkien ħalli titfassal kampanja għal referendum abrogattiv dwar l-emendi għal-liġi taċ-ċittadinanza approvati il-bieraħ mill-Parlament. Jekk u kif dan jista’ jsir għad irridu naraw.

Għax ir-referendum abrogattiv hu għodda importanti ta’ pajjiż demokratika. Għodda li permezz tagħha hu possibli li tittieħed deċiżjoni finali dwar kontroversji fil-pajjiż. Din hi għodda li ma ġietx użata biżżejjed f’Malta. Hemm bżonn nifhmu iktar kemm din hi għodda b’saħħitha biex inkunu nistgħu nagħmlu użu tajjeb tagħha.

M’humiex ħafna l-pajjiżi li ċ-ċittadini tagħhom għandhom din il-possibilita’ li jħassru deċiżjoni tal-Parlament. Il-ġar tagħna l-Italja hu wieħed minn dawn il-pajjiżi fejn il-poplu permezz ta’ referendum abrogattiv għal darba darbtejn ħassar id-deċiżjoni tal-Parlament Taljan dwar il-politika u l-impjanti nuklejari.

Ir-referendum abrogattiv jagħtina d-dritt li niddeċiedu aħna bil-vot tagħna dwar affarijiet li ma nkunux naqblu ma kif iddeċidhom il-Parlament. Għax għalkemm il-Parlament huwa l-għola istituzzjoni tal-pajjiż, anke l-Parlament ikollu jbaxxi rasu quddiem il-vot kif espress f’referendum.

Id-demokrazija tagħna żviluppajniha sa dan il-punt. Nagħmlu użu bil-għaqal mid-drittijiet tagħna biex anke l-Parlament jifhem li għandu l-obbligu li jirrispetta d-drittijiet u l-fehmiet tagħna ilkoll.

Mill-Manifest Elettorali ta’ AD dwar bidliet fil-Kostituzzjoni : (1) Parteċipazzjoni wiesgħa

Forum tal-President 1

(1)    Parteċipazzjoni wiesgħa

Kull diskussjoni dwar bidliet profondi fil-Kostituzzjoni għandha titmexxa bl-akbar ftuħ u trasparenza u tiġi diskussa kemm fil-Parlament, (li għandu jsir istituzzjoni professjonali b’Parlamentari full-time), kif ukoll f’forum rappreżentattiv li jkun jinkludi rappreżentanti tal-organizzazzjonijiet tas-soċjetà ċivili, il-partiti politiċi kollha u l-Kunsilli Lokali. Il-proċeduri u d-diskussjonijiet għandhom ikunu aċċessibbli online u s-suġġerimenti taċ-ċittadini għandhom jiġu diskussi wkoll. Il-bidliet għandhom jiġu approvati b’referendum.

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

Snippets from AD’s electoral manifesto: (32) Constitutional reform

George Borg Olivier + Constitution

 

The following extract is taken verbatim from Chapter 6 of AD’s Electoral Manifesto

Any discussions on wide-ranging changes to the constitution should be conducted in maximum transparency and openness and debated both by parliament (which should become a professional institution with full-time parliamentarians) and by a representative forum which includes representatives of civil society organisations, political parties and local councils. All proceedings and discussions should be accessible on-line and suggestions by ordinary citizens should also be discussed. Changes should be approved through a referendum.

L-Estratt segwenti hu meħud kelma b’kelma mill-Kapitlu 6 tal-Manifest Elettorali ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika

Kull diskussjoni dwar bidliet profondi fil-Kostituzzjoni għandha titmexxa bl-akbar ftuħ u trasparenza u tiġi diskussa kemm fil-Parlament, (li għandu jsir istituzzjoni professjonali b’parlamentari full-time), kif ukoll f’forum rappreżentattiv li jkun jinkludi rappreżentanti tal-organizzazzjonijiet tas-soċjetà ċivili, il-partiti politiċi kollha u l-kunsilli lokali. Il-proċeduri u d-diskussjonijiet għandhom ikunu aċċessibbli online u s-suġġerimenti taċ-ċittadini għandhom jiġu diskussi wkoll. Il-bidliet għandhom jiġu approvati b’referendum.

Kuxjenza għajjiena

Il-Ministru tal-Ambjent hu Lawrence Gonzi. Huwa bniedem ta’ kuxjenza. Li jgħarbel, jiżen u jaqta’ skond ma tgħidlu l-kuxjenza.

Dan l-aħħar minħabba l-proposta ta’ JPO fuq id-divorzju il-kuxjenza ta’ Lawrence Gonzi ħadmet bl-overtime. M’hux faċli, ngħiduha kif inhi, li tippjana referendum u taħseb li n-nies ser ikollha l-istess opinjoni tiegħek u jmurlek kollox żmerċ! Gonzipn ippjana li jkollu deċiżjoni kontra d-divorzju mittieħda mir-referendum u spiċċa jkollu jħaddem il-kuxjenza. Issa din għajjiet ftit u allura affarijiet oħra jkolhom jistennew.

Ikollhom jibqgħu jistennew ir-residenti ta’ Triq Tumas Chetcuti  f’Ħ’Attard. Dawn ilhom jissaportu l-barriera magħrufa bħala ta’ Wied Inċita. Qed timliehom bit-trabijiet u l-awtoritajiet ilabalbu biss. Il-kuxjenza tal-Ministru tal-Ambjent jidher  qegħda bil-leave għax għajjiet u issa m’hiex f’posizzjoni li tagħmel xogħolha. Kieku l-kuxjenza m’hiex bil-leave il-Ministru tal-Ambjent Lawrence Gonzi zgur li jitlob spjegazzjoni  għal 7 enforcement  notices mill-MEPA tul is-snin fuq din il-barriera :

ECF 254/94, 522/96, 693/96, 367/98, 546/98, 936/98, 224/02

Dawn l-enforcement notices huma dwar il-barrieri Numri 3 u 12. Il-Barriera numru 3 hi magħrufa bħala ta’ Wied Inċita Attard fil-waqt li l-barriera numru 12 hi fi Triq ir-Rabat Ħaż-Żebbuġ. Dawn iż-żewg barrieri jinfdu u huma tal-istess sidien.

Alternattiva Demokratika dal-għodu indirizzat lill-istampa fuq il-problemi li dawn  iż-żewġ barrieri qed joħolqu lir-residenti. Forsi l-kuxjenza tal-Onorevoli Ministru Lawrence Gonzi tqum mir-raqda. Jew ta’ l-inqas ma tibqax riżervata għad-divorzju biss.     

il-Ministru tal-Ambjent : dak tal-lum u ta’ qablu