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Institutional reform: Four under forty have their say

Every week, MaltaToday is asking the youngest candidates in the general elections a question that is central to the ongoing political campaign

16 May 2017, 7:30am
Problems with good governance and transparency have been a perennial issue in Maltese politics and this seems to have gotten worse over the past four years
Problems with good governance and transparency have been a perennial issue in Maltese politics and this seems to have gotten worse over the past four years
Over the course of the last legislature we witnessed what many see as the failure of the Labour Party’s meritocratic pledge and a crisis of leadership in the police corps and other institutions important for the proper functioning of our democracy. Problems with good governance and transparency have been a perennial issue in Maltese politics and this seems to have gotten worse over the past four years. What changes do you think need to be made to the way our institutions work in order for this to change going forward?

Owen Bonnici

Owen Bonnici
Owen Bonnici
Throughout these four years a Labour government has legislated on matters relating to good governance where others have failed to do over the past 25 years.

It was this government which made a law that regulates the financing of the parties. Political parties are fundamental in a democratic society as they represent people’s political interests. The new law has managed to treat all political parties in the same manner, providing equal treatment to all political parties, irrespective of their size. The crux of this law was the transparency of financial administration and donations of large sums of money, in which case anonymity is excluded. 

We also removed prescription for politicians when they are accused of corruption cases. The reason behind such removal is to raise the standards in politics, showing intolerance towards political corruption. It is a clear sign that honest politics are crucial and are being valued in our society. This allows the state to proceed against any politician that is held responsible for a corrupt act in order to recover any material objects obtained as a result of political corruption. 

What’s more we implemented this law right at the beginning of the legislature.

Another initiative was the law granting Whistleblower protection to employees, both in the public and private sector, when they report cases of corruption or illegal practices committed by their employers. This has made Malta one of the few Member States in the EU with such a mechanism.

With regard to the judiciary we have worked, through the Justice Ministry, on a constitutional reform regarding the appointment of members of the judiciary. Through this law we have ensured the independence of the judiciary since those who express an interest in becoming magistrates or judges are evaluated by an independent sub-committee within the Commission for the Administration of Justice composed of the Chief Justice, Attorney General, Auditor General, Ombudsman and President of Chamber of Advocates. This was created together with another sub-committee responsible for holding disciplinary proceedings against members of the judiciary who breach the code of ethics. Other initiatives were also taken to reform the justice sector and ensure that procedures are simpler. These have resulted in the lowest level of pending cases, ensuring a more efficient justice sector.

Additionally, borne of our belief that journalists are the watchdog of a democratic society and democratic processes, we have started work towards strengthening their freedom of speech. We believe that freedom of speech is essential in a democratic society and journalists have an important role in keeping citizens informed and public figures in check. In fact, we put forward a bill which aims to remove criminal libel and increase the threshold when journalists are held responsible in civil libels. 

We also put forward the option to have mediations in order to ensure faster proceedings which involve less costs, yet are still effective.

All these initiatives and improvements came about following rounds of discussions and contributions made by citizens and stakeholders in their respective fields. Through these work processes we have created a model of collaboration and contribution, that leads towards achieving the best possible outcome. We acknowledge that there is still a long way to go but all these initiatives are sure to be a step in the right direction. 

We remain committed to listen to the people and to continue on this way forward and ensure that transparency and good governance are continually enhanced.

Owen Bonnici is minister for justice and is a PL candidate on the 3rd and 5th districts

Danika Formosa

Danika Formosa
Danika Formosa
The problems with good governance have been long coming. They have now come to a head. It is an institutional problem, with an all-powerful Prime Minister controlling all appointments. Parliament, which is supposed to be the highest institution of the country has been relegated to a mere rubber stamp. The lack of good governance has been evident in environmental and planning issues, with purposely designed weak rules and regulations full of holes. The ties of the big business lobbies to the parties in Parliament have exacerbated the situation.

The first change that needs to be made is to put the right people in the right positions based on their knowledge, skills and what they can offer to society. We need people in institutions who truly care about the wellbeing of the country. The wholesale use of ‘positions of trust’ is an abuse. There should be public hearings in front of a Parliamentary Committee who vet appointments to important public institutions. This will go some way in ensuring that the right and competent people are appointed. Appointments should be made by Parliament, again this will go some way in breaking the ‘jobs for the boys’ system. People placed in ‘positions of trust’ should be limited to those in ministers’ secretariats.

The problem in Malta is that institutions have been designed purposely to serve the interests of the ‘winner takes it all’ system. MPs are allowed to keep their private practices, which leads to huge conflicts of interest. We have legislators who in the evening legislate in favour of their clients’ interests. We have witnessed stories of huge amounts of money in ‘donations’ supposedly with no strings attached masked as adverts, according to the donors themselves. We have witnessed politicians with secretive accounts.

The whole system is designed to encourage such things. There are those with retainers from big business. An overhaul is needed now, more than ever. The parties in Parliament will not make any real changes, they have their finger in the pie.

Mark Anthony Sammut

Mark Anthony Sammut
Mark Anthony Sammut
The Independence Constitution we were handed by the British back in 1964 had one big flaw. Most of the powers which used to be exercised by the Governor ended up being vested in the Prime Minister, with very little effective checks and balances. And since we are still a country with a very strong tribal and familial view of politics, the only effective check on the Prime Minister, Parliament, has rarely stood up to its duty.

MPs behave as if their loyalty is more to the Party, however wrong its position is, than to the Constitution and their electorate. And the fact that most of the electorate actually expect that sort of behaviour doesn’t help at all. This has led us to a situation where democracy has been reduced to a vote every five years with a totalitarian rule in between. We simply get to choose who the leader wielding absolute power is going to be, and hope for the best.

The truth is that we never really cried out for this to change because we never had a power-abusing Prime Minister who reached the depths Muscat has. But we now have. We have a Prime Minister who used his powers to order magisterial inquiries at his behest and when he felt the coast was clear, who ordered different types of inquiries depending on who the accused is, who has seen five different Police Commissioners simply because he needs a puppet who acts only on his instructions, who ignores all standard procedures to appoint his friends in the Army’s top brass, who forces Permanent Secretaries to resign from their civil service posts as if the word permanent means nothing, who hands over millions of our hard-earned money to bail out his business friends, who hands over public property for the benefit of his party, and who allows drug-traffickers to walk free because their parents spoke to his ministers.

This has led to a complete breakdown of our institutions. The people do not feel safe any more, because the institutions and the authorities which are supposed to protect them from the abuses of government, have been hijacked by the government itself.

That’s why Simon Busuttil’s first priority is to restore trust in our country’s institutions. And that’s why the first document the Nationalist Party published two years ago was on Restoring Trust in Politics (good governance). Because that’s the most important foundation of a democratic society. Everything else has to be built on that.

To ensure this, we need to have the top posts of these institutions to be appointed by two-thirds of Parliament and not by the Prime Minister. This will guarantee their impartiality and allow them to work, act and investigate without fear or favour.

We also need a Magistrate with investigative powers able to start investigations on his own initiative, without requiring anyone’s instructions.

We also need to reintroduce the prohibition for MPs to sit on boards of supposedly independent authorities, a law which this government removed. How can an authority be independent and serve as a check on government if it is headed by the government’s own MPs? Same should apply to the employment of MPs’ direct relatives in ministerial secretariats and positions of trust. Nepotism should no longer be the norm.

These are some of the fundamental changes Busuttil is promising to introduce. Yes, the first measures he’s promising to implement are the ones curbing his own power. Because he’s not after acquiring power, but after restoring trust in our country and its institutions.

Yes, we need to finally fully embrace the European norms and values of a functioning democracy, and make our country fool-proof from any future Muscat who might try to hijack our country for the benefit of his and his friends’ pockets.

This is what this election is about. It is about addressing our country’s most fundamental flaws, and getting the democracy we all deserve.

Mark Anthony Sammut is a PN candidate running on the 4th district

Timothy Alden

Timothy Alden
Timothy Alden
Over the course of the last legislature we witnessed what many see as the failure of the Labour Party’s meritocratic pledge and a crisis of leadership in the police corps and other institutions important for the proper functioning of our democracy. Problems with good governance and transparency have been a perennial issue in Maltese politics and this seems to have gotten worse over the past four years. What changes do you think need to be made to the way our institutions work in order for this to change going forward?

Malta has changed tremendously over the past decades. In some ways, for the better. In others, less so.

There is a big difference between development and overdevelopment. The latter is a direct result of weak institutions. Most people in Malta do not want our unique country to turn into a concrete jungle, but their democratic vote is undermined by the way our institutions work. It is fair to say that as long as you know the right people, laws have a tendency of being pliable. Put another way – Malta has the right loopholes for the right people. 

Even when no loopholes exist, people can still get their way. Money speaks loudly; people listen. In a nation where developers can buy influence due to weak party financing laws, it was impossible until now to vote for somebody who is truly committed to cleaning up the system and protecting the environment. At least not without voting for an alternative that shies away from the tough negotiations and compromises required in political life. 

That is why the Democratic Party is needed. It is needed to restore true democracy, plain and simple. One of the party’s principal tenets is meritocracy. It is about making sure that nepotism has no place in Maltese politics. 

As outsiders, we are completely free of the tribal network keeping the Nationalist and Labour parties in chains. Both the PL and PN are terrified of reform, because they know it will weaken their position. They can never achieve reform alone, let alone reform our institutions. However, with the Democratic Party aiming for meritocratic reform for all, it will create an even playing field. The last coalition of sorts was the compact between the Constitutional Party and the Labour Party. The Democratic Party’s desire to improve the constitution makes us a worthy successor to that progressive government.

The pill of reform is bitter to swallow, however, for the Labour voters who know that they have been betrayed by Muscat. They may want to reform and protect the Labour Party, and see keeping Muscat in government as a lesser evil compared to voting for Forza Nazzjonali. This distrust is most likely cultural and has been inherited. It is also understandable, given that the Nationalists have made a lot of mistakes. As they are today, a lot of people still do not trust them. However, with the Democratic Party forming a joint manifesto with them and keeping them in check, we are the best hope for those who wish to see a change in the playing field.

Nobody in my family has ever been involved in politics before, but I got involved because I recognise this opportunity for Malta comes once in a generation. The Democratic Party can help make the major parties that people love as good as they deserve to be.

Timothy Alden is a PD candidate for the 8th and 9th districts