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The Greens branch out | Carmel Cacopardo

Alternattiva Demokratika Vice Chairman Carmel Cacopardo is convinced that this time, the green party have a genuine shot at the elections – thanks, in no small part, to the party’s hefty and rigorous electoral manifesto

Jacob Borg
3 February 2013, 12:00am


Alternattiva Demokratika's electoral manifesto is a 188-page behemoth. Ironically enough, printing a copy of it will single-handedly obliterate half of the Amazon rain forest. Nevertheless, you cannot fault their preparation.

Carmel Cacopardo, Alternattiva Demokratika Vice Chairman explains that this is a natural evolution from the Party's purely green roots.

"The difference between this election and previous ones is that we are taking a much broader approach to this campaign. People constantly ask us about our different policies. The feedback from people is enormous. Not just in the form of individual contact, but even on social media.

"With our detailed electoral manifesto people can no where we stand on a variety of issues."

But isn't such a small party biting off a bit more than it can chew with such a broad approach?

"There is always a danger of overextending ourselves. However, we have planned very well. Our electoral manifesto has been three years in the making and not dreamt up overnight."

This begs the question as to whether such a long electoral campaign will favour or hinder AD.

Scoffing at this, Cacopardo says that the only party that it favours is the incumbents.

"It depends on what issues crop up, really. The longer time frame means that we will be exhausted, but at least we will be able to get in touch with more people. It can turn out to be positive."

But what of finances?

"Ralph Cassar has spoken in detail about this. Our budget for this election is not more than €20,000. This pales into insignificance when compared to the million being spent by the other two parties."

The AD often takes the moral high ground when it comes to party finances. Surely, the AD lobby for finances too.

"No, no, no. We do not lobby for finances from business. We rely purely on the generosity of the general public. Our largest donation received was of €250."

On to chunkier issues. MEPA. In AD's 2008, manifesto the party advocated for a split in the environmental and regulators wings of the authority. The party seems to have undergone a U-turn on this issue, as it now opposes the split.

"I take exception to you calling it a U-turn. We are merely tackling the same issue from a different angle. The problem with MEPA is not whether it is a unitary authority or separated. The problem is the people who run it. In 2008 AD preferred to focus on separating MEPA, knowing the circumstances prevalent at the time. Our major problem with the authority is the lack of sufficient personnel.

"Therefore separating MEPA would be counter-productive. Environmental functions should be grouped under one authority. The issue that needs to be tackled seriously is the manner in which those who run it are appointed."

It is worth remembering that Carmel Cacopardo used to be an active member of the PN and he has hands-on experience at working in MEPA.

"I am very much in touch with the way that MEPA operates. I used to be an investigations officer in the authorities' audit office. I began to realise that the holders of political office are involved directly in certain day-to-day decision of the authority. When a politician inveigles himself in an autonomous authority in this way, it may lead to abuses of the administrative system.

"The danger of this is that the persons appointed to such an authority become conveyor belts of other politicians' decisions. This is why I believe that parliament should be given more power over such appointments.

"I would not mind if ownership of certain decisions was declared. But all too often decisions taken at a political level would be passed off as the MEPA boards' own. I came to realise that whenever I criticised a MEPA official, I was actually criticising the minister behind the decision."

The fact of Cacopardo's past links with the PN naturally begs the question on whether he still has any affinity with the party, and his take on the corruption scandal.

"The Nationalist Party of today is not the Nationalist Party I joined back in 1976. I do not agree with the way in which Lawrence Gonzi acts. He tends to tackle issues of misdemeanours very lightly. Do not get me wrong, I am not talking about corruption. A more pertinent case in point would be Tonio Fenech accepting gifts from a local businessperson. The minister's own former private secretary has admitted to accepting illicitly accepting monies.

"When Lawrence Gonzi reacts so lightly to such examples of misdoings, one begins to wonder. On a personal level, I believe that Gonzi is clean. But he is a bit too tolerant of what his subordinates do."

Good governance is one of the primary pillars of AD's manifesto. Cacopardo firmly believes that parliament has turned into somewhat of a eunuch, leaving the government to call all the shots in Malta.

"When it comes to appointing people in positions of trust on public entities, we recognise that the government should retain the right to initiate the process. However, all persons put forward should be subject to a public hearing by a parliamentary select committee. In this way, parliament would be able to separate the wheat from the chaff."

So why isn't the opposition party more vocal on such matters?

"This is simple," Cacopardo scoffs. "Because if the opposition make it into government they do not want the same criteria to be applied to them."

"Parliament should be the main authority on such matters, not the government. Take the European Parliament's hearing of Tonio Borg. This was conducted in order to ensure that his own personal views would not be an impediment to him carrying out his duties."

Such a system would ensure that such appointments are scrutinised in a serious manner, and not "via televoting," as he dubs Joseph Muscat's proposal for a more open process of public appointments.

"This is the primary problem of the two party system we have been lumped with for the past 50 years. Neither of them wants to disrupt the status quo. As things stand, the only chance of this changing is if a maverick MP suddenly decides to tackle the problem.

"Alternattiva's objective is to insist that parliament seizes back what has been taken from it. Having an Alternattiva MP in parliament would ensure that this is done."

Good governance is clearly a topic close to Cacopardo's heart. I add more fuel to the fire by asking him about the wisdom of the Ministry of Resources permanent secretary Christopher Ciantar, taking sides in the energy debate.

"In the British civil service permanent secretaries are held in extremely high esteem. The investigation against Liam Fox was actually carried out by his permanent secretary. Can you imagine a permanent secretary in Malta investigating his own minister? Unthinkable," Cacopardo exclaims.

"Issues of political loyalty have to be swept aside. Permanent secretaries and the civil service in general should be loyal to Malta, not to the incumbent government. This all ties in to how such sensitive appointments are made. We want a parliament that shoulders its responsibility. The country should not be run by remote control from the government. Neither can it be run by televoting, as Joe Muscat proposes." 

Yet another case study in the AD's thesis that the two-party system is failing Malta is the Armier issue.

"Muscat was not correct in stating that he is not aware of a master plan being in place to tackle the Armier problem. The Marfa action plan has been published for consultation. MEPA has retained this plan in draft form since 2002 and it is still available for viewing on the MEPA website. The framework for tackling the problem at Armier is already in place. This includes proposals to demolish boathouses and reconstruct them in a different manner.

"The Marfa action plan proposed for there to be five areas in which these boathouses can be constructed. AD has submittted its views on the draft as far back as 2002, objectijng to the proposal to relocate the existing boathouses to five specific areas indicated in the said draft Marfa Action Plan. Let's make it clear, these people are not 'owners,' they are illegal dwellers."

I somewhat naively ask Cacopardo why neither the PN nor PL have taken action.

"This is purely a question of votes. 4,000 people are involved. These are all concentrated in a small number of districts, all of which are marginal. They are both dishing out favours in order to grab votes.

"Muscat it trying to distance himself from the matter by saying that there is no master plan on which he can comment. His predecessor, Alfred Sant, actually entered into an agreement with the boathouse representatives. Before the 2003 and 2008 general elections boathouse owners actively met up with both parties."

Cacopardo quips that "it is useless to say that Malta is for all and then to allow people to take the law into their own hands".

At the risk of flogging a dead horse, I ask Cacopardo for his opinion on the energy debate and PN's much-ridiculed night tariffs.

"The problem is not the night tariff. The PL still has to clear up a number of issues with its own proposal, particularly the timeframes. Work on an interconnector is already ongoing. Therefore, if the PL's LNG project overruns its timeframes, we will simply be doubling the expenditure and facilities unnecessarily.

"The rationalisations exercise carried out in 2006 should be reversed, as these extended the limits of development. In Malta, we have 70,000 vacant dwellings. These should be the starting point of any discussion. I am of the belief that there should be a moratorium on large-scale developments until these dwelling are occupied.

"Whenever a large project requiring an Environmental Impact Assessment to be undertaken, the local council on whose territory the project is carried out should get a vote on the matter. Should the Local Council not wish to express itself, the local community will have the right to call a referendum if 10% of the local voters sign a petition.

"The decision of this referendum will be binding, with one important safeguard. Projects of national importance will hand parliament overriding authority. We qualify this, in addition to having overriding authority, parliament will be responsible for ensuring that grievances put forward have been addressed."

But surely, such a process will further lengthen what is already a cumbersome process and add more bureaucracy.

"I take exception to this being labelled as 'bureaucracy'. A certain amount of bureaucracy is necessary. Allowing people access to information and a say on matters that affect their daily lives is not bureaucracy, it is subsidiarity. It is important that we push the State to be more transparent."

I ask Cacopardo for his take on the August 2012 amnesty offered by MEPA, allowing property owners concessions for certain building irregularities.

"It is not necessary to extend it. The problem is that major irregularities may also slip through the net. The PN's electoral programme is not clear on this. What the government is saying is: "do what you like, and then we will sort it out later after the election".

Speaking of elections, what are the AD's own prospects for the coming election?

"According to recent polls, our support has increased from 1.3% to 1.7%, translating into a 33% jump in support."

I put my head on the block by insinuating that the AD reached its peak during the EPP elections, and it has all been downhill from there.

"The Arnold Cassola issue was a reflection of the politics of the day. It was an extremely good showing for the AD, with 23,000 votes obtained. There have never been more than two parties in power. The last time there were more than two was between 1962 and 1966, and these were splinter groups of the two main parties."

Surely, returning an AD MP to parliament is a bit of a pipedream?

"It is difficult but not impossible. Our target is to reach the 2,000-vote threshold via transferable votes. The hardest thing is overcoming the two party cultural barrier. During the last few days, a lot of people get cold feet about voting for AD. We are actively trying to help people overcome that.

"We have managed to entice 3% of new voters to the AD. Those voters with a tertiary education background make up 6% of AD votes.

"20% of voters are still undecided, so a significant of votes are still up for grabs by the AD."

If an Alternattiva MP is elected to parliament, who would the greens form a coalition with?

"At this point in time nothing has been decided. The AD's point of departure is our electoral manifesto. The party to accept the most parts of our manifesto would be the party that we enter into a coalition with."