michaelfalzon
Michael Falzon

Time to move on, but the two parties must do the right thing

If the protests made by Civil Society achieved anything, it must be that the country is now even more aware of the need for a thorough look at the Constitution

michaelfalzon
Michael Falzon
7 November 2017, 7:25am
During the last three weeks Malta experienced a big shock followed by grief and recriminations.

From last Monday’s discussion in the House of Representatives it does seem to me that there is a broad consensus that both our institutions and the checks and balances inherent in the Constitution need strengthening. Both parties should earnestly build upon this fact and move on.

If the number of protests made by Civil Society achieved anything it must be that the country is now even more aware of the need for a thorough look at the Constitution and see what can be done about the system’s inherent defects.

The time for gimmicks and puerile attitudes, like placing bananas on the steps of Castille or arguing whether the Prime Minister entered the Parliament building from some back door, should be over. If we want the country to regain sanity and mental balance some serious action is needed. In other words everybody should forget the blame game and insist with the two parties in Parliament to do the right thing.

Discussions in the House of Representatives, where everybody seems to be playing for the gallery, can only be the starting point. Serious private follow-up action is indicated.

Personally, I think that some sort of committee with MPs from both sides is required to try to arrive at some agreement on what is needed and how it can be done. Moreover, consultation from the general population (including Civil Society) at various stages of the process is also a must.

The problem is that our macho politics do not allow for these discussions to be in public. At the end of the day there will be issues on which a compromise must be found. This implies accepting proposals that are not exactly in line with the hard stance that each of the two parties exhibit in Parliament.

Hence, having these discussions open to public scrutiny at all stages will decrease the chances of a positive conclusion. Political parties everywhere – but more so in Malta – do not like to appear weak by being prepared to change their stances, popularly described as U-turns. If all discussions were to be carried out in public, political parties tend to be rigid and unable to reach a compromise.

But a compromise is what this country needs in order to move on.

There is no doubt, for example, that the way the institutions are set up and the Advocate General’s many reponsibilities have led to instances of conflict of interest. These have nothing to do with whoever is the incumbent, and making him resign will not remove the problem. 

Decisions on prosecutions are taken jointly with the Police and there should be a separate Prosecution office independent of both the Attorney General and the Police. Moreover, the Advocate General is obliged to give legal advice to the administration of the day - an area in which he has every right to claim ‘client confidentiality’. Yet he is also responsible for the drafting of laws - an area where the wishes of the government of the day are supreme, except, of course, where some draft law seems to be unconstitutional. 

"The time for gimmicks and puerile attitudes, like placing bananas on the steps of Castille or arguing whether the Prime minster entered the Parliament building from some back door, should be over"
The Attorney General’s involvement in the Board of Governors of the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit (FIAU) that is responsible for laying down the policies of the unit, has had unintended consequences and it led to an apparent conflict of interest. This set-up was not drawn up and enacted into law by a Labour administration, a fact that is often ignored by those who are obsessed with the blame game.

An issue has also arisen with regard to the appointment of the Police Commissioner. I agree with the PN’s stance that his appointment should be subject to two-thirds majority of the House of Representatives. I do not agree with those who say that this would create an impossible situation. This was also ‘predicted’ when the two-thirds approval requirement was imposed on the appointment of the Ombudsman and of the Auditor General. However, there were never any stalemates about these appointments, whether under a PN or a PL administration.

These two posts are answerable to the House of Representatives while the Police Commissioner can never be so. I understand, therefore, the Prime Minister’s position against the appointment of the Police Commissioner being subject to the approval of Parliament. I would have thought, however, that in Malta the situation is ‘sui generis’ and the PN’s position is justified.

The choice, however, should not be limited to either having the Police Commissioner chosen by Parliament or leaving everything as it is. One solution could be the setting up of a Constitutional Authority, appointed and answerable to Parliament, that would approve the appointment of the Police Commissioner and monitor the way the Police force functions. In this way the direct involvement of the political administration is diminished.

It is this sort of compromise that could be found during private (if need be informal) discussions between the Goverment and the Opposition. Hollering in the House of Representatives will lead everyone to a dead end.

I have mentioned the two most talked about issues in the last three weeks or so. There are other issues, of course, that should be up for discussion.

My point is that macho politics will not solve anything while a positive attitude towards the possibility of compromise could produce miracles.

Unfortunately, in the current circumstances, there is another problem: the internal politics (with a small ‘p’) of the Nationalist Party. Adrian Delia is walking on thin ice in spite of the fact that he was elected by the vote of the majority of PN members. There are still elements that have not really accepted his leadership. The problem is that these elements are bent on undermining his leadership by openly ignoring him in Parliament and elsewhere, and by other less visible ploys.

Any compromise regarding the changes that we need in the Constitution and in other adminstrative set-ups could therefore be depicted – directly or indirectly – as some weakness on the new leader’s part. 

This would do untold harm to the party and to the country, as the vehement attitude against Delia could lead people to cut their nose to spite their face. They should now come to their senses and rely on logic rather than on anger.

There is a real danger that their attitude could put off Delia from being bold and innovative, in spite of the fact that he was elected because he promised a ‘new way’. 

He should refrain from trying to dilute this promise in order to appease those who are dead set to never accepting him, whatever happens.

michaelfalzon
Michael Falzon is a former government minister who served under several Nationalist admini...