The reality of good governance | Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi

The Venice Commission has issued a positive report on our ambitious reforms. It is imperative that we proceed with speed to enact these extensive reforms. Good governance shouldn’t be just a phrase, but a programme of achievement

Deputy PM Chris Fearne in a meeting in 2018 with the Venice Commission
Deputy PM Chris Fearne in a meeting in 2018 with the Venice Commission

One of the first actions Prime Minister Robert Abela took on taking oath of office, less than six months ago, was to set up a Cabinet committee on good governance and rule of law, on which I was asked to serve. As we began to implement our major task, I had no doubt that actions speak louder than words. We had a clear objective before us, and we needed to deliver.

We listened carefully to the advice we received from the European Commission for Democracy Through Law, better known as the Venice Commission. It shares best practice and advises on how countries can strengthen their institutions. Within a relatively short space of time, the Justice Minister, Edward Zammit Lewis, produced a comprehensive reform package and now the Venice Commission has come back with a thumbs-up.

No other government has undertaken to introduce such huge reforms. We saw the first one in action in the way the new Police Commissioner, Angelo Gafà, was appointed. The method of appointment was changed so that a call for applications was issued. Candidates were interviewed by the Public Service Commission, who provided the Cabinet with a shortlist of two names. The person chosen then had to win the approval of the Parliamentary Public Appointments Committee. The Opposition refused to take part in the committee hearing, thus failing to carry its parliamentary responsibilities in this important process, when it is not the time for pettiness.

The job before us is to get on with enacting legislation to carry out further reforms. We will amend the Constitution and introduce new legal frameworks.

The government will continue the process of strengthening the Attorney General’s office in order to take over prosecutions. Thus, a clear distinction will be obtained between the investigative role of the police and the responsibility to prosecute shall be vested in the Attorney General.

Legislation will allow an appeal against non-prosecution by the Advocate General thus introducing another check and balance in relation to the powers of the Attorney General.

The government will be introducing legislation to enable these institutions to report cases of corruption directly to the Standing Commission Against Corruption (PCAC), which will report directly to the Attorney General if it finds evidence of corrupt practices.

When the PCAC reports the case to the Advocate General, it is granted an automatic right to appeal against the decision of the AG in the event that it decides not to prosecute.

In future, the Chief Justice will be appointed by the President after the nomination of the Chief Justice obtains two third support in Parliament. A deadlock mechanism must also be in place. This method of appointment will strengthen the independence of the office holder and enhance confidence in the judicial system.

The judiciary will have four out of the seven seats on the Judicial Appointments Committee. This respects the recommendation of the Venice Commission that the choice of members of the Judiciary will no longer be vested in political figures and the judiciary shall have a major role.

The constitutional amendments will empower the President to act alone when requested to appoint a Judge or Magistrate, from a list of three names provided to him by the Committee.

The proposed amendments will see to it that it is not Parliament, but a Commission for the Administration of Justice, that impeaches a member of the judiciary, subject to a right of appeal to the Constitutional Court.

With the President gaining enhanced powers, it is necessary that the President is elected by a two-thirds majority in Parliament. This is another major reform in our constitutional structures since the President will be given executive powers in the appointment of the judiciary while strengthening the mechanism with which the President is elected. A deadlock mechanism is also being proposed to be used if necessary.

Many more methods of appointment are subject to further changes from the way Permanent Secretaries in the Public Service are appointed to a cap on those appointed to Ministries as people of trust.

The Ombudsman’s Office will be further strengthened particularly when accessing information in relation to the duties of his office.

The Venice Commission has issued a positive report on our ambitious reforms. It is imperative that we proceed with speed to enact these extensive reforms. Good governance shouldn’t be just a phrase, but a programme of achievement.

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