Full House

The increase of six seats to each side upsets the corrective mechanism made to ensure that, in a two-party House, the number of MPs in each party reflect the ratio of the votes obtained by the two parties

Many people are bewildered with the amount of MPs that this year’s election has produced.

For some, the only benefit they see is that there are more windows of opportunities to get something for nothing from the state. Isn’t that what ministers and MPs are there for?

The impact of the gender quota mechanism struck many. As happens when radical changes are introduced, their impact will only have been appreciated when applied, rather than when it was introduced and approved by Parliament.

Comparisons have been made with other countries and these have inevitably led to the conclusion that with a record 79 parliamentary seats, Malta’s Parliament is the biggest per capita in Europe with an MP for every 6,532 voters.

More interesting is that there are not enough seats physically for all the elected members in the main hall of the House of Representatives and new rows of seats will have to be put in place in time for the official opening of Parliament. Surely this should have been seen to as soon as the gender quota mechanism became part of the electoral law!

I tend to agree that something needed to be done to push up the percentage of women in the House of Representatives, but, with the benefit of hindsight, I realise that the adopted simplistic system seems to me to have ignored two important points.

One is that it is not clear how the law would apply if there were more than two parties in Parliament. ADPD have opened a court case about this issue and while I have no intention to enter into the legal niceties of this case, I do agree that the system continues to increase the disadvantages that the small parties face when contesting the general elections. Whether this situation is actually unconstitutional or not, is for the Courts to decide.

The second point – that nobody seems to have made – is that the increase of six seats to each side of the great divide, upsets the corrective mechanism that was made to ensure that, in a two-party House, the number of MPs in each party reflect the ratio of the votes obtained by the two parties. In fact after the gender quota mechanism was applied, this proportionality was mathematically lost.

In other words, the Electoral Commission declared two extra PN MPs through a mechanism that ensures the ratio of the members of the two parties reflects the proportion of the votes garnered by the two parties. A few days later it awarded six extra seats to each party, thus upsetting the proportion that it had just established!

Of course, the Electoral Commission was just adhering to the law... and sometimes the law is an ass.

In between the two decisions, the Electoral Commission had to organise the so-called casual elections to fill the seats vacated by those who were elected on two districts. These ‘elections’ tend to muddle the process even more.

Is there really any need, today, for candidates to contest two electoral districts? Perhaps eliminating this possibility will make the whole process a bit less complicated.

Add to this mess, the bigger issue of handouts for votes, and there should be no doubt that our electoral system should be radically redesigned.

Even so, independently of what system we opt for, we need a law that imposes limitations on what governments can do when Parliament is in recess before a national election is held.

This law should also make provisions regarding the transfer of power from one administration to another after a general election.

Now is the time for the newly elected Prime Minister – Robert Abela – and the Opposition to agree that the country needs to start pursuing these objectives through recommendations made by a commission that will not just be bipartisan, but will also include representatives of ADPD.

The more the country dabbles with its electoral system, the more it is becoming evident that we need to opt for a fresh start with a radically new but less complicated and fairer system.

I have been insisting for this for years. I am sure it will happen sometime – whether it will be during my lifetime is another matter.

The more, the merrier

Last Thursday two women MPs were appointed parliamentary secretaries by the Prime Minister, completing – hopefully – Abela’s list of ministers and junior ministers.

They are Rebecca Buttigieg, who entered parliament by virtue of a casual election in the ninth district, and Alicia Bugeja Said, who became an MP through the gender-balancing mechanism.

Buttigieg is the new parliamentary secretary for reforms and equality within the Home Affairs, Security, Reforms and Equality Ministry, and Bugeja Said will be parliamentary secretary responsible for fisheries, aquaculture and animal rights within the Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries and Animal Rights. By the way, Bugeja Said has the qualifications to be a technical – rather than a political – junior minister.

Frankly, I have now lost count of how many ministers and how many parliamentary secretaries this country has.

With the increase in the number of MPs and the increase in the number of ministers, the cost of administering this miniscule island keeps shooting up.

Each minister and each parliamentary secretary must have a secretariat and the inevitable ‘customer care’ set-up. This is actually a constituency office financed – probably illegally – by the government and actually leads to many abuses to favour voters of the district/s from which the Minister or Parliamenatry Secretary is elected.

I believe the Auditor General has made some interesting observations about these set-ups...

It seems there is no rhyme or reason why the country has so many ministers and junior ministers; except for the Prime Minister to ensure he has the unquestioned support of the majority in the expanded Cabinet.

When I tried to work out adding the cost of this garguantan Cabinet with the cost of having 12 extra ‘female’ MPs getting their honorarium and support services from public funds, I got lost. Eventually this will lead to more Treasury pensions, of course!

The more, the merrier? Not necessarily... but undoubtedly the more expensive for the Maltese exchequer.

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