Letters: 12 April 2015

A fresh breath of democracy

When, some 20 years ago, a group of us who had formed the Moviment Referendarju Malti lobbied to obtain, and achieved, the right to the abrogative referendum, little did we know that it would take an odd-20 years for the first such referendum to be held. 

With the exception of Xarabank, which had two programmes on the subject, there was very little debate on the subject on radio and TV. Given the fact that it was clear that the party media houses did not want to support the democratic debate, the full onus of responsibility to ensure that the public was adequately informed about the subject should have fallen on PBS. Our public media were not capable of assuming this.

One should not forget that a number of the debates transmitted on TVM were imposed by the Broadcasting Authority. Even here, this body, whose function is to regulate and ensure adequate information, failed miserably! Given that this was the first abrogative referendum it should have imposed and ensured that there was enough information on the voting process along with the opinions.

The Broadcasting Authority used the same measuring stick of a normal election, when the party media houses are in overdrive, which ensure that there is more than ample information on their positions. In this case the party media were absent along with PBS and the BA, because the institutions are geared to support political parties and not there to facilitate real grassroots democracy. 

One must applaud the English print media, not only because they were bold enough for their editorials to take a stand, but also for the coverage given to both sides. It was these media houses that led the battle for public information, rather than our public stations.

Yet the democratic mess is even greater. Let us not forget the obscene decision taken by the Ornis committee announcing the date when this year’s spring hunting season was to open. This is a body appointed by the state which has spat on the face of all people in Malta, be they ‘yes’ or ‘no’ or ‘don’t give a damn’.

This type of undemocratic arrogance would only be found in banana republics.

One can also mention the Electoral Commission, which from the start had bypassed the timelines set by law for the verification of signatures. The Commission had the responsibility to ensure that the electorate understood the referendum question and the answers. And it should have seen that how to vote was clear to all. None of this happened as this body is only set to think in (political) party mode.

A referendum, especially one instigated by social partners, as was the spring hunting referendum, has shown the total weaknesses of our institutions to support any real democratic process. Along with this we have a government whose key elements do not believe in referenda.

To whoever wins or loses yesterday’s referendum, I believe that given all the institutional odds, both did well. Even the level of discussion was mature. It shows that our country has evolved democratically more than some members of the political parties wish.

Lessons, though, need to be learnt. Changes need to be made. A fresh breath of democracy has reached the islands, passing through the cracks of the walls of parliamentary democracy. Let’s keep it going.

Darryl Grima, Via email

The new coast road

Like most motorists and users of the coast road, we cannot wait for this new facility to be opened.

However, let me make a warning!

Motorists and their passengers alike are not going to be able to enjoy the sea view or coastline.

You simply cannot see it anymore – not unless you are riding in the cabin of a refuse truck, or a public / private transport bus!

Please observe the next time you drive along any part of the accessible areas, and make any attempt to get a glimpse of the sea.

The height of the newly built rubble wall and its retaining concrete support does not allow one to get a clear view of our wonderful shoreline, not to mention the sea itself.

Furthermore, there are no openings in this wall to allow access to the shoreline.

And lastly, what is to become of the horrible external side of this concrete wall, when viewed from the sea, or even the shoreline...

 Jean-Marc Bianchi, Madliena

Get rid of the Ornis Committee

So the Ornis Committee had voted to open this year’s spring hunting season on April 12, the morning immediately following the referendum. During the discussion (I assume there was one) and the subsequent voting were the following facts considered?

1.     The polls were to close to voters at 10pm on Saturday, April 11 and then two sets of ballot boxes have to be processed, one for the referendum, and another for the local council elections, where appropriate.  This is very likely to go on into the early hours of Sunday (and this is not taking into account any delays or recounts) before a final result is announced and it is also very likely that many people, including hunters would be asleep when the result is announced.

2.    Dawn breaks on Sunday, 12 April at 6.34am. Given that the law allows hunting two hours before dawn, if the hunting season did open as recommended by the Ornis Committee, the hunters would be allowed to shoot from 4.34 am.

3.    Given the minute (and possibly non-existent) time window between a final official result being announced – especially if the result is ‘No’ – and the opening of the season at 4.34 am, how was the result to be disseminated throughout the population, particularly the hunters, so as to prevent any hunter breaking the law and claiming ignorance (and as everyone knows “ ignorance of the law is no excuse”).

Finally, I find it strange that the government did allow ample time for everyone to be aware of the result, but the Ornis Committee did not appear to have given it any thought at all – coincidence, or what?  Surely it is time for the Ornis Committee to be dispensed with as it is a useless  appendage to the government and an added expense to the taxpayer?

Clifford John Williams, by email