Consumers’ Association calls for party financing law

The Consumers’ Association echoes Nationalist MP Franco Debono’s call for introduction of party financing law.

Among its list of proposals presented to political parties ahead of the electoral campaign, Malta's Consumers' Association highlighted the need to introduce a party financing law.

The issue, championed for years by Alternattiva Demokratika and lately by Nationalist dissenter Franco Debono had been on the political agenda for the past couple of years.

However, despite Debono's commendable efforts, the bill drafted by the MP was shelved by the Nationalist administration and the bill was met by a lukewarm reaction by both major parties.

"Surely, many persons do not see the link between the issue and consumer rights. However, being exposed for a long time to consumer protection, the link between the administration and business is evident," the association said.

It added that the invisible link between political parties and business becomes more evident in electoral campaigns, in which parties and candidates are bankrolled by businesses. "This link then translates during the legislature when parts of the business community are given preference at the cost of consumers and other businesses which are at a financial disadvantage or simply choose not to bankroll any party or candidate."

Calling on the parties to include the introduction of a financing law in their manifestos, the Consumers' Association said the law should be introduced immediately to "ensure transparency, accountability and a right balance to ensure that consumers are given their dues."

Another proposal forwarded by the association calls for a thorough reform in state authorities, such as the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority (MCCAA).
The Consumers' Association pointed out that such authorities are not independent from government and operate in an archaic way, seeking ministers' approval in carrying out their duties.

Authorities must be granted autonomy by the regulating laws and Parliament should be given more powers to scrutinize the functions of authorities all year long and not just once a year, the authority said.

It also hit out at the authorities' inability to propose changes to laws and enforce current legislation, adding that such authorities have lost the people's trust.

The association noted that certain authorities give preference to political interests rather then consumers' interests and called for employees of such authorities to be directly employed by the authorities themselves and not the public service.  

Turning its attention to the MCCAA, the association said that the structure of the authority must be reformed because the fragmentation of responsibilities is rendering the chairperson and the board of governors toothless.

The MCCAA chairperson and board of governors should be granted the responsibility over the function and the decisions taken by all sections of the authority to ensure that these decisions are not in breach of the MCCAA's policies and guarantee effectiveness, transparency and accountability.

Among its list of proposals, the Consumers' Association also called for the setting up of a Parliamentary Committee to supervise the regulatory bodies and authorities.

Noting that the current structures oblige employees of these authorities to depend and show loyalty to the political class, rather then consumers.

"This dependence results an alliance which is leading to a loss of the bodies' transparency and accountability towards Parliament and the public," the association said. It added that ministers should remain responsible for policy making but the persons running authorities must be directly accountable to Parliament.

The Consumers' Association also proposed the establishment of an Ombudsman for Consumers and a One Stop Shop dealing with the processing and analysing of complaints.