Mugliett - ACTA protests shows people want ‘better governance’

Jesmond Mugliett is second backbencher in one night to call for more discussion in parliament on treaties and EU instruments.

Backbencher Jesmond Mugliett
Backbencher Jesmond Mugliett

Nationalist backbencher and former minister Mugliett has called for changes in the Constitution that would guarantee modern governance standards and insisted that the parliament had to prove its ability to lead the country in view of the EU's decision to have the final say over the member states' budgets.

Speaking in parliament this evening right after fellow backbencher Franco Debono, Mugliett said parliament should make more concrete use of its committees, now that it will become mandatory for sovereign states to scrutinize and ratify all EU treaties and amendments.

He added that government should give credence to calls for more constitutional changes and reforms and not wait until the EU gives its signal to act.

"Other countries voice their disagreement when they do not agree with something the European Union says or does. Why does Malta always have to bow its head, or act only when other countries do?" Mugliett said.

The backbencher was referring to the controversial ACTA agreement signed by Malta and other 21 other EU member states. The signing of the agreement fuelled protests across 50 major European cities, Mugliett said.

"There is thirst for better governance," he said. "We should be sensitive enough to respond to the people's call."

Speaking on ACTA, Mugliett said that today's society wants fewer obstacles and more transparency and more information. "It's the lack of transparency with the way ACTA was signed that fuelled the anger among societies," he said.

Mugliett added he felt "uncomfortable" that Malta signed the agreement without first giving parliament and the country the chance to express itself.

"Why did Malta sign its name without first holding a discussion? Did it really have to be the controversy raised in other countries for the discussion to take place in our country?"

He referred to claims by the Prime Minister that ACTA would create a level playing field: "But a level playing field for whom? Whose interests will it protect?"

Reacting to Mugliett's comments, Finance Minister Tonio Fenech reiterated that Malta didn't go behind anyone's back when it signed the ACTA framework. "Last July MEUSAC had issued a circular listing ACTA in it. The circular was sent to over 90 members, including the Labour Party. No one sent their feedback and so government went ahead and signed," Fenech said.

"However the signing is only the first step in a series of procedures. ACTA needs now to be discussed by each member state and then sent back to the European Commission. But yes I agree that preferably such discussions are held in advance."

Fenech went on to say that "most probably no one felt so strongly about it at the time", and added that the Opposition should also shoulder responsibility for not acting when it first received the information through MEUSAC.

At the start of the discussions over the European Union Amendment Bill, Nationalist MP Francis Zammit Dimech said that the proposed amendment only strengthens what already goes on in parliament, "of ensuring that all EU treaties and amendments are properly scrutinised and ratified by Parliament".

The amendment makes it mandatory for parliament to discuss amendments or introductions of law and European Council's decision which amend EU treaties.

In defense of MEUSAC Zammit Dimech - who also forms part of the entity's core group - said that those who criticise MEUSAC do so because they still believe Malta should not have joined the European Union.

Zammit Dimech was referring to comments made last week by former Prime Minister Alfred Sant over the Malta-EU information organization.

Zammit Dimech hailed Malta's accession the EU, saying that the use of EU funds helped Malta improve its infrastructure and create jobs.

Continually referring to Sant's criticism of the EU membership, Zammit Dimech said that since Malta's accession, the rate of full-time workers increased by 12,725 from 2004's 137,134 workers.

He added that the private sector grew by 18,741 workers.

"While the Labour Party continually criticises the lack of female participation, it seems to have forgotten that today's problem is the result of a lost generation when a Labour government had hindered female participation," Zammit Dimech said.

Labour MP Luciano Busuttil said that it was important for discussions to take place in parliament, "also because it is not the first time that government acted behind the opposition's back".

Busuttil said that while the opposition supported government's stand over the Partnership for Peace, it didn't make sense that it acted behind everyone's back. "Just like they did with the €500 increase," Busutill said over government's decision to increase the parliamentary honoraria in 2008.

The increase only became known to the public three years later, during 2011.

Busuttil added that discussions should always take place, irrespective whether both sides of the House agreed on the particular issue or not.