Parties unite against over-regulation on financing, organisation rules

Representatives of PN, PL and AD agree that draft bill on party financing over-regulates political parties.

Financial reporting and political party requirements dominated today's parliamentary committee meeting.
Financial reporting and political party requirements dominated today's parliamentary committee meeting.

During this afternoon's meeting of the parliamentary committee for the re-codification and consolidation of laws, representatives of the three established political parties discussed the party financing law drafted by the committee's chairman Franco Debono.

Although representatives of the Nationalist Party, the Labour Party and Alternattiva Demokratika expressed broad consensus on the spirit of the law, a number of issues were raised.

The main points of contention during the meeting were the over-regulation of political parties and possible loopholes in the party financing bill in regards to individuals or non-political entities, such as NGOs or residents' associations, contesting elections.

As the meeting kicked off, the committee's chairperson, Nationalist MP Franco Debono, explained that it was the drafting unit headed by former President Ugo Mifsud Bonnici who introduced a distinction between party members and non-members in regards to donations.

Debono said he had warned the Prime Minister that the amended bill would not be accepted by Greco (Group of European Countries Against Corruption), the Council of Europe's committee overseeing political party funding legislation.

He explained that this version was not accepted and that he had re-drafted the bill which is currently being discussed by the committee. The bill is expected to be discussed in Parliament before the next election.

Alternattiva Demokratika deputy chairperson Carmel Cacopardo pointed out that the proposed bill over-regulates political parties and said that parties should qualify as a party if they fulfil two criteria: a democratic internal structure and principles which respect democracy in society.

Cacopardo also asked who would the regulator of political parties be, arguing that any regulator should not be included in the current structure of the Electoral Commission because the commission in nominated by the Labour and Nationalist parties, and since it is part of the civil service, the commission is subject to the directions and authority of ministers.

He proposed that the regulator should be an officer answerable to parliament in the same way as the Auditor General or the Ombudsman. Cacopardo said the Auditor General and the Ombudsman have been two success stories and the political party regulator should enjoy the same independence.

The Labour Party president Stephan Zrinzo Azzopardi warned against introducing "a draconian law" especially in regards to the distinction between the candidates and political parties. "The distinction between the candidate and the party present in current legislation should remain. And the declaration of electoral expenditure should remain the sole responsibility of candidates. Candidates themselves should report directly to the commission and not the parties."

Former Labour secretary-general Jimmy Magro, who currently serves as secretary to the Local Councils' Association, also agreed that the draft law contains over-regulation. Magro said the law went into too much detail on what constituted a party and its hierarchal structure.

In reply, Franco Debono said it was necessary  to have candidates and parties regulated by the same law, otherwise people would avoid party funding rules by making their donations through candidates or district committees.

PN secretary-general Paul Borg Olivier pointed out that elections could also be contested by individuals and other organisations which would not qualify as political parties under the draft bill. He said this raised a number of questions, as it would mean that such candidates would be at an advantage if they are allowed to contest elections under different rules.

While saying that the General Elections Act applied in such cases, Debono admitted that such grey areas still exist and asked the representatives to come forward with proposals in order to cover such eventualities.

Towards the end of the meeting, AD's Carmel Cacopardo said the purpose of the bill should be to regulate the funding of politics as whole, not just political parties.

In his concluding remarks, before adjourning the meeting to after the summer recess, Debono said that the draft bill presented the committee with a good basis for discussion and the final draft to be presented to parliament will include changes discussed at committee stage.

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