Minister says party financing law will bolster parties’ credibility

Party financing law will 'set parties’ house in order’ justice minister Owen Bonnici says

Justice Minister Owen Bonnici dubbed the party financing legislation as the
Justice Minister Owen Bonnici dubbed the party financing legislation as the "Franco Debono law"

Justice minister Owen Bonnici today said that the draft law on party financing would bring a “radical change” that would bolster political parties’ accountability.

As parliament kicked off the debate on the proposed law on party financing, Bonnici shot down the Opposition's and the Green Party’s proposals to introduce state funding, insisting that this should only happen once the proposed law regulating private donations and the constitution of parties is enacted.

“Let’s first make sure that we set our houses in order by enacting a law which increases accountability before introducing state funding for parties,” Bonnici said.

Insisting that parties were a vital cog in the country’s democratic system , the minister said “it is equally important that parties function well. And that is exactly what this law aims at.”

He added that “from the current laissez-faire state of affairs" the state was laying down a number of clear rules aimed at bolstering parties’ credibility and accountability.  

Dubbing the draft legislation the “Franco Debono law”, Bonnici said that the former Nationalist MP was the law’s main architect and explained that upon being elected, the Labour government launched a process to draw up a law based on the foundations laid by Debono. The former had presented a draft law during the previous legislature which was however shelved by the previous government.  

Noting the lack of trust in the political class in Malta, Bonnici said the new law was aimed at bolstering political parties’ reputation, outlining the parameters of their functions and how they should be financed.

“For the first time ever we’ll have a law which lays down the basic rules and minimum requirements on what should constitute a party, create a registry for parties and give clear guidelines on how a party should be formed and dissolved.”

He went on to thank Alternattiva Demokratika, the Labour Party, the Nationalist Party, the electoral commission and the law students association for their input.

“Accountability is central, and currently parties are not obliged to publish their accounts, but under this law they will be obliged by law to publish accounts according to the standards set by the law,” Bonnici said, adding that these would be scrutinised by the electoral commission.

Bonnici said that the law proposed that the Electoral Commission should fill in the role of the regulatory body, because it had the necessary experience and expertise.  

He added that the commission would be given the authority to engage two accountants or auditors to ensure that it is capable of overseeing the system.

The capping of donations to political parties will stand at €40,000 while anonymous donations are capped at €50. Donations between €50 and €500 will be treated as confidential donations while parties will be obliged to give information on donations between €500 and €7,000. Donations between €7,000 and €40,000 must be publicly declared.

Bonnici also warned that candidates submitting false declarations about the campaign expenses may risk losing their seat if elected. The new law proposes that candidates can spend up to €20,000 as opposed to the current limit of €1,400 and double the amount if they are contesting two districts.

Candidates contesting European Parliament elections will be allowed to spend €50,000, up from the current €18,000, while local council elections candidates may spend up to €5,000.

Opposition insists on state funding 

In his address to Parliament, opposition MP Chris Said argued that government’s insistence on postponing the debate on the introduction of state funding for parties was a mistake.

“The draft law is a step in the right direction, however let’s have the courage to make one further step and introduce state funding to strengthen political parties,” the MP said, adding that this would ensure that parties are not held hostage by private donators.

The PN secretary-general said that political parties “are nothing but tools, the means for the people to fulfil their aspirations” and parties should not expose themselves to the danger of being heavily influenced by private donators.

For this reason, various countries had introduced state funding, which Said said do not exclude private donations. He went on to list the different systems and schemes which are in place in other European countries, including the UK, Ireland, and Luxembourg. 

The MP said the PN was not proposing state funding to make up for its dire financial state, but because it wanted parties to be on a level playing field.

He insisted that although the PN faced financial difficulties, the opposition was in favour of state funding to ensure that “parties are not held hostage by the vested interests of the few” and because political parties needed to be in a strong position to “be the voice of the people.”

Noting that Labour had championed state funding for long years, Said asked “is the Labour Party now against putting parties, including parties which are not in Parliament on a level playing field?”

Said added that the Labour Party was in a “comfortable position” thanks to the public properties in its possession, including Australia Hall in Pembroke and a number of party clubs in prime locations in Malta and Gozo.