[WATCH] PN may file legal challenge over party financing watchdog • PL attacks 'PN credibility'

Nationalist Party says that “well overdue” party financing bill should not appoint the Electoral Commission as watchdog, says political parties should have capping on spending.

Nationalist MPs Chris Said and Claudio Grech. Photo: Ray Attard
Nationalist MPs Chris Said and Claudio Grech. Photo: Ray Attard
PN may file legal challenge over party financing watchdog

The Opposition may institute a legal action to challenge the government’s decision to appoint the Electoral Commission as the watchdog over the political parties’ financing, arguing that political parties should be “on the same footing.”

Despite conceding that the party financing bill is “well overdue” and an accessory to greater transparency, the Nationalist Party’s is insisting that through the envisaged laws, there would not be any financial capping on the spend of the political parties, and that in addition, the decision to vest the Electoral Commission with the authority to act as a watchdog over party spending should be reversed.

Speaking during a press conference at parliament, Nationalist MPs Chris Said and Claudio Grech explained that at present, each party in parliament has four members on the Electoral Commission. The Chairman of the Commission is then appointed by the presiding on the advice of the prime minister.

“The appointment of the chairman gives the party in government a majority and as a result, sensitive financial information could be leaked through to parties. Instead, the Opposition is proposing the appointment of a Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Parliament. This regulator would enjoys the confidence of two thirds of MPs like the Ombudsman and the Auditor General,” Said argued.

The Nationalist MP also expressed his qualms at how the Electoral Commission would not be “the most independent body” to carry out the necessary checks and balances on the parties’ financing.

Denouncing the decision. Said explained that the Opposition is not ruling out the possibility of mounting a legal challenge.

“The law is clear that parties should be on equal footing, and consequently, if this law is prejudicing the rights of the Nationalist Party, then the Opposition does not rule out instituting a legal action,” he said.

The Nationalist MP said that in spite of the opposition’s “credible” proposal, this was rejected by the government. Likewise, he said, the government did not agree that all public properties should be passed directly back to the state to ensure “an level playing field.”

“This proposal was only turned down because the government would be better off if it does not change,” he said. Moreover, Said also argued that the renting of government-owned land for “peanuts” is also tantamount to a donation – especially if this land is yielding profits – and that this should also be included in the party’s accounts.

On his part, Nationalist MP Claudio Grech insisted that despite the fact that the party financing Bill is “well overdue”, this should not be “half-baked.” The economy shadow minister explained how the standards of political parties should conform with those of companies.

“If a party has any commercial interests, irrespective of whether it has a minority shareholding, these must also be reported. Through this bill, a party can no longer accept donations from trusts or corporations if their ultimate goal of the donor is unknown,” he said.

Taking umbrage at Said’s comments, the government argued that it could not understand the Opposition’s criticism, as the Electoral Commission was the constitutional organ successfully oversaw previous elections.

“How can the Opposition be taken seriously when it says that the electoral commission is fit to oversee the elections, only for it to then attack the commission as the watchdog for the financing of parties,” it said.

Similarly, in a statement, the Labour Party insisted that the Nationalist Party and Simon Busuttil had no credibility to criticise the law, as it had failed to introduce it in 25 years.

“More so, the Nationalist Party has shown that it does not have confidence in constitutional institutions such as the Electoral Commission … This step will lead to the regulation of parties to act in a transparent manner,” it added.

More in National