Malta needs more political parties, German experts say

The Sustainable Governance Index suggests that a move from Malta’s two-party system to a multi-party system may erode this us-against-them polarisation

The bi-party system was the main target of criticism, as the report points out how this is perpetuated by an electoral system that does not include a minimum national threshold for a party to send members to parliament
The bi-party system was the main target of criticism, as the report points out how this is perpetuated by an electoral system that does not include a minimum national threshold for a party to send members to parliament

The two-party system has encouraged a winner-takes-all approach, which has “bred a destructive politics of division and mutual distrust” according to German foundation Bertelsmann Stiftung.

The foundation recently published its Sustainable Governance Index (SGI), ranking Malta’s quality of democracy at 35th place. This is behind countries like South Korea, Chile, Greece, Italy, the USA, Czech Republic and Lithuania. Sweden is in the top spot, followed by its Nordic neighbours.

The report suggests that a move from Malta’s two-party system to a multi-party system may erode this us-against-them polarisation, which has damned Malta to a persistent culture of impunity.

“While accusations of corruption have been a common method of attacking the government of the day since 1921, it is also evident that accusations made by Opposition parties are rarely investigated, suggesting that there is no real commitment to fight corruption,” the report reads.

According to its by-laws, Bertelsmann Stiftung prides itself as a foundation committed to promoting “science, research, religion, public health, art and culture… democracy and social engagement,” consistently publishing rankings, conducting model projects and sharing expertise.

The SGI, published earlier this week – identifying reforms needed in 41 countries – diagnosed Malta’s democratic handicaps and suggested ways forward.

The bi-party system was the main target of criticism, as the report points out how this is perpetuated by an electoral system that does not include a minimum national threshold for a party to send members to parliament.

“This has enabled the two major political parties to utilise patronage and clientalism to retain their grip on power. Consequently, there is little faith that they will weaken their own political position by reforming the electoral system,” the report reads.

The report also suggests that Maltese MPs should transition to full-time.

“Malta’s part-time MPs continue to demonstrate a lack of expertise on many policy issues. MPs generally prioritise their private careers over parliamentary business, lowering their contribution to government,” the report says.

For this reason, Malta falls into the lower-middle ranks in the index on executive capacity and accountability despite increases in rank relative to 2014.

The report highlights several improvements, such as the increased consultation with civil society, the newly formed Parliamentary Standards office, and the increased proactive role of the National Audit Office.

It mentions Malta’s 2004 accession to the European Union as the flint for social, economic and political liberations that the country experienced in the past few years under a Labour administration.

With the EU’s liberal ethos on divorce, which Malta adopted in 2011 against Catholic Malta’s bellicose final stand, the door was opened to the relaxation of censorship laws, extended rights of diverse gender identities, recent reproductive rights and legislation on domestic violence and the right to employment for disabled persons being codified.

Malta has extended maternity benefits and provided free child-care centers, enhanced pension rights and increased assistance for the elderly, upgraded health services, and embarked on a €50 million social housing project.

With these significant improvements, corrupt practices too increased, the report suggests.

“Widespread clientalism and corrupt practices are not a new phenomenon, but access to greater resources make them more lucrative,” it says, adding that construction, for example – an industry that traditionally drives the Maltese economy – saw an increased demand with an economic boom and a soaring population and this opened the doors for unbridled construction and a government programme of privatisation which lacked, at times, public consultation, transparency and accountability.

The report criticised the splitting of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority into two authorities, threatening what remains of Malta’s “green lungs.” This is why the SGI’s rankings for Malta places the country in 30th place, also due to Malta’s pathetic renewable-energy share, just 5%.

“The country is buying Bulgaria’s extra emissions allowances… in part because of the high dependence on cars and the growing dependence on air conditioning,” it said, adding that biodiversity is threatened by development and the increase in building-permit grants, and new policies for hunters.

Malta’s most significant improvement, the report reads, is the significant gains with regards to economic policies. “Growth rates have been exceptionally strong, and unemployment rates have fallen to low levels.”

But, even here, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows as the document calls Malta’s tax-evasion controls “ineffective” and the Research and Development sector “underdeveloped.”

Malta is below average in the SGI ranks for quality of democracy, policy performance, environmental and social policies, executive accountability and executive capacity. Only in economic policies does Malta do slightly better than the average ranking.

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