President’s role in leading constitutional reform ‘exceeds limits of his powers’, NGO says

Repubblika said it would rather continue to enjoy the protections given by the present imperfect constitution that accept one re-written with the intention of protection political parties

Repubblika members: from left, Manuel Delia, Robert Aquilina, Karl Camilleri, Marion Pace Asciak, and right, Sammi Davis
Repubblika members: from left, Manuel Delia, Robert Aquilina, Karl Camilleri, Marion Pace Asciak, and right, Sammi Davis

The NGO Repubblika has questioned President George Vella’s role in leading a process of constitutional reform, arguing that the role exceeded the limits of his powers.

“In spite of his undoubted good intentions, such participation amounts to exceeding the limits of his powers and responsibilities within the Constitutional bounds that define his role today,” the NGO said in a statement. “That is hardly an encouraging start to a process that is supposed to redefine those limits.”

Last week, Vella launched a public consultation process in which he asked members of the public and civil society to submit their feedback on how the constitution should be changed.

Repubblika said it appreciated Vella’s remarks that the process of constitutional reform should not be limited to the interests of Malta’s two main political parties.

“We are however concerned that the first steps in the process do not appear to meet this objective,” read the NGO’s statement.

It argued that the public consultation was “extremely limited” in scope with people submitting suggestions on an individual basis, with nobody being aware of what has been submitted.

“As far as we can tell, political parties will then filter these submissions retaining those that serve their interest and discarding the rest,” Repubblika said.

“We reiterate that the constitution is intended to limit the power of governors and therefore the governors themselves are completely unsuitable decision makers on how their powers should be restricted.”

The civil society group went on to say that irrespective of “whatever moral authority President George Vella might hope to have the government has repeatedly demonstrated its determination to use its unhindered control of Parliament to implement constitutional changes that serve its own interests”.

It pointed to a call by the government for the recruitment of a State Attorney, who will be appointed as a result of “constitutional changes that were not discussed by anyone outside parliament”.

This, it said, indicated that the process launched by Vella “could very well be a front behind which political parties implement the changes that best suit their interests”.

Repubblika added that “behind-closed-doors Constitutional reforms have, in universal historical experience, led to compromised democracy, restraint on human rights and the exculpation of tyranny under the guise of high sounding but unenforceable principles”. 

It said it had submitted its proposals following last week’s call, adding that it expected the decision-making process in the reform to be made public.

While stating that they have submitted their proposals for the constitutional reform, following the formal call for suggestions by George Vella a few days ago, Repubblika said that it expects the decision-making process to be public. 

“The least we would expect is for the decision-making process to be determined at the outset and to be made publicly known so that politicians would not be in a position to decide what to debate and approve in Parliament without first having made any public commitments on how they would ensure public awareness of and support for the changes they introduce,” Repubblika said.

It added that it would rather continue to enjoy the protections given by the present imperfect constitution that accept one re-written with the intention of protection political parties.

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