How do we fix the Maltese Republic in 2020? We asked 10 people...

Muscat’s bid to create a ‘second republic’ had long been dead in the water before his premiership crumbled under the weight of the Daphne Caruana Galizia assassination probe. We asked thinkers and opinion-makers how to fix the pieces of the broken Maltese republic...

Alex Grech

Did we ever really care about the republic? Let alone want to fix it?

We find ourselves nursing a nationless state with a neo-liberal hangover, fearful of a tanking economy, the loss of jobs in 2020 and the disdain of the international community. Yet – at a historic moment when populism has rooted elsewhere, when liars in public office thrive, win elections, call truth ‘fake news’, purposely erode trust in experts and public institutions, and unashamedly rule for the benefit of the few – is our republic that much out of sync with the workings of the global post-truth society?

Alex Grech
Alex Grech

If we wish to temporarily entertain the idea that we need a system to fix our republic before our politicians get us into a bigger fix, I can only cling to the notion of radical reform to our education system. You’ve heard it before – some variant of the Finnish system, without exams, with critical thinking and media literacy included as a component of all compulsory subjects, starting from primary school.

Will parents and teacher unions, themselves the product of a punitive, one-size-fits-all system, support change? Will it happen in my lifetime? I don’t think so.

I regularly ask my first-year new media students at University if they are interested in politics and about 2% raise their hands. I ask if they are jaded, if our relationship with systems of power is inexorably tied to the cult of the leader and patronage via the tools of hegemony and clientelism. They blink, since they assume that a new media class is about digital marketing and the holy grail of becoming a ‘social media influencer’ and little to do with asking questions about society, culture, meaning and power.

We have spent years making sure that discourse about the political is banned from the classroom, with the exception of the teachings of the Church. Why should we be surprised if young people remain fearful of challenging the right of others to lead them, or the right of their parents to bequeath them a partisan legacy?

Stop demolishing your grandmother’s house in the village. Stop converting it into ugly flats. Stop back-building into her garden. Start the process for constitutional change which ensures that our voting system is truly proportional, as opposed to simply favouring the two-party system. Then start asking why new media literacy is not part of the curriculum.

How’s that for a sudden fix for the moribund republic?

Dr Alex Grech lectures at the Department of Media and Com- munications, University of Malta

Mark Camilleri

The country needs a war against the mafia and the rent-seeking elite which have captured the country and also robbed us of the Labour Party in broad daylight while we were distracted doing something else.

Malta has a history of parasitic local magnates and rent-seeking elite. Most of the economic development which took place in the island has taken place thanks to foreign direct investment and foreign capital. Most of the local magnates act like parasites who are not even net-contributors to our economy.

We have to begin cleaning up the local corrupt rent-seeking elite, but we also need to dump all the Labour Party officials and ministers who still have strong ties with these rent-seeking elites.

Simultaneously, we also need to restructure the economy by retaining and increasing the inflow of foreign direct investment and foreign capital, but also ensure that abuses and rent-seeking are purged from the economy. We need to bring back important principles of social justice in the economic restructuring process – we need to build affordable housing and raise the minimum wage.

We, the left in Labour, believe Chris Fearne will deliver, but we will rebel again if he lets us down.

Mark Camilleri is executive chairman of the National Book Council and a Labour Party member

Carmel Cacopardo

The Republic requires much more than a quick fix. At Alternattiva Demokratika we have drawn up a document outlining the various issues which need to be addressed in a Constitutional Convention: ranging from an increased role for Parliament in running the Republic to the President’s Office having some real bite. Others have done a similar exercise producing a number of proposals worth considering.

Carmel Cacopardo
Carmel Cacopardo

At the end of the day, however, the elephant in the room is clientelism, which is ingrained in practically all things Maltese. It is not a modern phenomenon but it has been capable of adapting itself, such that it is practically ingrained within and around the electoral process.

There in nothing untoward in constituents turning on their MP or district candidate to seek guidance in navigating the bureaucratic labyrinth of government departments and authorities – even though the “customer care” in departments and authorities, nowadays offers reasonable help.

Things take a wrong turn, however, when such contacts between MPs/election candidates start being used for developing short-lists for state benefits with political loyalty contributing to a high position in the perceived short-list. This is resulting in cashing favours into votes and vice-versa.

The basic incentive for such exercises is the nature of our electoral system in which each and every electoral candidate in an electoral district does not only compete with opposing parties on the basis of vision and ideas. Depending on his contacts and power of incumbency, an electoral candidate can also use the local electoral system to dish out favours post-election or to cash favours already done before the election date.

This is not a new invention. It has been used and perfected since 1921 when the single transferable vote (STV) electoral system was put in place by the British colonial masters. There are various examples which illustrate the manner in which it has been applied. One of the earliest goes back to May 1922, when just six months after the first elections making use of the STV, a motion was brought before the Legislative Assembly accusing the then government of having committed abuses in terms of promotions, transfers, payment of salaries and management of the civil service.

Clientelism in Malta has very deep roots. It prioritises individual interests over the common good. If not checked once and for all not much headway can be made in the long road to achieving good governance in the Republic.

Carmel Cacopardo is chairman of Alternattiva Demokratika – the Green Party

Adrian Grima

Having all the right institutions, all the right watchdogs and authorities, and trying to make sure they do what is expected of them is fine. But it won’t necessarily fix our republic because institutions are run by humans. And humans both shape, and are shaped by culture. And culture, as Helen Spencer-Oatey has said, affects behaviour and interpretations of behaviour.

Adrian Grima
Adrian Grima

We do need to rethink the mechanics of our republic because in some crucial ways they have failed us big time. But one of the issues we have been facing since Independence, for over half a century now, is essentially cultural. “To really understand a culture,” writes Spencer-Oatey, “and to ascertain more completely the group’s values and over behaviour, it is imperative to delve into the underlying assumptions, which are typically unconscious but which actually determine how group members perceive, think and feel.”

What kind of underlying assumptions have allowed us to get into the mess we’re in? The convenient partisan blame game won’t help. It never has.

Independent Malta has invested heavily in education. Many more Maltese people than ever before read, study and travel abroad. We know all about the mistakes other countries have made in their development model. And yet we have chosen to embrace an economic model based on rabid development and the commodification of everything. This savage model is ruining our quality of life. You will find all the details in the reams of environmental and social impact assessments gathering dust on the shelves of the authorities meant to protect us from the sharks.

Our current Minister for the Environment has patronisingly warned us to steer clear of “false nostalgia” when we protest about overdevelopment and the stranglehold of interest groups. That’s very convenient. What we’re talking about here is quality of life. For everyone. Whoever they are. Wherever they live. This is not about false narratives.

How do we imagine our “national” community outside the logic of individual or specific group interests? The accusation of “false nostalgia” is a way of forcing us to accept a republic that is being shaped for us by a select few, despite our objections, against our will. It is based on the narrative that this is the price we have to pay to have jobs and live decent lives. To interpret our predicament as the result of a national community getting the kind of government it votes for, and deserves is to try to sell another false narrative.

One way forward, I suppose, is for common people who have the common good at heart to reclaim and reconstruct the Republic. It will take more than a redefinition of the role of the prime minister, or the creation of yet another authority to do so. We need to define, or redefine our community. So the National Cultural Policy launched in 2010 is another good place to start. We need to redefine the culture of community that will shape the kind of nation we want.

Prof. Adrian Grima is a writer and associate professor in the Department of Maltese, University of Malta

Michael Grech

Let me ask another question: what is the Republic? The most obvious platitudinous answer would be: “We are the republic”. But then it becomes pertinent to ask: “Who are the ‘we’?”

The cliché the original question involves is evident if one then asks: “What is it concerning ‘us’ that needs fixing?”

Michael Grech
Michael Grech

MaltaToday’s invitation to address the question asked us to consider it in light of issues that concern “public life in Malta: parties and financing, broadcasting, the electoral system, the courts and police, good governance in ministries and the public service.”

But this reflects a middle-class bias which, somehow condescendingly, presumes that our concerns and issues are the issues of the Republic simpliciter... That other members of the Republic may have other issues which they would – rightly – prioritise in terms of fixing: issues concerning the inability to make ends meet of a sizeable chunk of the population; the concrete possibility some members of the Republic face of ending up homeless when their lease terminates; the erosion of the spaces where many of us live; and, if ‘the Republic’ is also made to include people who come from abroad and who are contributing to the Res Publica through their work and activities, issues that concern their vulnerable legal status and, possibly, that of their loved ones... is excluded a priori.

So since (perhaps in my wishful thinking rather than in actual fact), for various moral, political and religious reasons, I would like to think of myself as supporting these most vulnerable members of our Republic, I would answer the question “How do we fix the Republic?” by suggesting that wages and welfare are increased substantially, that measures are adopted to curb the price of rent, that public spaces are defended and enhanced, and that the rights and well-being of people who are vulnerable because they were not born on our islands are safeguarded.

Reforming ministries and the public service, regulating party financing and broadcasting, changing the electoral system, and dealing with problems that concern courts and police will, in itself, achieve nothing in relation to such issues.

Still, though not the most important issues on the Republic’s agenda, matters concerning the financing of political parties, broadcasting, the electoral system, the courts and police, good governance in ministries and the public service, are important and also need to be addressed. Here, however, I do not want to discuss in details what I believe ought to be done (for instance regarding party financing, I believe that there ought to be limits to the donations or sponsorships an individual or group may contribute to a party; that a law be enacted so that broadcasting outlets are forced to disclose the individuals or groups that own them; that magistrates and judges are appointed following an examination rather than by politicians) or what I consider to be non-starters (like the silly idea that to prevent corruption, the salaries of politicians ought to be heftily popped up, as though corrupt politicians take bribes out of poverty!

What I would like to point out is that any institutional reform, though necessary, will not be sufficient for good governance. That unless a number of circumstances are addressed on the ground, circumstances that concern features like the clientelist culture which has been dominant on our islands for centuries; and others that concern the economy (both at end where people are scraping a living and at the other end where people are competing for a tender – political patronage is advantageous if not indispensable)... any top-down reforms are bound to fail.

Michael Grech teaches philosophy at the Junior College of the University of Malta

Claire Bonello

Let’s start off by admitting that “the Republic” didn’t just fall apart this last year. It’s been an inevitable downward rush as nearly everybody took leave of their senses and started acting irrationally.

Claire Bonello
Claire Bonello

I say “nearly” everybody because there were those who kept on pointing out that this crazy “economy-on-steroids Mega Malta” was an unsustainable, inequitable bullshit story which should have set alarm bells ringing. These people were ignored and ridiculed as boring sticks-in-the mud standing in the way of progress. What brought about this crash is the irrationality which possessed so many sectors.

In the first place, it is irrational to have this all-out adulation for one person and give him unfettered powers. This is a recipe for disaster and it holds true for all politicians of whatever stripe. Endowing a politician with God-like stature is inherently dangerous as it inevitably brings about the bypassing of all regulatory checks and balances. Fandom belongs to the realm of Jurgen Klopp, Daniel Craig and Cristiano Ronaldo admirers and stops there – it should not extend to our rulers. And I say this because this sycophantic adoration of ministers continues unabated, with people tripping over themselves to post arse-licking congratulations for every non-event posted by ministers.

With this silly level of adulation, how are we going to keep these ministers in check? They’ll simply rely on their ‘prosit ministru’ party to justify their obscene decisions. So that’s one thing we should put a stop to - stop salivating over ministers and start scrutinising them properly.

Another thing that we should do to “fix the Republic’ is to stop imagining that tinkering with the Constitution - or even its wholesale reform - can be some kind of silver bullet to end the lack of enforcement and culture of impunity. It won’t. We have laws and rules in place - they are adequate if not perfect. Unfortunately they are mostly disregarded by people in power and decision-makers with no spine and no balls - soulless jellyfish who cause immeasurable distress and injustice to everyday citizens through their inaction and cowardice. A law rendering them personally liable for their decisions would be a good way to shake things up.

In the meantime, we have to continue shouting the words which the Italian Coast Guard Gregorio de Falco told Captain Francesco Schettino as the latter crashed and sunk the cruise liner under his command: ‘Vadi a bordo, cazzo!’ (Go back on board, d***head). We should demand that our politicians assume their responsibilities and steer the ship of state safely to port, instead of preening around snapping selfies.

Claire Bonello is a lawyer and environmental campaigner

Carmen Sammut

The Republic is pushing 50 and it urgently needs a new health regime. Unprecedented crises have shown that the two traditional political pillars are now standing on shifting sands. Smaller parties have not gained ground and in 2019, the far-right emerged as the third party. Most Maltese are fatigued by decades of polarised politics.

Carmen Sammut
Carmen Sammut

In 2013 many voters were genuinely willing to suspend their disbelief and to hope for improved governance. Instead, everything indicates there was a betrayal of trust. I am not surprised that many are facing ample dissonance. The crisis of public trust cuts across the political divide, where key figures seem to be trapped in hubris. At this point everyone seems to be talking about Constitutional reform, but we must tread carefully, lest we repeat Italy’s malaise after tangentopoli.

The chilling accounts around the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia have rendered the rot transparent and indicate areas where parties must act. Court hearings exposed the incestuous relationship between politically exposed people and leading business players, and in turn, how these befriended individuals who dabble with the criminal underworld. The stories that are emerging are surreal and more sickening than we ever expected.

On top of this, we were brutally awakened to the vulnerabilities of small states in the context of global wheeling-and-dealing. It is extremely easy to destabilise a microstate, exploiting the foibles of individuals in power. The Republic’s reputation is now severely tarnished, and this impacts on our image and identity.

But not all is dark and murky. In mythology, the Phoenix regenerated from ashes. Our Constitution is based on sound communitarian and social principles and emphasizes fundamental rights and freedoms. The main questions revolve around the composition and roles of Parliament, the Executive and the Judiciary. Then there is a much-needed review of other articles that include those pertaining to Local Councils and Constitutional bodies like the Broadcasting Authority.

Most of our challenges are linked to demographic pressures and smallness and so external models may not always fit like a glove. The state needs to reconnect with civil society and academia on crucial issues like waste-management, mobility, the protection of the natural environment and the preservation of urban and rural areas, including hamlets. Civil society is also crucial to sustain the pace of the civil rights agenda and issues that are related to gender equity and social inclusion.

In this hall of mirrors, we must step out of our echo-chambers. We need good leaders, a wider range of critical thinkers and public intellectuals and more trustworthy media so that we are equipped to remain vigilant and avoid further delusions. We must all play a part to fix the Republic.

Carmen Sammut is associate professor and pro-rector of the University of Malta

Andrew Azzopardi

How do we fix the Republic? This is the same question that we posed a couple of weeks ago when the Faculty for Social Well-being hosted an open dialogue and over 100 people from various walks of life came to the University of Malta to discuss how best to untangle this socio-political mess.

Andrew Azzopardi
Andrew Azzopardi

At this point I believe the first thing we need to hang on to is our anger and to avoid slipping into smugness. If we mellow down, that space will be filled by the insolent forces saying “the economy is doing well” or “that Malta has always been like that and cannot change” mantra – and we are simply back to square one: complacent and self-absorbed.

These are seven quick reflections that should help us re-calibrate our Republic:

  1. We lack direction, which is a crucial ingredient in a republic. This is a country destitute of leadership whether at local or national level, whether it is in the Church, the social partners or within political parties.
  2. Warming up to a neoliberal, value-less political discourse spelt disaster. These last years have left us completely devoid of unselfish and self-sacrifice politics and life became simply a case of personal advancement. We need a refreshed direction.
  3. We need to urgently address the misogynist political landscape that has short-changed us of a great deal of latent potential. We need more, many more, women at the helm.
  4. It is not true that ‘we’ did not allow the institutions to work. It’s those institutions that faltered that are culpable when they did not work because they lost their trustworthiness. A number of institutions like the National Audit Office, the Ombudsman, academia, civil society, the Standards Commissioner are working effectively because they have retained their integrity.
  5. This easy access of citizens to politicians and people in power is lamentable and inexcusable, it needs to change. Our electoral law needs to be burnished from the bottom up.
  6. The business community has too much influence on the political class. We need to create a firewall between the two.
  7. I am of the opinion that healing our republic needs a thorough Constitutional rethink. There has never been such a timely opportunity to start this process which could look at the gaps we have in our governance and government and heal the pus that surfaced in our wounds.

Andrew Azzopardi is Dean of the Faculty for Social Wellbeing, University of Malta

Raisa Galea

Clientelism is one of Malta’s societal ills enabling corruption and endangering democracy. Beneficiaries of clientelistic networks do not challenge abuses of power perpetuated by their patrons since clients’ prosperity depends on the patrons’ success.

Raisa Galea
Raisa Galea

Clientelism itself is sustained by the district-based electoral system. A reform originally proposed by Godfrey Pirotta to abolish the electoral districts and run elections with one national constituency would be an effective way to weaken clientelism. This result could also be achieved through different means. Giving non-Maltese residents a right to vote or introducing accessible paths to obtaining citizenship by naturalisation could have a major revitalising effect on Maltese society and politics.

Extending the right to vote in national and local council elections to foreign residents, including third country nationals, could cause a significant blow to clientelism. Since non-Maltese residents move to Malta alone or together with a small number of family members, they do not belong to extensive family networks which form the foundation of the clientelist structure. And this is why they are more likely to vote for policies and principles rather than immediate personal favours.

Considering that a large number of non-EU residents are paid minimum wage and thus not prospering, their inclusion into the electorate could finally revive the real left-of-centre politics. The needs and demands of this – least affluent – section of the population would have to be addressed by the political parties, which in turn would benefit the interests of lower-class Maltese people, making them a force to be reckoned with. It would also prevent politicians from scapegoating foreign workers and pandering to xenophobia.

I am not versed in law enough to suggest a legal pathway to implementation of this reform. This might require another amendment which would guarantee transparency of obtaining citizenship by naturalisation, since the Minister for Home Affairs and National Security currently has the discretion regarding the grant of citizenship, which makes the process rather arbitrary and vulnerable to abuse.

Raisa Galea is editor of IslesOfTheLeft.org

Michael Briguglio

I believe that if we want to ‘fix the republic’, we should first try to understand the status of Malta’s democracy. We should ground our analysis into the realities of a small island state.

Michael Briguglio
Michael Briguglio

We should give due importance to evidence-based social scientific analysis of its social structures and networks, but also of agency, of people’s everyday lives, affiliations, aspirations, concerns, identities, commonalities, differences and plural realities. We should investigate the intersection of political, economic, cultural, social, ecological and other factors.

Such analyses can nourish concrete proposals for change such as Constitutional Reform. We should ensure that the constitution gives due importance to Malta’s small size: For example, the proximity of politicians to electors, the multiple hats people wear, and the personalisation of politics cannot be ignored.

The methodology of constitutional reform should foster deliberation. To date it is not clear what type of methodology is being adopted. There should be an expert review of possible methods of consultation; transparency in the analysis of public feedback; peer review of the entire process; and impact assessments of proposals that are followed through. Qualified experts, citizens, civil society, constituted bodies, minorities and political parties should have ample space and time to deliberate, beyond quick fix solutions and sloganeering.

Some areas which I believe should be given priority within constitutional reform include accountable governance, institutional autonomy, finance of political parties and candidates, professionalisation of parliament, individual rights and responsibilities, checks and balances, press freedom, political education, structured and evidence-based policy making, the role of civil society and the mainstreaming of sustainable policy.

Through constitutional reform we can help avoiding having Prime Ministers who have excessive power and lack of accountability. But let us also keep in mind that in a liberal democracy a governing formation can only be replaced by another one – and this requires people’s support.

Michael Briguglio is a sociologist and senior lecturer at the University of Malta

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