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Institutional reform: Four under forty have their say (Maltatoday)

This is my contribution to an article in Maltatoday (17/05/2017) titled "Institutional reform: Four under forty have their say"

Q:    Over the course of the last legislature we witnessed what many see as the failure of the Labour Party’s meritocratic pledge and a crisis of leadership in the police corps and other institutions important for the proper functioning of our democracy. Problems with good governance and transparency have been a perennial issue in Maltese politics and this seems to have gotten worse over the past four years. What changes do you think need to be made to the way our institutions work in order for this to change going forward?

A:      The Independence Constitution we were handed by the British back in 1964 had one big flaw. Most of the powers which used to be exercised by the Governor ended up being vested in the Prime Minister, with very little effective checks and balances. And since we are still a country with a very strong tribal and familial view of politics, the only effective check on the Prime Minister, Parliament, has rarely stood up to its duty.

MPs behave as if their loyalty is more to the Party, however wrong its position is, than to the Constitution and their electorate. And the fact that most of the electorate actually expect that sort of behaviour doesn’t help at all. This has led us to a situation where democracy has been reduced to a vote every five years with a totalitarian rule in between. We simply get to choose who the leader wielding absolute power is going to be, and hope for the best.

The truth is that we never really cried out for this to change because we never had a power-abusing Prime Minister who reached the depths Muscat has. But we now have. We have a Prime Minister who used his powers to order magisterial inquiries at his behest and when he felt the coast was clear, who ordered different types of inquiries depending on who the accused is, who has seen five different Police Commissioners simply because he needs a puppet who acts only on his instructions, who ignores all standard procedures to appoint his friends in the Army’s top brass, who forces Permanent Secretaries to resign from their civil service posts as if the word permanent means nothing, who hands over millions of our hard-earned money to bail out his business friends, who hands over public property for the benefit of his party, and who allows drug-traffickers to walk free because their parents spoke to his ministers.

This has led to a complete breakdown of our institutions. The people do not feel safe any more, because the institutions and the authorities which are supposed to protect them from the abuses of government, have been hijacked by the government itself.

That’s why Simon Busuttil’s first priority is to restore trust in our country’s institutions. And that’s why the first document the Nationalist Party published two years ago was on Restoring Trust in Politics (good governance). Because that’s the most important foundation of a democratic society. Everything else has to be built on that.

To ensure this, we need to have the top posts of these institutions to be appointed by two-thirds of Parliament and not by the Prime Minister. This will guarantee their impartiality and allow them to work, act and investigate without fear or favour.

We also need a Magistrate with investigative powers able to start investigations on his own initiative, without requiring anyone’s instructions.

We also need to reintroduce the prohibition for MPs to sit on boards of supposedly independent authorities, a law which this government removed. How can an authority be independent and serve as a check on government if it is headed by the government’s own MPs? Same should apply to the employment of MPs’ direct relatives in ministerial secretariats and positions of trust. Nepotism should no longer be the norm.

These are some of the fundamental changes Busuttil is promising to introduce. Yes, the first measures he’s promising to implement are the ones curbing his own power. Because he’s not after acquiring power, but after restoring trust in our country and its institutions.

Yes, we need to finally fully embrace the European norms and values of a functioning democracy, and make our country fool-proof from any future Muscat who might try to hijack our country for the benefit of his and his friends’ pockets.

This is what this election is about. It is about addressing our country’s most fundamental flaws, and getting the democracy we all deserve.

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