The Malta Independent 22 March 2023, Wednesday
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Party whips prepare for upcoming parliamentary sessions

Kevin Schembri Orland Sunday, 1 October 2017, 11:30 Last update: about 6 years ago

The Labour Party and Nationalist Party parliamentary whips have both highlighted amendments to the Public Administration Act as an important piece of legislation that will be discussed in the upcomingparliamentary sessions, between now and Christmas.

Parliamentary sittings resume tomorrow following the summer break.

The Malta Independent on Sunday spoke to both Whips - David Agius and Byron Camilleri - about what they believe to be the more important Bills that need to be given priority, and Bills and motions that could stir up controversy.


'We need an effective form of hearing' - PN whip on the Public Administration Act

PN whip David Agius told The Malta Independent on Sunday that the Bill to amend Public Administration Act, which will be discussed in Parliament before the Christmas break, needs to include an effective form of hearing for persons nominated for high-end public posts.

"We hope that we find a solution to the Public Administration Act Bill, as there is a bit of a difference between what is in the Bill and what we believe in."

 "This Bill revolves around scrutiny of public administration posts, including ambassadors, high commissioners, and so on. Not all the posts we want scrutiny of are in the list yet, such as the Armed Forces Head and the chief of police. In addition, there is no hearing. The Bill requires us to send questions by email. It's not a hearing, and this is an important point we would like to put forward to be discussed during our debate next week."

He explained that the PN wants it to be more like hearings, "as was promised," rather than a situation where questions are emailed.

He said that the committee should be entitled to call the nominee to a hearing at a meeting of the Committee only to clarify any matters which in the opinion of the committee have remained unexplained or unclear following the replies to the supplementary questions sent by email.

Speaking about upcoming the parliamentary work, he said that there are around eight Bills before Parliament at the moment. "Most of them will start being debated next week."

He brought up the issue of motions put forward by the Opposition and PN Private Members Bills being debated once every three months, "and we need to talk to the government to change this. On 10 August, we wrote a letter to Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne, who was waiting for the new Opposition Leader to be elected. The new leader will be in place in the coming days, so we need to start discussing putting Opposition Private Members Bills, like the Good Samaritan Bill and others like the motion by Godfrey Farrugia and Clyde Puli to appoint a Committee for the right to life and human dignity, more frequently on the agenda," he said.

"We need both sides to sit down together and find the right time in the agenda of both government and Opposition to have such things debated, rather than wait three months to debate an Opposition motion or Bill. If there is goodwill then we should do that."

Asked about other topics he believes need to be discussed before the Christmas break, aside from the budget, he mentioned constitutional reform. "We need to be serious about this. We must sit round a table and form the base of constitutional reform Bill." He said that such a reform is needed, but did not reveal what kind of constitutional reforms he believes should be pushed through.

He believes that there are a number of laws that need to be concluded. These include the Financial Services Act, the Competition Act and the Public Administration Act, as well as the Budget.

"We also need to conclude the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life. The Prime Minister needs to propose names so that the commissioner can be appointed. We had also asked for Prime Minister's Question Time, which I believe should be introduced."

Public Administration Act is 'another step forward' - Government whip

When asked about the upcoming parliamentary sittings, PL whip Byron Camilleri said the government is duty bound to implement its policies and measures included in its electoral manifesto. "Thus, the government plans to put forward a number of Bills which were promised in its manifesto."

He also drew attention to the Bill that amends the Public Administration Act, calling it "another step forward where persons proposed for certain high-level appointments as provided by the Bill, are scrutinised by a newly set up parliamentary committee. Committee members can ask the proposed appointee any questions deemed fit to which the appointee has five days to reply; regarding supplementary questions, the appointee is to reply within three days. All questions and answers provided, including any supplementary questions, are made available to the public except in exceptional cases as decided by the parliamentary committee." Contrary to Agius' statement, Camilleri said: "Moreover, the appointee is required to attend a public hearing. These measures will bring a new level of high scrutiny in public appointments, with all stages of the scrutiny being available to the public."

Parliamentary reform should be high on the agenda, Camilleri added. "Government plans to enter into discussions with the Opposition to make Parliament more effective, including constitutional reform, parliamentary scrutiny of chairpersons of public entities and ambassadors, the participation of more women in politics, change in parliament meeting times, amendments to the standing orders and mechanisms to safeguard standards in public life. Discussions could not have begun earlier due to the vacuum in the Opposition's leadership. Hopefully, some agreements should be concluded before the Christmas recess, although it is ultimately affected by whether the Opposition's plans to finally cooperate with the government to implement much needed reforms, or adopt a similar approach to the last legislature."

Asked which debates he believes would be controversial, he said: "Controversial debates might be the ones that propose reforms on various matters. Apart from being part of the government's mandate, the political class should understand that by doing nothing on issues that are deemed controversial, it has ultimately decided not to accept the social reality, and fail to protect its citizens."


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