The Malta Independent 5 March 2021, Friday

Adding 12 MPs: Malta already has the most MPs per capita in EU

Kevin Schembri Orland Sunday, 7 April 2019, 09:15 Last update: about 3 years ago

Malta already has the highest number of MPs per capita in the EU, and if Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s plan to introduce legislation that could see a maximum of 12 more MPs added to Parliament, this situation will grow even more.

Malta’s population in 2018, as per Eurostat, stood at 475,700. Malta is meant to have 65 MPs (It is currently 67 due to the proportionality rule).

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The Malta Independent on Sunday used Eurostat as the basis for each of the EU member state’s population data in 2018. The statistics used for each country includes only MPs and senators who were elected directly by the people, excluding those who were not. In cases where the Parliament had two houses  - both directly elected by the people – the number of representatives in both houses were added together and used as a single statistic. The population of that country was then divided by this number to arrive at the average number of people represented by a single elected representative in that country. The statistics excluded local councils and regional bodies.

In Malta, on average, there is one MP for every 7,100 people, by far the highest number of MPs per capita in Europe. On average, the equivalent of a Maltese MP in Europe represents 47,094 people in their country.

A consultative document published by the government recently proposes an increase of 12 women in Malta’s Parliament, which would be over and above those elected under the current system.

This could be a good thing, or a bad one. First of all, the idea of gender quotas is quite divisive. Some people would argue that it would effectively help bring about a fair representation of the under-represented sex in Parliament, while others would contend that it would not result in the person with the most votes getting the job.

Ignoring this situation, however, and focusing solely on the proposed increase in the number of MPs, a number of issues arise. Having so many MPs per capita could increase clientelism, and result in more people voting for someone just because he or she is – for example – their doctor, and not because he or she have good ideas regarding the future of the country.

The country with the second largest number of Parliamentary representatives per capita is Luxembourg. With a population of 602,000, there is one national representative for every 10,033 people.

The German Bundestag has the lowest number of directly-elected Parliamentarians per capita, with each member representing, on average, 116,854 people.

When it comes to salaries, obviously these are different with each and every country, due to the economic situation in the respective countries, as well as the cost of living and other considerations. MPs in the UK’s House of Commons earn a basic salary of £77,379. In Malta, MPs – who are part-time – earn 50 per cent of Scale 1 government salaries, which amounts to an annual salary (honoraria) of around €22,752. Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries earn different amounts, instead of the honoraria. As for backbench and Opposition MPs, there are some differences where, for example, chairmen of Parliamentary Committees earn 65 per cent of the honoraria, as opposed to 50 per cent.

It must be kept in mind that Maltese MPs are some of the lowest paid, but they currently work on a part-time basis, meaning that most of them have other jobs. Arguments have been made to increase the salaries of MPs, as this would ensure better transparency, enable them to focus more on representing their constituents and reduce the risk of corruption. As things stand, career politicians face difficulties in finding work when leaving their position, and Maltese who work in Europe find it difficult to cope with finding a stable job in Malta if they are elected as local MPs.

Back in 2013, the government appointed a committee to design new remuneration methods for the President, Prime Minister, Parliamentary Secretaries, MPs, Chairmen of Parliamentary Committees and others. This newsroom, reporting on the committee’s report in 2015, said: “In the case of MPs, pay would almost triple from the current yearly honorarium to a full-time annual salary of €59,000, which would be halved if the proposal is not accepted and they remain part-time parliamentarians.” One of the aims of the report was to ensure that MPs and Cabinet Ministers are adequately paid for their duties, thus increasing public confidence and ensuring transparency. It is pertinent to note that the Prime Minister, faced with this report, said that he did not agree with pay rises for politicians.

While the option of full-time MPs could very well be needed in Malta, an increase in the number of MPs would result in a higher wage bill.

The idea of full-time MPs has been written about in recent months. Some MPs expressed their support for the initiative. Another idea, floated by former MP Franco Debono, was that full-time MPs should not be considered until the number of MPs is reduced, highlighting the fact that Malta has the highest number of MPs per capita in the EU.

“There is an issue where, for example, people would vote for their family doctor simply because he is their doctor and has helped them. This does not mean he would be a good politician. People would vote for this person, who would then be elected due to the large number of possible MPs, but would contribute absolutely nothing to the political life of the country,” Debono said.

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