The Malta Independent 11 December 2019, Wednesday

TMIS Editorial - Wanted: a government that wants a functioning democracy

Sunday, 16 June 2019, 11:15 Last update: about 7 months ago

The few dozen activists who lined the barricades set up along the streets of Valletta on Friday evening as six of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat's southern European Union counterparts made their way into the city is very much symptomatic of the deeper malaise that is afflicting this country.

We have these voices of reason in the wilderness screaming until they are blue in the face, and we have the government that pays mere fleeting lip service to their demands only when international bodies of clout, such as the Council of Europe or the European Commission, get involved.

We have European politicians who are not willing to listen to these issues, but bureaucrats and technocrats who will. But surely these leaders who descended upon Valletta on Friday are no fools and their embassies would have informed them of the state of play in Malta and of the very serious infringement of the rule of law that most of Europe holds dear.

This week, the government began its purported implementation of the Council of Europe's Venice Commission recommendations to bring the state of our democracy up to scratch.

And in so doing, it is merely going through the motions, applying the bare minimum amount of foundation to the cosmetic overhaul of the constitution, while expecting some sort of gratitude from the populace for correcting the long-standing conflicts and ailments inherent to our basic rule of law.

But the truth of the matter is that bodies like the Council of Europe have only become involved in the Maltese scenario now because these longstanding conflicts and ailments have never been exploited to the extent to which they have been exploited in recent years.

Push finally came to shove so the government cherry-picked one leading matter, the splitting of the dual roles of roles of the attorney general to also provide for a state prosecutor.

But the government was not even able to get that right, or, rather, it did get it right in that it was able to pay lip service, and that was about it by the looks of it.

The former dean of laws at the University of Malta, one of the country's most astute legal minds, whose opinion is to be respected, this week tore the government's feeble attempt to assuage those taking Malta's institutions to serious task.

His comments have been widely quoted in this newspaper, in Parliament by the leader of the Opposition and elsewhere. The State Advocate Bill, in the gentleman's opinion, is merely "a parody of the Venice Commission report," "yet another classic example of how legislation should never be drafted."

Also, "It has conceptual flaws. It is shabbily drafted. It flies in the face of established constitutional doctrines. It is legislative drafting mediocrity at its best. In sum, it is yet another classic example of how legislation should never be drafted."

And he is absolutely correct in so many ways.

But the real crux of the problem here is that the government has, in its extremely flawed way, focused only on the attorney general, which is only one piece of the mosaic that needs to be crafted if we are to bring our rule of law up to scratch.

The government has proffered lengthy explanations to the former dean's scathing critique but, again, it has only focused on the attorney general.

And that brings us to the Council of Europe's rapporteur, who drew up that damning report and who on today's front page is quoted as saying that the government is fundamentally flawed in that it is a piecemeal approach and not a holistic package of reforms.

The reforms recommended by the Venice Commission need to be packaged holistically so that it can be determined whether they are adequate. As matters stand, with a piecemeal approach, the government is able to fudge things over far too easily.

Malta needs to implement all of the recommendations of the Venice Commission, GRECO, and eventually the MONEYVAL - all Council of Europe bodies - "as a matter of urgency," the rapporteur's report demands, as the recommendations form a coherent package and their implementation needs to form part of a holistic process of reform. A pick-and-choose approach will not achieve the necessary results, unless the result one is looking for is a piecemeal result.

And if any further proof were needed that the government has no intention other than to go through the motions of reform to appease the interfering foreigners, take the government's stooge MP at the Council of Europe, Manuel Mallia, who was on Friday exposed by another section of the media as having lobbied other Maltese MPs who attend the Council of Europe to use Friday's Southern EU Summit to lobby against the report.

This after the former home affairs minister quite unsuccessfully attempted to have the Dutch rapporteur removed from the case before he even began his sterling work, and after unsuccessfully tabling close to 50 amendments to the final draft.

Truly a stooge, in both senses of the word.

 

These Council or Europe recommendations are not an exercise in antagonism; they are an exercise in democratic progression and development. But it seems that the only people who do not want a functioning democracy are the actual people in government.


 

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