The Malta Independent 25 February 2020, Tuesday

TMID Editorial: Size matters – A smaller Parliament required

Wednesday, 12 February 2020, 09:14 Last update: about 13 days ago

This newspaper has written several times about the need to reduce the size of the Maltese Parliament, the biggest there is in Europe, considering the population.

With the number of people living in Malta nearing 500,000, having 67 representatives in the House there is an average of one MP for just 7,300 residents. Luxembourg, in second place in this particular list, has an MP for more than 10,000 people. At the other end of the scale, mighty Germany has one member representing more than 116,000 citizens.

It is difficult to convince MPs to go for a law that would reduce their number in the chamber. Fewer MPs mean fewer chances for them to be elected, and so fewer chances of the prestige the post carries with it, and also the perks. So each time the subject is brought up, both sides of the House of Representatives are reluctant to take the matter further.

The latest suggestion for a reduction in the number of MPs came from the Chamber of Commerce. Malta should consider reducing the size of Parliament and have full-time MPs, the chamber recommended in a document containing 60 proposals on good governance, which was recently presented to Prime Minister Robert Abela.

It is unlikely that great attention will be given to this proposal. The fact that Abela has chosen to give a Cabinet role to 26 of Labour’s 37 MPs shows that he believes in wide participation. But we must express our agreement with the chamber, as we believe that a smaller parliament – with MPs who are full-time – will be able to function better and produce more.

With all due respect to everyone, there are MPs who are by and large anonymous in the House, as their contribution is very minimal. We hardly ever hear them speak and we would barely recognise them if we had to come face to face with them in the street. We must say that this is not a situation that is happening in just this legislature – it is something that has been going on for decades.

What is ironic is that although civil society, the media and constituted bodies have for years been calling for a smaller number of elected MPs, we could find ourselves in a worse position if a consultative document presented only last year is endorsed and implemented. The government, last March, had proposed an increase of 12 women in Parliament, over and above those elected under the current system.

Apart from considerations that need to be made on the validity or otherwise of gender quotas, such a proposal would make matters even worse in terms of numbers. Do we really want to increase the number of MPs when everyone except MPs is saying the opposite?

We do implore both the government and opposition to really delve into the matter. We could offer solutions such as a reduction in the number of candidates elected from each district, or a reduction in the number of electoral districts, but we know that these are complex situations that need to be studied and should not be over-simplified.

Still, the chamber’s suggestion – as well as ours and that of others – should not be brushed aside and forgotten.

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