The Malta Independent 19 May 2022, Thursday

TMIS Editorial: Good proposals from a proactive Opposition

Sunday, 16 January 2022, 11:00 Last update: about 5 months ago

The Nationalist Party yesterday week presented what it called a “mega bill” with proposed laws aimed at strengthening good governance and deter mafia-style crime in Malta.

The proposals would see the recommendations made by the board of inquiry into the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia implemented.

The PN, being in Opposition, did not have to “bother” working on such proposals, but it did, which is something to be lauded.

We will not go into the political arguments that have been bandied about, including on how the Opposition copied government proposals or how government wasted six months before acting.

Both government and Opposition have been consulting and working on good proposals that are long overdue.

But the Opposition’s proposals stand out more not only because they are more numerous, but also because the PN knows that these proposals will probably have to be enacted by its political adversary, given that everything points to another Labour electoral victory this year.

The Opposition’s proposals deal with several pertinent issues.

One of the most interesting Bills that is being proposed is on the setting up of a special magistrate on corruption, who would be able to launch investigations on his/her own initiative.

Since corruption is rife in Malta, this cannot but be considered as an excellent proposal. While it is true that some corruption cases have been the subject of magisterial inquiries in Malta, many other cases have been overlooked, and having a special magistrate who would not need permission or approval to launch an anti-corruption inquiry is a welcome step. Having a special anti-corruption magistrate would ensure that corruption cases would be given top priority and are not sidelined or delayed by the magistrate’s “normal” court workload.

Another very important proposal is the Bill that would curb the powers of caretaker governments. The Bill proposes that a government would be unable to pass new laws in the weeks leading up to a general election – a time during which it is customary for incumbent administrations to dish out favours or pass laws that would hinder their succesors.

The PN is proposing that any urgent laws would require the express consent of the Opposition Leader. Furthermore, government would not be able to issue permits, concessions and transfer public land during this time. This would address the power of incumbency, particularly during a time when government would be fishing for votes.

This is more important after Oliver Scicluna’s comments last week, where the PL MP said the practice of favours for votes needs to stop once and for all. It is high time that Malta addressed pre-election abuses.

The PN’s proposals also seek to give greater powers to the police when it comes to investigating corruption, bar politicians from using their personal communications channels (like personal email accounts) for government business, introduce new laws against conflicts of interest, abuse of power and dereliction of duties by public officials and bring about legislation on unexplained wealth.

Of equal importance is the proposed Act to afford journalists a higher level of protection, including their recognition as an important pillar of democracy in the Constitution. The PN is has also put forward proposals to protect the press against vexatious lawsuits, more commonly referred to as SLAPP suits.

Government’s reaction to the proposed Bills was somewhat lukewarm. Prime Minister Robert Abela this week skirted around a question on whether the PL Parliamentary Group would be discussing the PN’s proposals, although Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis said earlier this week that government would analyse them.

The impression shown by both Abela and Zammit Lewis, however, is that government does not need the Opposition’s help because it has already been working on several reforms of its own.

This is certainly not the right attitude. The truth is that the reforms put forward by the PN have not yet been enacted, and it is imperative that they are, as soon as possible.

This is not the time for political bickering. Both parties are drafting important reforms. Government, in fact, has this week appointed a committee of experts to oversee the implementation of reforms to protect journalists.

This is a time when both Labour and PN should join forces for the benefit of the country.

For once, PN and PL should work hand in hand not to score political points but to truly bring about needed change.

Perhaps a joint working committee could be set up to work on, and eventually implement these proposals in a setting where no side tries to take the credit or discredit the other.

Things are finally moving. Let’s not waste the opportunity.

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