The Malta Independent 18 April 2024, Thursday
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TMID Editorial: Should Parliament change?

Tuesday, 7 February 2023, 09:49 Last update: about 2 years ago

A number of changes to Parliament should be considered.

Being such an important institution in our democracy, Parliament should strive to be as efficient as possible, but should also ensure that it acts as a watchdog on the work conducted by the government.

There are a number of things which can be done to improve Parliament. First of all, the idea of Prime Minister’s Question Time should be introduced – this would be a time slot allotted once per week or perhaps once per two weeks where MPs would directly ask questions to the Prime Minister.

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This is a practice used in the UK’s Parliament, and should also be introduced locally.

Another issue there revolves around the length of time MPs are allotted time to speak during parliamentary debates. It’s just too long. The European Parliament’s method, where the main speakers of each party are allotted more time than the rest, while other MPs have a few minutes to speak, is more efficient. Too often MPs either go completely off topic, or end up repeating what the previous speakers had already said. It just isn’t an efficient use of time.

There are of course other issues that need to be addressed, such as the composition of the Standards Committee,  the lack of discussion of Ombudsman reports, the question of full-time MPs and whether Malta should go down that route, some way to tackle abuse of parliamentary privilege, the need for more resources to be made available to MPs who are not in Cabinet - such as perhaps by providing researchers  who could help MPs conduct research about bills since MPs are currently part time and don’t have the resources members of Cabinet would have, and so on and so forth.

We need a national discussion about ways to improve parliament and, of course, many of the changes should require a 2/3rds majority vote in Parliament.

The Speaker of the House, Anglu Farrugia, had reiterated his wish for the introduction of a citizen’s right of reply to statements made about them in Parliament which they feel aggrieved by.

This might not, however, go far enough if what was said in Parliament is injurious and has no relevance in a national debate or public interest issue.

The Opposition had sent a letter to Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne six months ago saying that it is ready to discuss the Speaker’s proposals in the House Business Committee. The Opposition had also given a list of its own suggestions which, in its opinion, should be discussed with the government. So far, no reply has been given, PN Whip Robert Cutajar said.

The PN’s proposals included Prime Minister’s Question time, that Opposition motions are not discussed once every three to six months, as is currently the case but should rather happen every alternate Thursday, and the setting up of a special committee dedicated to justice, among other things.

The government has every right not to agree with proposals being made, but it should hold a debate about them.

Why shouldn’t we debate possible ways to change parliament if some of the proposals could be good for the country? Just because one party is currently in government, in the future that party might be in opposition, so it makes sense to find ways to ensure the best possible practices.

 

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