The Malta Independent 2 December 2023, Saturday
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A sinner judging another?

Mark Said Sunday, 21 May 2023, 07:37 Last update: about 7 months ago

In November of last year, Malta was appointed to a body tasked with assessing violations of Commonwealth values. This body is a so-called ministerial action group that assesses violations of its core values and recommends measures to restore democracy and constitutional rule in member countries. Created by Commonwealth Heads of Government in Auckland, New Zealand, in 1995, the action group has in the past scrutinised and even suspended Commonwealth members for egregious rule of law violations, though it has not taken any such major decisions for well over a decade. Its activities, composition, and remit are reviewed every two years.


The body was set up as a mechanism to deal with serious or persistent violations of the principles set out in the 1991 Harare Commonwealth Declaration. These values are now encapsulated in the Commonwealth Charter. Since it was established, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) has suspended member states on seven occasions. Suspension from the Councils of the Commonwealth entails the exclusion of a government from all Commonwealth intergovernmental meetings and events, including ministerial meetings and CHOGM, as well as a halt to new Commonwealth technical assistance other than that directed towards the restoration of democracy.

For sure, on the face of it, it is an honour for our country to serve on the Commonwealth’s ministerial action group. But let us not forget that it is the government and its delegates that will go about undertaking such a task. Having established this point, it is of fundamental importance, before proceeding further with my views and comments, that one get a good and comprehensive grasp of what the core Commonwealth ‘values’ are and consist of.

There are no fewer than 16 such values. They range in importance from the fundamental precepts of democracy, human rights, freedom of expression, the rule of law, good governance, sustainable development, and protecting the environment to the role of civil society. Of course, most of those values stand out more than others when analysed in a local context. We all know that charity begins at home and that, before one can be in the best position to lead others in championing the above-mentioned core values, one must have his house in order and get the act right.

As far as human rights and democracy are concerned, for example, Malta might easily be a shining example of how these can be implemented and observed in practice. The same can be said concerning international peace and security, tolerance, respect, and understanding.

Moving on to freedom of expression and the role of the media, however, Malta’s credentials in assessing other Commonwealth nations in this very important sector might easily turn suspect. Can we truly assert that we are committed to peaceful, open dialogue and the free flow of information, including through free and responsible media, and to enhancing democratic traditions and strengthening democratic processes from this point of view? Is it not true that our journalists, especially those from the opposite political camp, cannot boast of feeling safe and secure in going about their journalistic work? Is it not true that, more often than not, full access and transparency to vital public information are somehow denied? Is it not true that our national broadcaster has not always observed full political impartiality and full, objective reporting?

And can we truly claim full marks for upholding the rule of law? By Commonwealth standards, the rule of law truly exists if and when there is an assurance of a limited and accountable government. In particular, this must be supported by an independent, impartial, honest, and competent judiciary, while an independent, effective, and competent legal system is integral to upholding the rule of law, engendering public confidence, and dispensing justice. Have we lately been honestly and fully conforming to such standards in Malta?

Good governance, then, comes up for review. The core values of the Commonwealth Charter lay down that a proper promotion and observance of good governance can only come about through the rule of law, to ensure transparency and accountability, and to root out, at the national level, systemic and systematic corruption. Yet, good and bad governance are not simply about ministers behaving badly and/or unethically. It includes the entire process by which public institutions conduct public affairs and manage public resources, and our government’s record, to date, remains glaringly deficient.

There are two other core values for me to comment upon: sustainable development and the protection of the environment. Sustainable development consists of pursuing inclusive growth while preserving and conserving natural ecosystems and promoting social equity, whereas protection of the environment these days consists of addressing the adaptation and mitigation challenges of climate change and facilitating the development, diffusion, and deployment of affordable environmentally friendly technologies and renewable energy, as well as the prevention of illicit dumping of toxic and hazardous waste as well as the prevention and mitigation of erosion and desertification. Our government, albeit indirectly, has more than once admitted and acknowledged that we have been lacking for years in these spheres, and it is only now that due importance is being given to them.

Our government tends to suffer from sanctimonious tendencies. Owing to this superiority complex, it brags about being more right than others. It has been in the rat race to prove itself more virtuous and sagacious than all others. It is time for it to stop suffering from a falsified notion of relative superiority and to refrain from continuing to look through the wrong lens. Above all, it must do away with the false sense of infallibility that is threatening to take its toll on the fate and future of our society, with the grave consequence of failing us in many ways.

All this notwithstanding, one sincerely augurs that our government will manage to undertake the task entrusted to it during its two-year tenure within the ministerial action group in a most admirable manner.


Dr Mark Said is a lawyer

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