The Malta Independent 26 February 2024, Monday
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Opposition’s list of proposals for parliamentary changes ignored for 18 months – PN whip

Sabrina Zammit Sunday, 3 December 2023, 08:00 Last update: about 4 months ago

The government is showing a lack of respect towards the highest institution of the country, as it continues to ignore proposed parliamentary changes made by the Nationalist Party, Opposition whip Robert Cutajar said.

A letter proposing changes to parliamentary procedures, sent by the Opposition to the Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne in July 2022, has remained unanswered till this day, Cutajar told The Malta Independent on Sunday.

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In July 2022, the Opposition had written to Fearne, who is also Leader of the House, to put forward its own suggestions about the changes that it believes are necessary for smoother and more effective parliamentary procedures.

The letter was signed by then PN deputy leader for parliamentary affairs David Agius and Cutajar.

In it, the Opposition had said that it is ready to also discuss proposals submitted by the Speaker himself 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.

Cutajar said that till now, the PN has presented the same letter a total of three times, but it has received no reply.

Among the proposals made by the Opposition is the introduction of a Prime Minister’s question time, a weekly slot allotted to the PM during which he replies to questions made by MPs. This proposal is based on what happens in the British Parliament, where the Prime Minister answers PQs every Wednesday when Parliament is in session.

Cutajar said that the government is “very comfortable leaving everything as it is right now”, he said, as there were no advancements on the matter.

He added that in the last three months, at least seven PN MPs have submitted questions to particular ministers who always answer back with “I will answer you in another sitting… however, this sitting never comes”. Thus, these MPs had to ask the Speaker himself to intervene.

Delving into other instances on which action has not been taken, Cutajar mentioned the most recent ruling given by the Speaker who said that ministers should not be members of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

Last week Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo was caught passing on a rough draft of questions to economist Gordon Cordina, before the latter was due to testify before the PAC. In his ruling, the Speaker, apart from saying that Bartolo had been incorrect to pass on questions to a witness, Farrugia has suggested that ministers should not be permanent members of the committee.

Cutajar said that in this instance, the PM should have immediately said that he was taking note of the ruling given by the Speaker and acted accordingly by removing both Bartolo and government whip Andy Ellul, who serves as parliamentary secretary.

A second proposal made by the Opposition in the July 2022 letter is that Opposition motions are not discussed once every three to six months, as is currently the case. The letter suggested that this should happen every alternate Thursday, with Cutajar explaining that the Opposition should have more time assigned to it to present its views on subjects of national interest. This suggestion has also been ignored, Cutajar said.

One other suggestion the Opposition is proposing – and which was not included in that particular letter – is that the 30-minute time slot for PQs is adhered to.

At present, the Speaker, among other duties, reads any rulings during these 30 minutes, effectively reducing the time allotted for PQs.

The voice of the PN is being suffocated in every way,” Cutajar said.

In the letter, the Opposition also insisted that Parliament should have a special committee dedicated to justice, saying that this should be chaired by a member of the Opposition but with a majority of members from the government side.

Again, there was no reaction from the government. A few weeks ago, the Opposition put forward a motion to set up this committee, which is still to be discussed by the House.

On a different matter, Cutajar noted how PN leader Bernard Grech is allocated only one driver, “who has to work from Monday to Sunday”.

The PN has presented an official request for the Opposition leader to be allocated another driver so that they can both work a normal 40-hour week roster.

Despite receiving endorsements from the finance minister and the Speaker, the government raised objections when the matter was presented before the House Business Committee. This contradicts the principle that Parliament should operate autonomously, Cutajar noted.

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