Edward Zammit Lewis, Justice Minister, has been euphoric on the constitutional changes agreed between the Labour government and the Nationalist Party. He describes it as a historic agreement.
It is however pertinent to point out that the agreed changes have been arrived at between Government and the Opposition behind closed doors. Once more public consultation has been discarded. The Constitutional Convention, currently in limbo, has been once more undermined. As emphasised earlier this week by Pieter Omtzigt, Dutch rapporteur of the Council of Europe on Malta and the rule of law: paper reforms are not enough.
In contrast to their public statements on the need for a constitutional convention, the parliamentary parties are continuously doing their utmost to undermine it. They seem to believe that they have some divine right to dictate the required improvements to the constitution. In so doing they continuously short-circuit public consultation. The Constitution belongs to all of us. Parliament has no right to impose constitutional changes without adequate public consultation.
The agreement relative to the election of future Heads of State by a two-thirds parliamentary majority, for example, while being an improvement on the present state of affairs, contrasts sharply with a Green proposal submitted to the Constitutional Convention, which proposal would require that local councils should be directly involved together with members of parliament in the process to elect a Head of State.
By deciding on the change behind closed doors the PNPL in Parliament have effectively short-circuited the public debate on this proposal. The election of the Head of State should not remain the prerogative of Parliament. Democratic representatives at a local level should be actively involved in this selection too.
In addition to improving the method of selection of the Head of State it is about time that we consider whether the incumbent should have the authority to refuse to sign legislation approved by Parliament which, in his/her opinion, is anti-Constitutional.
Greens have proposed to the Constitutional Convention that the Head of State should have the authority to send back to Parliament, for its reconsideration, any legislation which he/she considers to be in conflict with the Constitution. The Head of State, in terms of the constitutional oath of office, is bound to defend the constitution yet no constitutional tool is provided in order that this defence can be carried out. The Head of State’s moral authority is not enough to defend the Constitution whenever Parliament feels that it should ignore its provisions.
Other sections of the media are currently highlighting the role of political TV and radio stations. Maltese Greens have time and again drawn attention to the fact that the political media is a misfit in a modern democracy. Even in this respect a Green submission to the Constitutional Convention advocates the dismantling of the political stations within the framework of a radical broadcasting reform. PNPL have an interest in procrastinating a debate which could lead to their being cut down to size and losing control of the broadcasting waves.
Where do we go from here? The proposals pending at the secretariat of the Constitutional Convention are many.
As a result of a PNPL agreement, the President of the Republic has been appointed to lead the Constitutional Convention. The Head of State is presumably coordinating the input received with the assistance of a committee made up of PLPN representatives. This exercise has been going on for ages, since well before the current President was appointed. Whatever progress has been possibly achieved is not known as everything, so far, is being done behind closed doors. Unnecessary secrecy has also invaded and taken control of the Presidential Palace!
It is about time that instead of having piecemeal adjustments to the Constitution, this is given a complete overhaul after adequate public consultation. Paper reform behind closed doors, the preferred method of operation of the PNPL is definitely not acceptable.
Published in The Malta Independent – Sunday 9 August 2020