Veronique Dalli’s reading of Pieter Omtzigt’s August 5 opinion piece as an ‘unbridled attack’ on the recent constitutional reforms is strange.

Reading the same piece, I found no such attack, unbridled or otherwise.

True, Omtzigt criticised them as incomplete and flawed as they stand, but he also conceded that they are “important steps” and even supported the basic argument she wanted to make that, in her words, they are “fundamental steps in our democratic journey”, when stating that “constitutional reform is indeed an occasion of historical significance, with profound and lasting consequences for the whole country”.

On the other hand, he pointed out that what she describes in her article as the government’s “bold and unparalleled steps” towards these reforms, was nothing of the sort.

The Muscat administration had “dawdled, manoeuvred, and made empty promises, but ultimately failed to act”, he said, while Abela’s was only reined in by the fears of sanctions and the consequences of failing to meet Moneyval deadlines to get its house in order.

In short, far from taking “bold” steps, the government had to be dragged to the altar, acting tardily, from external pressure and expediency, and certainly not from any newly-found fervour for democratic reform in general.

Dalli accused Omtzigt’s article of being “factually and morally incorrect”, but failed to show it. She failed to take him up on his damning charge that “corruption and impunity are a persistent blight on Maltese public life”.

Is that factually and morally incorrect? Tackling that blight, Omtzigt rightly argued, is not an extraordinary choice for which a government should be patted on its back. It is the government’s democratic duty to “remove this blight, completely, once and for all”.

Omtzigt went on to say that its success or failure in this respect “will be judged on concrete results, and by others, not by [Malta] itself”. Is that factually and morally incorrect? I fear not.

Indeed Dalli either didn’t see or didn’t want to see, the first point of his whole article that the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

That democratic reform isn’t achieved simply and primarily, by passing necessary laws, however historical they may be. Equally important is the government’s serious commitment to implement them, and the concrete actions it takes to enforce them with justice.

Passing laws, even historical ones, is the easier part of it. Joseph Muscat’s corrupt and self-serving administration showed just how easy when it passed laws to guarantee freedom of information, whistleblower protection, a fair and rigorous system of political party regulation, and so on, only to make a total mockery of them when it came to their implementation.

Nor did she see his second point that the government’s democratic credentials, though the Maltese themselves may underwrite them at general elections (by re-electing Labour with a landslide result for instance) are, whether we like it or not, subject to the scrutiny of others, Malta’s political and economic partners in the EU and the world generally.

And Omtzigt is pretty blunt about what he thinks that “the entire world” thinks of this country and this administration. “Daphne’s death,” he claims “cast a blinding light on profound weaknesses in Malta’s institutions, exposing a vicious circle of high-level corruption, impunity, and the impression that members of a political elite were above the law.” Dalli doesn’t contest this or any other of these statements Omtzigt makes. Why? Because she knows very well that they are factually and morally correct.   

The same unrepentant lot once led by Joseph Muscat are now led by Robert Abela- Kenneth Wain

In any self-respecting democracy, an election would have followed Muscat’s resignation and the Labour government would have been dumped unceremoniously by the people whose trust it had so glaringly betrayed.

But that didn’t happen, and the same unrepentant lot once led by Muscat are now led by Robert Abela who, to drive this fact home, began his premiership by unconditionally pledging continuity with the Muscat regime, thus confirming his approval and complicity.

This government would have shown real “political guts”, as Dalli describes it, if it had unconditionally acknowledged its part in the political mess Muscat left behind, exposed it in all its detail, pledged itself to redress it with concrete action, distanced itself unconditionally from its perpetrators, first and foremost Muscat himself, apologised just as unconditionally to the people, and seriously cleared out its own stables.

Followed, to quote Omtzigt again, with concrete action to introduce the “high levels of transparency and public engagement” in its administration of the state expected of a mature democracy, and to ensure its own “true – not just formalistic – democratic legitimacy”.

In the absence of any of this happening, the democratic credentials of this government will be taken as seriously as its predecessors. “Allegations of high-level corruption” continue to “disappear into the black hole of [the] interminable magisterial inquiries”, that have become the norm in this country, and that have nothing to do with democratic accountability.

Why, Omtzigt asks, is Abela “ignoring the Venice Commission’s call to reform this ineffective process?”

The answer seems plain; because our democracy has been hijacked by lawyers, by legal professionals who run it in accord with their legalistic thinking and mentality. This apart, we have a disproportionate number of lawyer MPs on both sides of the house which puts in question the ‘representative’ nature of our parliamentary democracy.

The bottom line here is that we need radical reforms that will produce an entirely different kind of parliament made up of full-time members adequately paid and made strictly accountable, ethically and financially, for their behaviour. Such a reform would attract a far richer and more broadly representative house than at present.

It will encourage people from all walks of life to engage with parliamentary politics professionally, and raise its general level from the village pump where it now belongs.

Modern parliamentarians need to be professionals dedicating their energy and full-time commitment to their job and held to high levels of accountability. A modern parliament that responds to the complex world of political, social and economic realities that is today’s world, cannot function in the amateur way ours does.

Kenneth Wain is Professor, Faculty of Education.

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