It is six months since the public consultation on the reform of Malta’s constitution was launched by President George Vella. The process was meant to be completed by last November. For reasons entirely outside the president’s control, political events going to the heart of government combined to throw this timetable into disarray.

We have entered calmer waters. I therefore have no hesitation in returning to the urgent need to kickstart Malta’s constitutional reform. In the words of the Times of Malta’s editorial last Saturday: “If Malta’s democratic credentials are to be restored… the imperatives of implementing wide-ranging constitutional and institutional changes and re-establishing the values of good governance and the rule of law must be paramount”.

I have been examining the public’s proposals for revisions to the constitution on the constitutional reform website  ( At a rough estimate, there have been perhaps 2,000 submissions. It was encouraging to note that there were many which highlighted issues of real concern on which positive solutions were also offered.

Surprisingly, there were none which dealt with the central issue of the introduction of checks and balances on the executive, to which the Venice Commission had drawn stark attention.

It was also disappointing to note that Repubblika’s excellent assessment of the current state of the constitution and the key points to be addressed in any reform – set out in section 2 of their manifesto, ‘A New Malta, A New Republic’ – had not been posted on the website. This document should be required reading by those organising the Constitutional Convention and should be uploaded on it.

I also noted from the website that the steering committee advising President Vella is still composed of six politicians, divided equally between PL and PN. The president has already rightly stated that the major political parties should not be in a position to impose their decisions on the representatives of civil society. I must therefore assume that the website entry is merely an administrative oversight and that the existing steering committee has been stood down (or will be imminently) and replaced by a non-party political membership. 

The steering committee (or, to borrow from Repubblika, the better-named ‘reform governance group’) should consist of not more than 15 members, comprising trusted civil society representatives and individuals who are no longer active in politics. The objective of the reform governance group will be to advise President Vella, in his capacity as chairman and mediator of the constitutional reform process, on the detailed preparation for the constitutional convention.

The constitutional reform process is no less a task than digging Malta out of the reputational pit into which it has fallen

The 15-person reform governance group should also include among its members a broad-based cross-section of six legal, constitutional and academic experts, to be known as the ‘experts group’. The reform governance group’s first task will be to invite the experts group to distil the outcome of the public consultation and to produce an assessment of the state of the constitution today as the foundation for future discussions at the convention. (My personal recommendation is to use Repubblika’s outline in section 2 of their manifesto as the basis for this analysis).

But it is also clear that if the reform project is to succeed, first class administration and organisation will be absolutely crucial. President Vella cannot do it using his existing Palace staff. He must be given the additional human and financial resources to undertake the task. It cannot be done on the cheap, using part-time resources or a total reliance on volunteers.

The aim of this project after all is no less than a comprehensive examination of Malta’s 56-year-old constitution and the issues which have brought Malta to its current sorry pass.

Regrettably, it seems clear that President Vella has to date not been given the additional resources for this crucially important task, and he urgently should be. The project should have full-time, high-grade administrative support (including a senior civil servant as ‘secretary general’ to act as the focal point), and paid, full-time expert advice.

A ‘deputy chairman’ should be nominated not only to support the president in his hugely challenging task (his duties as head of state are very demanding), but also to deputise when constitutional issues affecting the Office of the President are being discussed, as they inevitably will be.

The first step of listening to the public’s proposals for reform is now over.

The urgent need is therefore to get the process under way. The reform governance group, when formed, should start to focus on advising the president on the agenda, conduct and preparation of the Constitutional Convention.

But its major role will lie in drafting proposals for change across a broad range of constitutional issues in conjunction with the Parliamentary Select Committee on the Constitution. The aim should be to produce these for consideration by the Constitutional Convention by the late summer or early autumn. Their joint proposals should focus on key issues for resolution, offering alternative options for change for consideration and adjudication by the convention.

It will be essential to ensure throughout the process that the reform governance group, experts group and parliamentary select committee do not work in silos, but maintain constant formal interaction and exchanges of views under the president.

When it is called, the Constitutional Convention should mark the culmination of the reform process.

The Convention will work to a clear schedule focussing on the specific areas brought forward by the experts group and parliamentary select committee under the aegis of the reform governance group. It will be mediated by the president.

The selection of attendance of delegates to the Convention will include as wide a representation as possible of Maltese public bodies, institutions and civil society. But it must not be so large as to be unmanageable (perhaps around 150 in total). It will consist of several all-day meetings – spread over a period of weeks – allowing time for comprehensive discussion, debate and resolution.

Its outcome should lead to an agreed set of proposals which the parliamentary select committee can take forward to the House of Representatives as a series of proposed amendments to the Constitution in accordance with its current provisions, including a two thirds parliamentary majority.

To sum up, the momentum of the Convention on the Constitution has become stalled. It needs urgently to get under way. The constitutional reform process is no less a task than digging Malta out of the reputational pit into which it has fallen and restoring confidence in its governance.

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