Over the past months, the newspapers have seen a never-ending saga as to how the government, in the opinion of some, was impinging upon the constitution of our country. Fast forward a couple of weeks and the opinion of the Venice Commission goes on to prove that the initial intentions of the government were correct.

In its report, the Venice Commission has highlighted that, in fact, bill no. 166 amending the constitution through the amendment of article 39, regarding the right to a fair hearing, should be the way forward. This was made clear in paragraph 97 of the opinion of the Venice Commission, which reads: “It follows that, in the opinion of the Venice Commission, the reform should be achieved through the amendment of article 39 of the constitution.” Hence, the initial intentions of the government, which were blocked by the opposition, were the best possible option.

Contrary to what was stated in the article ‘We were right after all’ (June 3), the government never intended to surpass the constitutional framework, rather, amending the constitution, even with a two-thirds majority, was the chosen way forward in the first place. A way forward which the authors chose to dismiss and dismissed again in the same article by stating that “bill no. 166 amending the constitution is an attempt to reduce our constitutional rights and should be withdrawn”.

It is important to note that neither the government nor I, as the incumbent minister for justice, ever had the intention of drafting any bills to reduce the rights of the people, nor did we ever close the doors to dialogue. The Labour government, since 2013, granted innumerable rights to various minorities. This is the government of rights!

Dialogue is, and was, a primary driving force of this law, so much so that it was the government on my initiative that thought it best to seek the expert advice of the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe. The same Venice Commission which the opposition had used against the country and its people in order to ensure that its reputation abroad is tarnished, putting at risk the livelihoods of many families and individuals.

This is the government of rights!- Edward Zammit Lewis

The intentions of bill no. 166 were simple, we wanted to ascertain that we provide our public authorities with various powers to impose administrative penalties on companies and legal entities which fall under the competence of the an authority itself. Therefore, any decision taken does not fall outside the competence of the public authority which, even today, can impose penalties wheresoever a company, or legal entity, is found in breach of legal provisions.

What is meant to be different is simple: any company which is found in breach of the rules, guidelines and laws under which the authorities operate should be administered an administrative penalty, which remains subject to appeal before the courts of Malta. However, in doing so, one will take account of the yearly revenue. Administrative penalties which are dissuasive, proportionate and effective, as per Moneyval recommendations. We cannot keep on handing out penalties which may sometimes be deemed to be ‘low’ even to companies that have a very high turnover. This leads to an imbalance in the administration of justice.

This government has brought about unprecedented reforms, reforms which have been shied away from even by previous governments who had a quarter of a century to do what was necessary.

Today, these same people write articles criticising the government for taking a proactive approach and for doing what is right, rather than doing nothing.

Taking all of this into account, and contrary to what we were accused of, the government and myself are open to dialogue, not only with international institutions but also with the opposition and members thereof.

We have never closed doors to dialogue and it is along these lines that I expect the opposition to come forward with concrete proposals.

Edward Zammit Lewis, Minister for Justice

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