Our islands have always experienced turbulent times. We were dominated by foreign powers and were servants of our masters.
This situation remained till June 7, 1917 when, at long last, our forefathers protested, and shed their blood too, in their quest for a better life.
The 1921 Constitution started the ball rolling. Our politicians faced huge opposition from the colonial government and as a result of Church dominance and, most of all, because of the local servitude mentality, that is those who thought that without foreign rule we would not be able to manage.
Every time our voices started getting louder and our efforts bearing fruit, either our Constitution was taken away by the colonial authorities or the Ecclesiastical authorities felt their divine right to rule was threatened.
After WWII, several colonised countries began demanding independence. In Malta we still depended totally on foreign income and employment generated by the British military base.
The new political leaders started asking for more self-rule. We also demanded integration, which was almost accepted until the Suez Canal problem made Britain realise it was no longer a world power. It was then that the British decided to reduce their foreign bases in most countries.
Malta asked for Independence in 1962/3 and got it in 1964. Ten years later, Malta became a republic with its own head of State. Slowly but surely Malta could mould its own destiny and progress in all areas started being registered.
Enormous progress has been made in all sectors and we are even better off than others in terms of our high standard of living. This is thanks to all politicians, past and present.
Individual mistakes had been, are and will continue to be made but politicians must be credited with the good they have secured for this country.
Politicians also go together to ensure that the party winning the majority of popular votes will have the right to govern. This eased political conflict but we still have issues that need to be addressed.
I have some suggestions to make to ameliorate our political system.
We need full-time politicians.
Political parties should attract people with strong convictions who accept to be full-time MPs if elected
Political parties tend to approach people who are popular or exercise a professional not mainly because of their political and personal convictions as politicians but because they are popular and so attract personal votes. But what about their beliefs and convictions? We had cases in this legislation when the professional jobs of the elected came first.
We also had politicians changing sides both now and in the past times, shifting from one political side to another or becoming independent. Here, lack of conviction and party rules were completely thrown out of the window.
There are then uncomfortable if not controversial situations, such as lawyers appearing before a judge/magistrate they themselves would have appointed. Or an architect submitting an application for a client to the planning authority board consisting of people they themselves as MPs would have chosen. Medical doctors may be tempted to distribute free medicine (samples) and issue sick certificates to patients hoping to get their vote.
I do not think this is the way forward for our politicians.
Political parties should attract people with strong convictions who accept to be full-time MPs if elected. MPs’ salaries should also be such that attract valid individuals with political convictions who, in the present circumstances, prefer to stay put.
Given the numerous laws and by-laws need, MPs need to be full-timers backed up by adequate staff/offices to be on top of things and updated. Thus, they will also be in a position to do their homework and prepare their interventions in Parliament rather than express views in a parrot-like manner.
I also believe every MP should declare his/her and the partner’s not by tabling such declarations in Parliament, as happens now, and making them the subject of gossip, but by submitting them to the National Audit Office for verification.
If any discrepancies or illegalities are flagged, then a report on that particular individual should be made to Parliament. Thus, while privacy is respected the declarations made can still be verified.
The time has come for the Speaker’s Office to be independent, enjoying complete autonomy. This will help Parliament become better organised.
Also, politicians must watch their language and the way they behave. That would certainly contribute to raise their image.
Likewise, politicians must make every effort not to damage the name of Malta, especially abroad, through their comments or actions.
Parliamentarians need to adapt themselves to more open systems of government because citizens are increasingly demanding a more open transparent and clean administration.
Transparency, a good image and more openness are compulsory in a civilised country and a healthy democracy.
Both collectively and individually, past and present politicians have helped in making our islands a better place to live in. Other countries marvel at and admire our achievements and several of their citizens are even choosing to settle here.
May we have responsible and creative leaders who, though having different views, can work together to boost the economy and improve the standard of living.
Improvement and progress should always be possible.
Lino DeBono is a former Labour MP.
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