This country never ceases to amaze me. Every day some new abomination crops up. Indeed, it’s never a dull moment.
First we got the Nationalist Party receiving €70,000 from the db Group for programme sponsorship with the leader of the party refusing to come clean and publish the sponsorship agreement setting out the actual details of the sponsorship (for, of course, there was none) such as to which programmes was the money directed, a breakdown of the amount per programme, the actual content of the programme for which the sponsorship was given, etc.
Now I read in this newspaper an article titled ‘Ministry issued direct order to Labour’s One TV’ (June 30), saying that the Ministry of Finance had approved in December 2016 a direct order to the tune of €50,000 to the Labour Party’s radio and television stations. The request was made by the Ministry for Home Affairs and National Security probably in reverence to the old-age dictum that charity begins at home.
Again, one asks: was this, in the past legislature, the sole occasion where the Labour government handed over, on a golden plate, the people’s taxes or donations received by Malta to its own broadcasting company, One Productions Limited? For what purpose were these monies given? Was it only the Labour Party’s broadcasting media which benefitted from such a direct order or were there other media outlets involved as well?
Why was a direct order resorted to in this case? Did the Labour Party, directly or indirectly, benefit from such monies? Why were the Labour media selected? What were the criteria adopted by the Finance Ministry when approving the direct order? Did it consider the provisions of the Financing of Political Parties Act before making the direct order and what advice was it given thereupon?
Did it act on such advice and, if not, why? Why did the Finance Ministry not insist on a competitive bid rather than resort to a direct order? Has the Auditor General investigated this direct order and what were his conclusions?
It is clear that while Parliament (that is, the government and the Opposition) enacts legislation – the Financing of Political Parties Act in this case – it is both government and the Opposition which devise incredulous means of how to go around the legal provisions in that law enacted through their active participation and consensual approval in the House of Representatives.
It appears that only common mortals have to obey the law and that there is one law for the political parties and another for the rest of society
Why are the government and the Opposition entertaining such disrespectful behaviour in so far as the rule of law is concerned escapes comprehension to any law-abiding citizen.
There seems to be somehow inexplicably ingrained in the psyche of the main political parties in the House that the laws enacted by Parliament bind the commoner, me and you the reader, but not the Nationalist and Labour parties. These two parties consider themselves immune from observing the laws enacted by Parliament to such extent that they may be contravened at will and with no consequence.
Possibly this is so because they consider themselves to be the law and, therefore, as law-giver, they conceive themselves to be above (rather than under) the law. It appears that only common mortals have to obey the law and that there is one law for the political parties and another for the rest of society.
Now even if both political parties come clean (this is, of course, wishful thinking!) the Financing of Political Parties Act is couched in such a way to ensure beforehand that it is and will never be enforced. This is because there is no criminal offence prosecuted before an independent and impartial court of criminal judicature established by law capable of ensuring that an offending political party is punished for any wrongdoing committed by it.
Following the db scandal, the Nationalist Party is challenging the Financing of Political Parties Act to ensure that the Electoral Commission will never ever get round to investigate its misbehaviour and thus the truth – which appears not to be in the political party’s interest to be revealed in this particular case – will remain concealed for ever.
It seems that according to the PN, the rules of transparency and openness are to apply only to a Labour government, not to itself, for if this were to be the case, the PN would not have hid itself – as the Labour government cherishes doing – behind dubious claims of commercial secrecy.
When it came to revealing the FIAU reports, the leader of the Opposition garnered all superhuman courage to do so but when it came to come clean on the db Group donations given to his party he thought it fit to exercise his constitutional right to perennial silence.
As things stand, there is a huge likelihood that the PN will win the case against the Electoral Commission. The latter, as a quasi-judicial body under the Financing of Political Parties Act can impose administrative penalties. But the commission does not – in Strasbourg case law – qualify as an independent and impartial tribunal.
The end result – surely intended to be so from day one of the drafting of the law in question – is that the Financing of Political Parties Act will end up eternally unenforceable, a dead letter, and the Electoral Commission the laughing stock of Malta, not because of its own fault but because of the way it has been reduced by the two main political parties when they decided to apportion among themselves in equal proportions (apart from the chair) the membership of the commission which, as composed, can never guarantee a fair trial.
One of our MEPs in the European Parliament who appears to be detached from the reality in Malta and living somewhere in cloud cuckoo land, spoke in the European Parliament to attempt to convince his listeners – unsuccessfully of course – that in Malta we respect the rule of law.
But how far from reality all this is. What we do respect in Malta is not the rule of law but the rule of the two political parties in Parliament which, to save their skin, will go to great lengths to do everything they can, including, if need be, of usurping the Constitution and breaching the law.
The rule of law has been dead and buried in Malta for quite some time now. The problem is how to resuscitate it and make it work again. This is no mean feat and only time will tell whether Malta will ever come over to walk that path again.
Kevin Aquilina is the Dean of the Faculty of Laws at the University of Malta.