The English say that he who pays the piper calls the tune. We Maltese put it differently, with a proverb that better portrays the state capture facilitated by politicians along the years, culminating in the post-2013 atrocities.

There is nothing money cannot buy is what we mean by bil-flus tagħmel triq fil-baħar: with money, you can even build a road across the sea – or, perhaps, some mammoth structure in an outside development zone, after uprooting decades-old trees and securing a development permit on the same land denied to others. That money can also build a power station the country does not really need or be used to finance the privatisation of national health facilities as if they were some commodity…

The Church’s environment commission noted the other day that, considering how and to whom certain permits are granted, one cannot help but wonder if there are any obligations attached to the donations politicians seek from businessmen.

It defined such donations as an “investment” for the future.

The outgoing president of the Malta Developers’ Association, Sandro Chetcuti, told Times of Malta in an interview this summer that politicians’ constant quest for donations is such that it sometimes feels like harassment.

Times of Malta has just reported that a company linked to the Labour Party fronted a draft “consultancy” deal that would have seen it receive up to €200,000 from 17 Black owner Yorgen Fenech. This could have been an attempt to disguise funding from the Tumas Group magnate.

Former Nationalist Party leader Adrian Delia had also faced accusations of accepting money from Fenech.

It is not just political parties that ask for donations but electoral candidates too.

The Church’s environment commission also raised the issue of underpaid MPs, proposing that they should be adequately remunerated in such a way as not to be tempted to turn to businessmen and developers for donations that are eventually exchanged for favours when the politicians assume power.

A law providing for state funding of political parties could, therefore, contribute to eliminate the culture of donations for favours that has been nurtured over the past years.

However, such a system cannot be administered by a body which is, for all intents and purposes, appointed by the leaders of the two main parties, as is the case with the electoral commission under the 2016 party financing law.

Instead, it should fall under the remit of a constitutional body that is completely outside the control of political parties and the government, perhaps roping in the chief justice, the ombudsman, the auditor general and the commissioner for standards in public life under the chairmanship of the immediate past president of the republic.

In a report a few months prior to the enactment of the 2016 law, GRECO, the Council of Europe’s group of states against corruption, had urged the Maltese authorities to eliminate any gaps, where appropriate, via further legislative changes, to help secure a higher level of public trust in the political institutions and political parties.

The public inquiry into Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder also called for the strengthening of party financing legislation and suggested administrative practices that regulate, in an adequate and effective way, any relations between the public administration and businessmen.

It has become an urgent matter to drastically modify and robustly regulate the way political parties are financed, given the scope for corruption and rampant development that the current system allows. However, if taxpayers are to fund the parties, these must be always fully accountable to the public.

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