The ability to identify and withstand attempts at corruption and abuse of power is a vital component of genuine democracy and the mark of a society in which a strong respect for the rule of law is embedded. For too long now this country has witnessed how policies and institutions are manipulated and political decisions are taken to abuse privileged positions for private gain.
The myriad forms that corruption can take need to be addressed systematically by parliament to curb the ease with which public officials can turn rogue.
The Nationalist Party has unveiled an anti-corruption package of 12 legislative bills aimed in part at addressing the consequences of the FATF greylisting of the country. The party says the bills are intended to fight corruption and financial crime and strengthen free journalism and the rule of law.
The bills are built on the best practices promoted by various international organisations fighting corruption in politics. They include proposals on limiting the government’s powers and actions during an election campaign; a law that would force individuals to disclose the source of their unexplained wealth; the creation of crimes of procuring political influence, obstruction of justice and omission of duty by public officers; and an acknowledgement in the Constitution of the vital role of the media.
The thrust of these proposals is the need to hold the powerful to account for the common good. The understanding of what constitutes the ‘common good’ is constantly evolving. What is clear is that the integrity of public officers is a safeguard of the common good but is only possible when effective checks and balances exist throughout the political process.
An essential step in the fight against corruption is the adoption of sound rules on the declaration of assets, income and financial and other interests by politicians, leaders of political parties and political movements, as well as civil servants, judges and prosecutors.
Opposition leader Bernard Grech says that “instead of tightening the belt for small businesses, we want control of the political class”. He has criticised Prime Minister Robert Abela for sleeping on the recommendations of the Daphne Caruana Galizia inquiry.
Abela has shown only lukewarm interest in redefining the terms of political engagement. His mantra of continuity from the way his predecessor conducted politics seems to be deep-rooted in his political thinking.
Rather than taking the opportunity to strike a bipartisan agreement with the Opposition to start cleaning up politics, the Office of the Prime Minister declared it has consulted broadly, as advised by the Caruana Galizia inquiry itself, with local stakeholders and international experts, to set up a committee of experts tasked with making (yet more) recommendations on how to implement those related to the media made by the inquiry. The government deliberately confuses consultation with action.
The committee comes a full six months after the Caruana Galizia inquiry submitted its conclusions and recommendations. Meanwhile, the government is still not acknowledging the importance of recognising the media as the fourth pillar of democracy.
Rather than doing the real work of promoting the common good on matters of good governance and corruption, the government’s spin factory hides behind a gaggle of advisers and consultants, committees and task forces and endless reports and recommendations.
Building a solid anti-corruption institutional infrastructure may not be one of the essential bread and butter issues that influence most citizens’ voting decisions. But it is undoubtedly one of the hallmarks of true statesmanship that is far from evident in the present government’s leadership.
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