Opposition leader Lawrence Gonzi said this evening that it should be a parliamentary select committee which should be tasked with discussing a review of the Constitution.

Dr Gonzi made his comments in a message to the third edition of The President's Forum, which discussed constitutional reform.

Both parties in parliament have long said they wish to bring about Constitutional reform. The government has proposed a Constitutional Convention and appointed Franco Debono to prepare its terms of reference, amid protests from the PN over the appointment.

The forum, held at the Tapestry Chamber in the Palace in Valletta, was opened by President George Abela, who welcomed the fact that constitutional reform was now on the agenda.

During the three-hour discussion, those present heard various proposals for reform as well as calls for the next text to be subjected to a referendum rather than just approval in Parliament - where the support of a two-thirds majority would be required.

Various proposals were made, including an improved electoral system for full proportional representation according to the votes cast, full-time MPs, and a new code of ethics for MPs and senior civil servants.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat in a video message said the government had a mandate to convene a constitutional convention and talks were under way on the form which the convention should have. Malta, he said, needed a constitution that was less dictated by political parties, but inclusive of civil society. It should reflect current reality. It was important, he said, that a wide strata of society was involved.

Dr Gonzi, in an e-mailed message said the PN looked forward to contributing to the discussion but suggested that this should be piloted by a select committee.

Carmel Cacopardo, speaking for AD argued that Malta should have a secular constitution - everyone's belief should have equal weight. The prohibition of discrimination according to sexual orientation should be given more importance, he said. And while the present Constitution declared environmental rights it did not enforce them.

Those present for today's event included Auxiliary Bishop Charles Scicula, Speaker Anglu Farrugia, Chief Justice Silvio Camilleri, Franco Debono, MPs and ambassadors.

Former Speaker Michael Frendo reiterated his call for autonomy for Parliament from the civil service and for changes that would strengthen the role of minorities in parliament. He suggested that a mechanism could be introduced so that it would not depend on the government whether on not private business was discussed in the House.

He also argued that the speech at the opening of Parliament should be made by the head of government, not the head of state.

Ombudsman Joseph Said Pullicino insisted that the constitution should serve the people. Changing all of the constitution was not necessary, but the document should be examined. "It's not time for a second republic - this is a political slogan, and one should be motivated by legal ideas, rather than political ones. Change should result from mature discussion implemented in the current constitutional framework, it should look forward and ensure continuity. These changes should not just be in the hands of the representative chamber, but also in the people's hands: the constitution is there to serve the people and not the state," he said.

He noted that there was no constitutional obligation that the executive in parliament kept to its electorate programme and was held accountable as such.

He also made reference to how the state should assume responsibility when civil servants failed the people. He added that the Ombudsman and the Auditor-General should be given greater means - such as more fora for debate on their findings - rather than just reporting their findings to the House.

Judge Giovanni Bonello referred to decisions taken by the constitutional court which declared particular laws as un-constitutional, noting that declarations only applied to that person who opened the case.

When the constitutional court declared that a law went against the Constitution, the law remained valid for as long as parliament said so.This meant that the supremacy of the constitution was being ignored.

Prof Kevin Aquilina, Dean of the Faculty of Laws, called for a comprehensive review of the constitution and said it should be approved by the people through a referendum - so that they could identify with it and make it theirs. However there should be continuity from the previous Constitution.

A new Constitution should ensure that all new state entities were held accountable for their actions, and the Constitution should clearly include circumstances when ministers and parliamentary secretaries should resign.

The new Constitution should include a Council to advise the President, criteria for presidential pardons and a consultative committee to consider petitions for pardons and compensation.

Among other points, the forum heard calls for removal or updating of the provisions on neutrality and non-alignment and a review of the appointment of Constitutional bodies such as the Broadcasting Authority.

 

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