Prime Minister Joseph Muscat on Sunday pledged that his government would implement the recommendations set to be published on Monday by the Council of Europe’s rule of law experts, known as the Venice Commission.

“We understand there is the need for a better balance of power. We have no problem acting, as this is in line with our reformist frame of mind,” the Prime Minster remarked.

“While the government’s official position will be published tomorrow, I can pledge that overall, government subscribes to the recommendations and is willing to commit itself to carry out the necessary changes,” he added.

Dr Muscat pronounced himself on the matter during the Labour Party’s last political activity for the year, held at the Fgura club.

In a statement published on Friday, ahead of the report’s full publication, commission called for better checks and balances to ensure proper rule of law on the island.

It warned that Office of the Prime Minister was at “the centre of power”, while important actors such as, the President, Parliament, Cabinet, the Judiciary, and the Ombudsman, had too weak an institutional position to provide sufficient checks and balances.

In his speech, Dr Muscat insisted that since 2013, the only change enacted by the Labour government in terms of the Prime Minister’s powers was to remove the absolute prerogative of the holder of this post on the appointment of the members of the judiciary.

While before the Prime Minister could nominate any lawyer with seven years of experience, such appointment nowadays has to be scrutinised by various bodies like the Attorney General, the Chief Justice and the National Audit Office. The Prime Minister could only decide from a list of candidates provided to him on the strength of this grilling, he said.

Looking forward, he said the government had no qualms about implementing further changes to the country’s institutions, which he noted, were largely based on the 1964 constitution.

He added that the government would have to bank on the Opposition’s support, especially in areas where changes required a two thirds majority. He noted that most of the laws requiring reform had been enacted by the Nationalist Party, he noted.

Addressing Malta’s infrastructural needs

The Prime Minister said Labour was addressing long-term infrastructural needs which had been neglected, such as the road network. Widening roads would make it possible to prioritise certain means of transport, he noted.

In 2019, a further 225 electric vehicle charging points would be installed, bringing the total to over 400. The Prime Minister noted that buses were carrying 50 million passengers per year, including more than 21,000 youths traveling for free. The latter figure would rise to more than 27,000 through the extension of this scheme. Dr Muscat pledged that government’s ultimate objective was to offer a punctual and reliable free bus service to all.

He also pointed out that the €700 million budget to upgrade roads was over and above large-scale projects like the new Addolorata Cemetery and Kappara junctions.

Malta-Gozo tunnel

Dr Muscat remarked that news of the publication of the tenders had left many in disbelief amid scepticism as to whether this project would ever materialise. He said the government spent the last five years analysing the impacts and feasibility of this project.

He warned that one of the major issues would be the disposal of the large volume of rock which needed to be excavated, which would amount to three times the total construction debris generated in a year.

While noting that rock was a “resource” he said that a study was underway to determine how to use it to construct an artificial reef.

Gozo Cultural Capital?

The Prime Minister floated the idea on the possibility of nominating Gozo as European Culture Capital in 15 years’ time, following what he described as the positive Valletta 2018 experience.

“This would be a huge opportunity to place Gozo on top of the agenda and turn it to a cultural magnet,” he said.

€100 bonus for students

Turning to education the Prime Minister said that 14,000 students would this month receive a €100 bonus.

“We left it out of the budget speech by mistake. This comes from the same party which had been accused of wanting to remove stipends,” he remarked taking a dig at the Opposition.

Environment

Dr Muscat said that six weeks since the introduction of the organic waste scheme 3,000 tons of domestic waste had been collected - equivalent to the entire amount of last year.

Acknowledging that such scheme might be unpopular, he said that not doing anything meant having to sacrifice an area like Magħtab every eight years.

2019 – Year of reforms

Looking forward, he remarked that 2019 would herald unprecedented infrastructural and institutional reforms, as well as a change in mentality.

Caruana Galizia inquiry

Earlier, Justice Minister Owen Bonnici said a constitutional court judgment on Friday was an eye-opener against holding parallel inquiries, such as that the government was being asked for in the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

The judgement, in a case instituted by one of the accused in the oil scandal, found breach of fundamental human rights because of questions the applicant was asked during a public inquiry while procedures in court were underway.

“This is why we refuse to have a public inquiry on Daphne Caruana Galizia. We are not against a public inquiry, but not concurrent to other criminal proceedings,” he said.

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