“Malta is a republic, that embraces the foundations of a democratic system with a separation of powers. In other words, as with other democracies, there is a legislative branch (Parliament); an executive one (the cabinet of ministers); and a judicial branch (the courts).”
This quote is lifted from the official Malta government portal: gov.mt.
In today’s circumstances, this quote is best described as fake or, rather, obsolete. Malta once had separation of powers and an effective system of checks and balances.
But this is no longer the case.
Power today is concentrated in the hands of the Prime Minister who effectively and manipulatively assumed control over all state institutions. This is not just the opinion of the Opposition. It is the opinion of countless expert re-ports, including the GRECO and Venice Commission.
The Opposition cannot and will not be part of the systematic dismantling of the country’s democratic credentials. We will not play ball in a game that benefits the few against the national interest.
That is why, last week, two Opposition Members of Parliament, Marthese Portelli and Ryan Callus, resigned from the Planning Authority and the board of the Lands Authority respectively.
Since gaining Independence, Malta’s democratic credentials have oscillated.
We have had periods where institutions were allowed to function independently of the government of the day. We have had times when supposedly ‘independent’ institutions became the longa manus of government, acting only when government pulled the strings.
There is no prize for guessing where Malta stands today.
This quote from the Venice Commission report says it all: “(the) prime minister is at the centre of power and other actors (President, parliament, cabinet of ministers, judiciary, ombudsman) have too weak an institutional position to provide sufficient checks and balances… The wide powers of appointments, that the prime minister enjoys, make this institution too powerful and create a serious risk for the rule of law”.
The government has made sure that all executive positions in the public sector are filled with people who, in this government’s par-lance, “can be trusted”. This is the polite way of saying that these people can be trusted to do what government orders them to do.
The Commissioner of Police will act only if and when instructed to.
High-profile cases of money laundering and corruption were not investigated because those involved are close to, or even part of, the government.
Just this week, the court, in a case instituted by the NGO Repubblika, again decreed that three senior government ministers are to be investigated by a magisterial inquiry in relation to the scandalous Vitals hospitals deal. Why didn’t the police launch their own investigation into this contract worth hundreds of millions of euros which reeks of corruption?
The Opposition cannot and will not be part of the systematic dismantling of the country’s democratic credentials
I had to take the unprecedented step of taking legal action against the Attorney General because he is creating political imbalance by denying the Opposition’s request to have a copy of the Egrant report, which report was made available to the rank and file of the Labour Party.
The Attorney General chairs the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit (FIAU) and yet failed to take action when FIAU reports recommended that action be taken against Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri. The institutions’ inaction on these high-profile cases in part brought Malta to the brink of becoming a blacklisted country.
Sixteen out of 17 judicial appointments were given to people who are close to the Labour Party.
We are already seeing the impact of these appointments with certain judgments raising more than an eyebrow. When this government appoints a ‘person of trust’ to public office we should not just look at what this person will be getting but at what government, or specifically, the Prime Minister, will be getting in return.
With the police, Attorney General and the courts in the hands of government, those in power can literally get away with murder.
The power of government, of the executive, also extended into Parliament. A few weeks after becoming Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat changed the law barring sitting Members of Parliament from serving on government boards.
The Commissioner of Public Standards said this practice is fundamentally wrong and that this “practice dilutes Parliament’s role of scrutinising the executive; goes against the underlying principles of the Constitution; goes against the Code of Ethics of Public Employees and Board Members; places MPs in a position of financial dependence on the Executive and hence reduces the independence of MPs”. This state of affairs cannot continue.
Our country faces a second fight for independence, this time not from a colonial government but from a government that colonialised all state institutions.
The Opposition is taking up this fight, as is civil society and the independent media. We will not participate in this institutional meltdown which is translating into heavy losses for our country: reputational damage, environmental degradation, pilferage of state assets and abuse of our tax monies.
We are fighting in the courts, in Parliament and the media. The resignations of our Members of Parliament from two government boards is testament to our resolve.
Adrian Delia is the leader of the Nationalist Party. This is a Times of Malta opinion article.