A President who is elected by the people, ministers relinquishing their seat in parliament, full-time MPs and state-funded political parties are proposals that Repubblika believes should form part of Malta’s constitutional reforms.
In a report published 100 years since Malta’s first parliament, the civil society NGO suggests that in one single year, donations from any single individual to any political party should be limited to the equivalent of four months’ worth of the minimum wage.
Meanwhile, the total value of donations received by any political party from entities, such as trusts and corporations, cannot exceed 40 per cent of the funding provided by the state.
Repubblika also refers to a debate that recently made headlines when Lovin Malta gave notice that it intended to start constitutional proceedings against party-owned stations.
According to the NGO, there is little doubt that the media are a huge drain on the resources of political parties and an opportunity to work around financing rules through advertising or contracting of government work.
Instead, political parties should renounce ownership of TV stations and other media in exchange for regulated airtime on public broadcasting services. Any such reform must be accompanied by a thorough reform of the regulation of public broadcasting, it notes.
'Will of executive and parliament rulings indistinguishable'
Through its detailed report, which it presented to the Speaker of the House Wednesday, Repubblika hopes to kick off a discussion about reforming Malta’s parliament, ahead of the summoning of the Constitutional Convention.
In the document, it laments the way the government “all too often holds sway on Parliament in such a way that the will of the executive authority and the rulings adopted by parliament become indistinguishable.”
This, it believes, derives partly from the fact that based on the Westminster model, the top level of government has to be recruited from among MPs from the political party that will support the government in parliament.
Partly it derives from the fact that notwithstanding the electoral system, Malta’s political culture has, since 1966, invariably returned a single political party with a clear parliamentary majority and a mandate to govern alone, it says.
And some of this comes from the fact that the executive has in recent years effectively found ways of recruiting all MPs elected on its party ticket to some role within the government making the interests of the government and the interests of the parliamentary majority one and indivisible, Repubblika adds.
The Venice Commission has provided its own recommendations about such issues.
The following are some of Repubblika’s proposals:
- The president should be equipped with a support infrastructure that is under their control and accountable directly to them rather than to the executive or parliament.
- They should also be empowered to refer legislation to the Constitutional Court to ensure the constitutionality of legislation or to push back for reconsideration a law that has been approved by parliament.
- The president is directly elected by the electorate for terms that do not coincide with terms of parliament. This proposal is not without risks: candidates to the presidency will, in most cases, be nominated by political parties and campaigning will quite possibly make it harder for an elected president to eventually enjoy cross-party respect and become a symbol of national unity. Effectively this creates the risk of a ‘shadow chief executive’, a ‘second prime minister’ as it were, which is undesirable. However, direct elections provide democratic legitimacy for the office, especially as it is given greater powers when engaging with Parliament and the government.
- Early elections are only called after the president is satisfied that they are unable to find a prime minister that can enjoy parliament’s confidence.
Separation of powers:
- Parliamentary majorities should be able to recommend to the president the appointment of an individual from outside parliament to the position of prime minister.
- The prime minister should be able to appoint any citizen of Malta to his cabinet of ministers, and, before the government is sworn in, the prime minister must secure a vote of confidence from parliament.
- Any MP that is appointed prime minister or minister, is replaced in parliament by the next candidate eligible through a casual election. The prime minister and ministers will be expected to attend parliamentary debates but are not entitled to vote in parliamentary decisions.
- MPs should not work for the government, whether as employees, appointees, ambassadors, consultants or contractors.
- The role of MPs should become full-time and compensated at a salary scale equivalent to that of professional services.
- MPs are required to relinquish any private work in employment, consultancy, directorship or other during their term of office. Any shareholdings or partnerships must be either disposed of or transparently transferred to trustees.
- At the end of their term-of-office, MPs should be entitled to a transitional allowance, equivalent to their salary, for one month per year they were in office. The maximum duration of this allowance should be two years. If a former MP takes up a mandate in another parliament or a public office, the salary which is received from this new function is offset against the transitional allowance. If the MP is entitled to both an old-age or invalidity pension, they should not receive both, but must choose one or the other.
- Each MP should have a budget for up to two parliamentary assistants to conduct research and provide advice. Engagements of relatives or unqualified staffers would be forbidden.
Term of office:
- Seats are allocated to political parties in proportion to the first preference votes given to candidates contesting on the ticket for that party nationwide. If a political party in an election to parliament gains 55 per cent of the national vote, 55 per cent of the seats in the chamber will be allocated to that party. The seats will be filled by candidates according to their voting performance.
- Any political party that acquires nationwide votes equivalent to a minimum of five per cent of the national vote will be guaranteed a number of parliamentary seats that is proportional to their national vote share. This means that even if no candidate for the hypothetical pink party secures on their own enough votes to be elected from a single constituency, if all the votes secured by candidates in the pink party nationwide put together amount to a number sufficient to elect an MP, the system will ensure that one candidate of the pink party is elected.
- Political parties should be funded by the state to fulfil their function. Funding is to be allocated according to a formula which considers the number of elected officials. However, funding is to be provided to a more limited extent to political parties that do not have any members in elected office provided these parties meet objective criteria (such as the number of registered members) designed to prevent abuse.
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