In my contribution entitled ‘The 2nd Republic Constitution: what’s it for?’ (The Sunday Times of Malta, December 9) I questioned a number of constitutional issues (such as whether judgments of the Constitutional Court finding legal provisions unconstitutional should have erga omnes force and whether the Attorney General should serve as a prosecutor and adviser to government at the same time).
Incidentally, the same issues, along with others, were underlined by the Venice Commission in its opinion delivered on December 17, 2018, on constitutional arrangements and separation of powers and independence of the judiciary and law enforcement.
One member of the Opposition was quick to observe that the Commission’s findings reflect Joseph Muscat’s attempt at weakening our institutional positions to provide sufficient checks and balances.
This is, in itself, a very serious statement that cannot go unnoticed. To verify whether such a statement is founded, Muscat’s handling of constitutional affairs after becoming Prime Minister needs to be assessed.
Muscat became Prime Minister in March 2013. Hitherto, Malta was practically ruled by a Nationalist administration. Muscat’s government was elected with an unprecedented majority because several thousands of Maltese citizens (myself, included) were presented with a third way alternative. In 2017, Muscat was returned to power with even a greater majority.
So, which constitutional amendments promoted by Muscat’s government in the last five years have weakened our democratic framework, as is being alleged?
The following constitutional amendments took place during the first Muscat legislature (2013-2017):
In 2014, the Constitution was amended so that fundamental rights and freedoms were extended to every person, regardless of his or her sexual orientation or gender identity
In 2014, the Constitution was amended so that fundamental rights and freedoms were extended to every person, regardless of his or her sexual orientation or gender identity. Likewise, the notion of protecting people against discrimination was also extended to people of any sexual orientation or gender identity;
In 2015, Parliament introduced a number of unprecedented provisions with a view to regulate the formation, inner structures, financing and functioning of political parties;
In 2016, the Speaker of the House (instead of the Chief Justice) was empowered to appoint a person to perform the functions of the President (when the President’s office is temporarily vacant or when the President is absent from Malta or on vacation) when such appointment was not decided by the Prime Minister;
In 2016, a Judicial Appointments Committee made up of the Chief Justice,the Attorney General, the Auditor General, the Commissioner for Administrative Investigations (Ombudsman) and the president of the Chamber of Advocates was set up to give advice to the Prime Minister, through the minister responsible for justice, about its evaluation on the eligibility and merit of the candidates for appointment of judges and magistrates. In parallel, a Committee for Judges and Magistrates within the Commission for the Administration of Justice was established, whose task was to exercise discipline on judges and magistrates;
During Muscat’s second legislature, the following constitutional amendments have taken place to date:
In 2018, people who attained the age of 16 (previously 18) became eligible to vote for the election of members of the House of Representatives;
In 2018, the Constitution was amended a second time round so that the State was obliged to protect and conserve the environment and its resources for the benefit of present and future generations and shall take measures to address any form of environmental degradation in Malta, including that of air, water and land, and any sort of pollution problem and to promote, nurture and support the right of action in favour of the environment.
Back to the crucial question: Which constitutional provisions promoted by Muscat’s government since 2013 have attempted to weaken our institutional positions to provide sufficient checks and balances?
Robert Musumeci is an architect, a lawyer and University tutor in administrative law.
This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece
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