Aleander Balzan, Director of Communications – Labour Party
Some months ago, the Constitutional Court gave a judgement in which it expressed its reservations on the fact the Electoral Commission had both an investigative role and the authority to decide on an investigation and impose sanctions.
The government noted this decision immediately, and stated that it will be proposing amendments to the law.
This is something which I am sure the government will tackle in an appropriate manner. After all, this was the government that, after decades of promises by previous administrations, enacted a law regulating the way in which political parties are financed.
In my opinion, the main problem this law is facing is the attitude of the main Opposition party. Since this law came into force, the Nationalist Party has been defying its principles continuously, both now and during Simon Busuttil’s tenure, despite all his words on good governance.
I will limit myself to two main issues and for the purpose of this article ignore the times that reports were presented late by PN and deadlines they chose to ignore.
The PN started defying the principles of this law with the ċedoli scheme. This is a system of secret lending to the PN, where those that give thousands can remain anonymous. Millions poured into the Nationalist Party coffers without the party being obliged to give reports that assure accountability.
When it was launched, experts argued that it is a system that can easily facilitate criminal activity such as money laundering. However, despiteof promising a new way, Adrian Delia has relaunched this scheme some months ago.
One must also remember which is the case that led to the constitutional decision. A scheme of false invoices was being implemented in secret, so the PN got thousands of euros from businessmen to pay its top brass in a way which was in breach of the party financing laws. The case in court is a clear attempt to avoid investigation on this issue.
However, much to the PN’s sheer disappointment, the court decided that the fact that the Electoral Commission had an investigative function did not breach the right to a fair hearing.
Therefore, while the government is obliged to take note of the constitutional case, Adrian Delia has a far more important duty. He must reverse the PN’s view of this law.
Delia, who promised a new way of doing things, must show that the party in opposition is ready to respect the spirit of the law. First, by putting and end to the ċedoli scheme.
It must also come clean and admit issuing false invoices to finance itstop officials’ wages. On the latter, it must also stop trying to halt the investigation.
Jason Azzopardi, Shadow Minister for the Environment
I hate to say it, not just on my behalf, but also on behalf of all the Nationalist Party, but say it I must, loud and clear: we told you so, minister!
The judgement concerning this law delivered by the highest court of the land, the Constitutional Court, last October dealt a devastating blow to the hubris oozing out of the orifices of the government, especially that of the Justice Minister, who in 2015 had repeatedly ridiculed and brushed off the main concerns of the Opposition on the Party Financing Law.
In one fell swoop, after a three-year parliamentary and court saga, all of the arguments which had been brought forward by Joseph Muscat and Owen Bonnici, whose backbones were seriously in danger of breaking due to their bending backwards incessantly in order to ride roughshod over the Nationalist Party’s legal reasoning, were blown to smithereens.
The court declared that the fundamental human rights of the PN had been breached. I’m proud to have defended the PN in this case.
The truth, undeniable and categorical, is that the PN in Parliament, during the passage of this law, had made it very clear that there was no doubt that a Party Financing Law was much needed.
The PN was, is and will remain steadfast in the call for a credible, watertight and effective law creating and maintaining a level playing field between all the political parties. The PN’s main bone of contention all along these three years after the parliamentary approval of this law, is our principled objection to the Electoral Commission being made judge and jury at the same time, when this is headed by a person (whoever he/she might be) nominated by the Prime Minister who occupies also the role of leader of the party in government whose party is (naturally) always the opponent of the Opposition party. The Constitutional Court on October 8 upheld this argument by the PN.
By all means, let us have, indeed we must have, a proper functioning Party Financing Law. But its administration must be in the hands of a constitutionally appointed, neutral, impartial, and equidistant body enjoying the trust of all sides, like the Auditor General or the Ombudsman.
There are no two ways about it. Without a real equal playing field between the main players in the political arena, democracy would be a figment of the imagination. Democracy would be a chimera.
For instance, hand on heart, does any level-headed citizen of this country genuinely believe that a democracy wherein the party in government isin control, as tenant, of dozens of government-owned immovable properties, many of which strategically located, paying peanuts in rent having been forcibly or fraudulently granted by a benevolent Labour government in the ‘golden’ 70s and 80s, is a genuine democracy? Is this conducive to a level playing field?
So it’s back to the drawing board, minister. We look forward to help you draft a law that doesn’t breach anyone’s fundamental human rights.
Timmy Alden, Deputy leader, Democratic Party
Recently, the Nationalist Party won a case in the Constitutional Court against the Electoral Commission and Attorney General, who it was argued were attempting to act as “judge, jury and executioner”. The matter arose when Silvio Debono of db Group claimed that he was financing salaries of PN executives through donations.
While the laws and structures in place may be reviewed by the government to prevent the conflicts highlighted by the Constitutional Court, my concern lies in how this situation arose in the first place.
It is inevitable that the Nationalist Party celebrated the Constitutional Court’s decision, but in reality we are still left with a mess before us. Further investigations into the finances of the PN should take place, one way or another, by whatever avenue is fair and just.
Similarly, the finances of the Labour Party need equal scrutiny. In Malta, the major political parties are hostage to the developers and private interests. Whichever of the two major parties wins an election, ultimately there is a handful of extremely powerful, shadowy individuals who benefit either way. The control over the country by these private interests must be broken.
Once that is identified as the end goal, then we can discuss the way forward as regards the party financing watchdog conundrum.
A short-sighted approach would be to split the powers of the Electoral Commission. The Constitutional Court had issue with the fact that a single entity, the Commission, could investigate, give rulings and impose penalties, without being a court in of itself.
I think we should look beyond creating separate institutions. We should look at overhauling party financing laws entirely, rather than just increasing scrutiny. In my experience discussing this issue with politicians from both major parties, there has been interest in the idea of cutting the strings of these private lobbies. After all, what politician really wants to have his hands tied by arrogant, unaccountable donors?
I am suggesting a shift towards the German model, where the State sets aside a certain amount of money for political parties which meet certain criteria. Then, we should make it much more difficult for private companies to donate to political parties. At the moment, the Nationalist and Labour parties are both afraid to stop offering favours, public land and handouts to these elites, because if one of them stops doing it, the other party will get an advantage.
I am arguing for a level playing field. Replace donations with a punitive tax, so that the money flows with no strings attached.
The Democratic Party will be pushing for the supremacy of the Constitutional Court while pushing for the necessary changes to strengthen our democracy in the Constitutional Convention.
If you would like to put any questions to the parties in Parliament send an e-mail marked clearly Question Time to email@example.com.
This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece
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