Last week’s judicial and political developments have shocked and saddened many of us. As the report by the Venice Commission on constitutional arrangements and separation of powers in Malta, dated December 15, 2018 states: “Constitutional checks and balances as well as good governance are particularly important in small states where the government apparatus has a strong influence on the economy and the generation of wealth.”
Democracy is threatened when the checks and balances that guarantee democracy fail and our democratically-elected politicians are given the space to act undemocratically.
What happens when people in power do not have the necessary moral fibre and uprightness to guarantee the democratic process? What happens when those who should be leading by example are trying to undermine democracy every step of the way?
Our two main political parties have tarnished their image to a point of no return.
They may still have a following but have lost one important element: respect. People in powerful positions should generally command respect, whether one votes for them or not. That is what makes citizens look up to their leaders and what makes them potential role models. I shudder to think that some of our most prominent politicians should become role models for anyone because, in that case, this country is really doomed.
Let me start by trying to understand why our Opposition has come to such an untenable situation. When Simon Busuttil resigned after his electoral defeat in 2017, he did exactly what any self-respecting leader would do, even though, in this country, finding a person in power who has the integrity to resign is like finding a needle in a haystack.
However, the Nationalist Party was wrong to elect another leader immediately, especially since there was no immediate likely candidate. Its mistake was not to elect an interim leader who had, and deserved, the respect of one and all.
Our two main political parties have tarnished their image to a point of no return
The person who was elected did not command universal respect. Recent issues and behaviour have not improved that impression. Instead of temporarily suspending himself from his position to clear his name and gain popular esteem, he has clung to power in a way that has lost the trust of that portion of the population that finds power-mongering unacceptable.
Ultimately, many have not been able to distinguish between him and his party.
From the outside, the whole party situation appears as one big mess. Does that attract votes? I am not so sure.
The situation of our party in government is, on a level of respect, at least, much worse. There is a whole band of people that may be termed as ‘inner core’ who have been shown, time and time again, to be dishonest.
Corruption seems to be the accepted way to proceed and nobody seems to bat an eyelid. The motto seems to be: throw money at it and it will be all right. Direct orders, favouritism and unfairness result in incompetence, inefficiency, amateurishness and, far worse, cheating honest citizens of their democratic rights.
How can this inspire any respect from any well-meaning citizen whose brains have not been dulled by party propaganda or financial greed? What we are experiencing is a topsy-turvy situation where wrong is right and right is stupid.
Venality seems to have replaced religion and morality in this country.
One of the murkiest situations in our country is the fact that our judiciary is still appointed by the government from people practising law. The Venice Commission comments thus: “Only an independent judiciary is able to render justice impartially on the basis of the law and prevent the abuse of power.”
As former chief justice Vincent De Gaetano commented in his speech marking the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “In Malta, we have nothing comparable to the autonomous and functionally independent judicial investigations on the continent.”
One possible solution to this seems to me to have a specialised course at the University for lawyers who want to become magistrates and who, after having undergone further studies in a course for the magistrature, would have to sit for an exam with local and external examiners.
After serving a period of time in a junior position, where they would gain experience, the candidates would then be eligible to be approved, on the basis of their performance, by a purposely-appointed commission that is above politics, which, admittedly, is difficult in a country where politics has infiltrated every corner of the public sphere, but is, hopefully, not impossible. They would then again have to be examined to become judges.
That would ensure a separation of the three powers that would perhaps make for better transparency and guarantee that people are appointed through competence, not favour. Then, perhaps, our political waters may become a little less murky and the courts free from political subservience.
At present, this country is steeped in what can metaphorically be termed as murky waters that need a serious clean-up to shine again. Once honesty is no longer regarded as an ingrained habit inculcated by family, school and politicians, it is difficult to see how any administrative or educational reform can remedy the situation, which becomes beyond repair.
At that point, Humpty Dumpty simply cannot be put back together again.
Vicki Ann Cremona is chairwoman of the Schoolof Performing Arts at the University of Malta.
This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece