Prime Minister Robert Abela dismissed even the idea of discussing improvements to the law that safeguards standards in public life. Most people don’t care, I grant him that. No one who cares thinks the current system works. A standards in public life process that considers it unremarkable for an MP to accept huge cash gifts from a person accused of murder and suspected of corruption, fails to declare them and speaks in his defence when on parliamentary duty is simply not working. And, yet, Abela refused to discuss any improvements to the law.
Why not debate improvements? Why not consider bringing in people from outside parliament to review the standards commissioner’s findings into misconduct by MPs? Why not relieve the Speaker from the burden of having to take sides in his party’s interest against parliament? Why not relinquish government control on an exclusively parliamentary matter?
Abela’s official excuse is that the relevant law is fairly new and was voted in with the opposition’s agreement. All true. It still doesn’t work, does it?
They are having to change another relatively young law that had been approved without objection: the law that protects whistleblowers. Three weeks before a deadline imposed by a European directive, they published a draft law that sticks to the minimum requirements set by the directive. For 11 months, they ignored pleas to consult the public on how to improve our whistleblower protection law and then they published amendments that do not begin to address the failures of the existing framework.
The fact is the law we have does not work. It denied protection to people who risked everything and lost everything when they offered to help investigators capture corruption at the highest level. The bitter experiences of Maria Efimova and Jonathan Ferris will, no doubt, have scared many other potential witnesses into silence and submission. The only case the law was used for was Giovanna Debono’s husband, a state-perpetrated outrage, a kangaroo trial on trumped up charges and false accusations perpetrated by Abela’s client.
Consultation would give the government insight into these failures and suggestions on how to improve them. People and institutions beg the government to let them give input into an effort the government claims they are enthusiastic for ‒ fighting corruption.
Consider public lamentations by the ombudsman in consecutive annual reports. He complained no one spoke to him before the first whistleblower law was adopted. The law gave him responsibilities that the constitution and the law that sets up his office prevents him from doing. That means no one is doing the job that the whistleblower law assigns to the ombudsman. These provisions are, necessarily, a dead letter.
It seems no one in the government read the ombudsman’s reports. The changes to the law do not fix the problem the ombudsman has raised. And they still haven’t spoken to him about the changes they want to make to see if he had anything to suggest.
White Papers – the publication of early drafts of the law to allow institutions and people to comment and provide suggestions before parliament debates and approves a final version – used to be standard procedure. The practice has all but died. Draft laws are state secrets until they’re sprung on an unprepared opposition and rushed through almost free of any substantive debate.
These people think they are the gods- Manuel Delia
In effect, they rule by decree. And, in matters of restraining government power, the decrees are, by design, ineffective.
When there is debate, when interested people or organisations work nights and try to give substantive input, the government ignores them. Consider the cannabis legislation. I will not go into the merits on whether legalisation and liberalisation are a good idea because I do not know enough about the subject to give a helpful opinion.
I will say that most of the care given to people recovering from drug addiction in this country is provided by voluntary and Church organisations. The state abdicates its responsibility and lets the volunteers or the voluntary organisations do the hard work. The official excuse is that the experts, the Caritas of this world, know better, so why should the government interfere?
Sounds romantic. And, yet, the government ignored each and every recommendation made by the experts it trusts to care for drug victims. Every single suggestion they made went in the bin. They ignored them because they could.
Sometimes, rarely, they’re stuck in situations where they have to pretend to listen. When the Venice Commission asked the government if they had consulted civil society about constitutional changes, they could not pretend they did. The Venice Commission took the trouble to consult Maltese civil society directly and pass the notes to the government expecting them to take the matter seriously.
There’s a similar process happening in the background right now. The European Commission is funding an OECD research exercise to advise the standards in public life commissioner on how to improve oversight rules and procedures. The government is invited to participate, along with the opposition, experts and civil society. The government was represented at the introductory meeting, behaving as if they were being dragged over coals. They were absent for all other meetings after that.
This is the way they do things. They consider the governance of the country as not just their responsibility, which it is, but as their privilege on which they retain a perpetual monopoly. They refuse to acknowledge that anything they do can be improved on or that there is anyone inside or outside the country with the ability to provide them insight that could be objectively useful.
Hubris is arrogance to the point of defying gods. That’s not what these people have. These people think they are the gods.
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