As the country readies itself to welcome a new prime minister, there has been ample talk on which way a new man in the top job should steer the ship. Jessica Arena spoke to thinkers and influential voices of the left on what they think should be the PM’s first order of business

‘Focus on the creation of a just society for everyone’

Wayne Flask
Author and activist

“One of the new prime minister’s main priorities upon taking office is that of divesting himself of the excessive powers the head of government is allowed. I certainly don’t mean delegation for the sake of it and far less, deregulation: I’m talking about a profound reform of the Constitution, and an overhaul of the ‘system’.

If we are where we are today, it’s because a few individuals with huge un/declared moneys have bought out the political class and run the country in silence. We are past breaking point in this regard: laws are being written to favour those who already wield a lot of power, and rarely those at the bottom.

I also expect the new prime minister to bring in some much-needed sobriety and introspection. The Caruana Galizia assassination is a deep wound that may never heal, for various reasons. Our country should come down from its aspirational inebriation with economic well-being: right now, there’s nothing to celebrate. The focus should be on the creation of a just society for everyone. In the context of a performing economy, we should no longer read about homelessness and poverty; we should also no longer hear of money laundering and tax evasion.

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I also hope the new prime minister-elect will look into the top Planning Authority personnel, and the environmental mess caused by developers and by his own ministers. I’m not holding my breath there.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there should be a huge spring-clean: from within the party structures to Castille itself, via overpaid underperforming ‘consultants’, and the investigation of individuals and shady government contracts signed in the last few years.”

‘Steer Labour to a safe distance from the interests of big business’

Desmond Zammit Marmara
Former Balzan Labour councilor

“Upon assuming office, the new prime minister is faced by the herculean but not impossible task of winning back public confidence in the integrity and good governance of the Labour government.

Furthermore, if the general public is to have any confidence in the Labour Party in government, the new prime minister has to steer Labour to a safe distance from the interests of big business. While the party should remain pro-business in its approach, this should never translate into putting the interests of businessmen before those of ordinary citizens.

The protection of the environment, including Malta’s historical and cultural heritage, should be given top priority. The days of having construction developers riding roughshod over the rights of citizens and ruining the environment for the sake of making money have to come to an end.

It is also crucial that the country’s institutions are allowed to operate in an effective and independent way without any interference from the executive. The checks and balances necessary for a democracy to function properly have to be firmly in place and also consolidated. The Labour government also has to operate in a totally transparent manner and meritocracy has to be ensured in all public appointments. 

Finally, the new prime minister should always strive to act in the light of the dignity of his office. The condemnable action of putting the prime minister on a pedestal and having a small number of Labourites treat him as if he were a pop star should cease forthwith. It was utterly ridiculous to have a group of Labourites using the social media to continuously describe the previous prime minister as ‘the King’ and even, blasphemously, as ‘the god of Malta’. This led to a situation where the Leader of the Labour Party was regarded as greater than the party itself, which is manifestly wrong.

Notwithstanding the difficult road ahead, I believe that with hard work and sheer determination, success is attainable if we all put the interests of our country before those of partisan politics.”

‘Rebuild our country’s damaged reputation beyond our shores’

Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca
Former president of Malta and former Labour minister

“I believe the new prime minister should focus on a return to strong, solid values of social justice, equality, equity, meritocracy, inclusion and respect; values that go beyond money and greed to ensure we can regain society’s overall well-being.

Rebuild our country’s damaged reputation beyond our shores. We need to reflect on what has just happened and drive the difficult changes to ensure history does not repeat itself. We have to move beyond a culture where we attack those who disagree with us with such vitriol; move beyond populist positions and be courageous to ensure all the measures are in place for a functioning democracy.

Ensure all government institutions and the country’s executive operate in a transparent and accountable manner. It is vital that whoever is elected has the necessary resources to invest in re-establishing rule of law and justice. Constitutional reform is now more urgent than ever.

Ensure the media is respected and has the proper environment to work in as it is one of the essential pillars of a strong democracy.

Recognise that national reconciliation does not come from silence. There will be no unity if justice is not done and seen to be done; there will be no reconciliation if there is inequality or poverty; and there will be no unity if we attack the individual instead of their argument when we disagree.

The new Labour leader should be a statesman for all of Malta and not just for his party. This is the only way I believe we can end tribal politics for good and for the island to flourish and regain credibility.”

‘Recover the social conscience of the party’

Prof. Peter Mayo
Academic, University of Malta

“Weed out all the corrupt elements from the party – this should have been done a long time ago. They have done untold harm to the party and image of our country. ‘No stone should be left unturned’ to make the most culpable face justice. Zero tolerance at all levels, including that of the ‘high and mighty’.

Recover the social conscience of the party with the emphasis on social justice – a feature which has been lost as the party sold out to nefarious neo-liberal politics.

Engage with civil society and the Opposition to embark on a review of constitutional lacunae with a view to placing the Republic on a stronger footing, emphasising the rule of law.

Rein in the tendency towards ‘businessification’ which has resulted in the mess in which the country finds itself. The party should ensure that it chooses a leader who is not a facade for a restricted lobby having to camouflage its specific interests as seemingly general interests.

Rein in the developers who are running roughshod over environmental concerns and citizens’ rights and who have ushered in a seemingly irreversible process of ‘uglification’ and land grabbing, the latter ac encroachment on the commons.

Give planetary survival immediate importance through policies at the local level and through contributions to strategies at the international level.

Render basic services such as public health, public education, public transport and communications accessible to all and of the highest quality. The problem of increasing use and importation of cars is not solved by widening roads, which only results in postponing the problem, but rendering public transport alternatives beyond reproach.

Migrants to our shore are victims of several global causes, including climate change and Western-induced ‘underdevelopment’ and impoverishment. They should be treated with the utmost respect for basic human dignity and their contribution to our local services, including the economy, should be rewarded in a socially just manner.

Social class is international and not national.

Clamp down on local criminal gangs who have been thriving for years with impunity.  It is high time a national leader and relevant state apparatuses grab the bull by its horns.”

‘Lobbyists and wealthy people should not be allowed to determine our lives’

Andre Callus
Activist, Moviment Graffiti

“The first obvious action for any new prime minister should be that of seriously cleaning the rot that has engulfed Malta’s highest institutions and which has led to the assassination of a journalist as well as to alarming levels of corruption. However, removing corrupt individuals alone won’t be enough to ensure that the rot does not start developing once again. This national crisis was brought about by structural factors that have been building up for decades, and it will require serious political and economic changes to address these structural problems.

Eradicate the deeply entrenched influence of big business on politics which has also led to a string of anti-people measures such as the privatisation of land, the privatisation of health and the wanton destruction of our environment. Lobbyists and wealthy people should no longer be allowed to determine our lives.

There should be a strong and enforceable legal framework on party financing. Moreover, all direct and indirect relationships between businesspersons and politicians should be transparent and regulated.

The government should also stop transferring its assets to private companies and instead focus on their efficient management under public ownership. The planning regime in Malta – which has been one of the main avenues through which political systems granted favours to business, at the common people’s expense – should be radically reformed to make it democratic and independent. The most deleterious projects which will cause irreparable damage to our country and its communities, such as the proposed monstrous db group project on public land in Pembroke, should be withdrawn.

Besides institutional changes, Malta also needs to adopt a different economic model. So far, the obsession has been with economic growth. The government has sought to achieve this at all costs, including by sacrificing our quality of life, allowing the exploitation of workers, especially migrants, and allowing employers to retain poor wages and conditions of work. While a degree of economic growth is necessary, the focus needs to shift on improving the lives of people in Malta rather than having growth for its own sake.

We need legislation that ensures better working conditions, better wages – primarily by significantly increasing Malta’s meager minimum wage – as well as policies and regulation that ensure the provision of affordable rent and property prices for everyone.”

‘Good governance practices and principles should be implemented immediately’

Josef Bugeja
Secretary General, General Worker’s Unions

“It is our strongest belief that the new prime minister should immediately bring back political and economic stability. This is imperative to sustain our economic growth. If the current crises persist then our economy will slow down and employees will have to carry the burden once again.

In order to achieve this immediate change, he should embark on a multifaceted strategy and immediately start to implement good governance practices and principles. Good governance requires fair legal frameworks that are enforced by an impartial regulatory body, for the full protection of all citizens. Accountability, transparency and inclusiveness must be our guiding principles. Apart from what is lawful, he should put more emphasis on what is morally and ethically right.

Concurrently, he should launch an international exercise to rehabilitate and restore Malta’s reputation with European Union institutions, EU member states and beyond. European institutions must be assured that the Venice Commission and Moneyval Report recommendations are being adopted and implemented. If we have issues on some of the recommendations, then he should inform and discuss these within the European institutions. Timeframes should be set and adhered to rigorously. This exercise will also reassure foreign investors to continue investing in Malta.

Another priority I believe should be constant consultation with all social partners and the MCESD in order to reach a broad consensus of what is in the best interest for Maltese society and how this can be achieved in a sustainable and prudent manner. As a society we have achieved a lot and in order to continue achieve more we need industrial peace. Social dialogue is the core element of industrial peace.

The General Workers’ Union has already requested an urgent meeting to establish how the equal pay for job of equal value and the compulsory trade union membership measures are going to be implemented. The two candidates declared their intention to implement the equal pay legislation in their first few months. Also, Parliament should immediately start debating industrial law reform amendments which are very much needed. 

Our environmental policies and planning should be a priority. Planning policies should be discussed and where needed amended. People need to see that change is happening. Also, the authorities need to start communicating more on why certain decisions are taken and explaining the facts behind such decisions. 

Furthermore, the new prime minister should initiate discussions with the Opposition on how change is going to happen and when it is going to happen. A strong Parliament will restore confidence in the political class and people will start building trust in our institutions.”

‘Stand up and make it clear that we are not so small’

Joe Brincat
Former Labour justice minister

“I have become convinced more than ever that a Maltese prime minister and all ministers should stand up and make it clear that we are not so small that we can becoming ‘whipping boys’. There is a Maltese expression about the smiling angel at the foot of the statue, but it baffles translation.

I will mention one example. The Netherlands cannot stand in judgment over us. And we should tell them that in no uncertain terms. There is a judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, Jaloud v the Netherlands, about the reluctance and disregard of that state to bring about a proper enquiry and bring to justice an officer who killed a man without any justification.  

The Netherlands recently passed a law which gives the state absolute authority to make sweeping tapping of telephone calls. What about the right to privacy as a human right?  But the matter does not stop there. A referendum was held and the majority voted against such a law. 

The government, in absolute observance of democratic principles and the ‘rule of law’ decided to make some minor amendments and put the law into effect. In a prudent but forceful manner, we should start showing them that if they sit in judgment over us, we can play their same game. The same also applies to the Council of Europe.”