Labour’s latest rant about Richard Cachia Caruana and his salarial status within the government structures has provided the world with proof, if any was needed, that the PL still sits uncomfortably with its usurpation of parliamentary power for a very private lynching affair. Following a statement by the Labour communications office we read the following comment by the unnecessarily anonymous “Labour Party Spokesman” (best not be able to identify who is behind the latest excuse for politicking):
“Can the Prime Minister explain which civil servant takes a terminal benefit and transitional facility,” a Labour party spokesperson told MaltaToday. “This is proof that Cachia Caruana was not just any civil servant but is the equivalent of a minister. Labour is right when saying Cachia Caruana is accountable to the scrutiny of parliament, because he is not a civil servant like the others.”
The telling bit is the last sentence. Labour (or in any case its anonymous spokesperson) is painfully trying to square the circle of “accountability of civil servants”. The motion presented in parliament by Luciano Busuttil et al flew in the face of all parliamentary convention and practice. Labour would love to seem to be partisans of the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty and have gone to great lengths to sing to the tune of “strengthening democracy’s greatest institution”. When push comes to shove though, political expediency easily trumps parliamentary convention.
On the law
Our constitutional system is a hybrid one. We do not have the “historic” unwritten constitution in Diceyan terms and questions of supremacy are (currently) controversially divided between the written constitution and parliament. What we definitely have inherited from UK jurisprudence is the system of parliamentary conventions. In Dicey’s words:
“(A) set of rules (that) consists of conventions, understandings, habits or practices which, though they may regulate the conduct of… officials, are not in reality laws at all since they are not enforced by the courts”. (The Law of the Constitution)
Among those conventions is that of “ministerial responsibility” that can be both “individual” or “collective”. The modern form of ministerial responsibility is based on two ports – (1) a minister’s political or administrative competence, (2) a minister’s personal morality. The original application of the competence rule held ministers answerable to Parliament for every action undertaken by their department’s civil servants. Ministers took credit for civil servants’ achievements and were expected to resign for any grave errors committed by their staff. The corollary to this is that individual civil servants would not face parliamentary scrutiny or public criticism for their own failures.
In time the expanding nature of government administration led to an adaptation of this conventional rule. The effect of this adaptation was not however that of bringing civil servants within the ambit of parliamentary scrutiny but rather the additional requirement of proof: that a Minister was aware of the or personally involved in a particular decision before being forced to resign.
On the person
In the Cachia Caruana case (can we call it parliamentary impeachment or would that risk opening another can of legal worms?) we clearly have a bypass of the convention of Ministerial responsibility. Parliament dragged a civil servant (ordinary or extraordinary is irrelevant) before it and proceeded to vote. Even if we set aside the fact that the actual accusation was never proved (the Wikileaks accusation did not, if you pardon the pun, hold water) and that the vote was carried merely in Sicilian vendetta style we are still left with an even more important consideration. The Labour party motion blatantly ignored all forms of parliamentary convention for the sake of political expediency.
We now have the baying hounds drawing attention to Richard Cachia Caruana’s remuneration. Forget the return of Maltese relativism for a moment. The issue is much more serious constitutionally speaking. The current trend among the Labour party is to highlight their dedication to the real constitution – the real parliament they say, not the multi-million building in Valletta. They have shot tirade upon tirade at the party in government for supposedly diminishing the role of parliament. When it came to turning the parliament into a vehicle of political expedience the very same Labour party had no qualms but to ride roughshod over any semblance of parliamentary convention. It did not even bother to pretend.
The afterthought has led to a sort of backtracking. It is now crucial for Labour to try to prove that RCC was a kind of Minister – not a civil servant. It is crucial because that way they think that they would save their face. What they are actually doing is providing further proof that their knee-jerk activity acting as a second-fiddle to Franco and JPO.
Then again what do you expect from a party that seems to be determined to introduce the very progressive system of government by facebook?