On the rule of law and constitutional reform
Our parliaments have begun to discuss the state of the rule of law in Malta. I use the plural form because it is not only our national parliament that has begun to debate this but also our other parliament, the one that sits in Strasbourg. The President of the European Parliament is as much the president of a Maltese institution as is Anglu Farrugia.
All too often, whenever somebody like Antonio Tajani speaks you can sense people thinking that they are being spoken to by a foreign authority – the mentality of indħil barrani (foreign interference) creeps in. This misunderstanding is an almost harmless example among many that underpin the poor assessment and consequent weak expectations that “we the people” make and have of our institutions and their constitutional duties.
The main consequence of all this is that as a collective we become lousy arbiters of the use of the sovereign power with which we have empowered our institutions. As a fledgling nation we have seen our institutional set-up gradually adapted to suit a gross misconception – that the ultimate sovereign power that needs representing is not the people as a whole but bipartisan interests. In simple terms, the more the basic laws got rewritten, the more this was done to encapsulate a system of alternation and to redefine principles such as “fairness” and “justice”.
The result would be, for example, that a “fair and just” appointment under our laws is one that is acceptable to the two parties that became the only players in a system once modelled on a more representative idea: the Westminster model. As if that were not enough, the constant tinkering with our basic laws resulted in an executive on steroids – a government that would lead by virtual dictatorship for five years – that would also practically neutralise the representative organ of the state.
An overpowered, unaccountable executive, a neutered house of representatives and finally a judicial, watchdog and policing network that risks being brought to the heel of the executive that appoints it without any sense of meritocracy or transparency. That is the state of the rule of law that should be discussed in our parliaments. That is the spring board for constitutional reform that should have long been on the national agenda, but instead it kept being hijacked in the supreme interests of the survival of the two behemoths of Maltese politics: the nationalist party and the labour party.
Watching last Monday’s debate in parliament I could not help but think that we are about to relive yet another moment of cosmetic changes.
Delia, elected on the strength of a “the-party-is-above-everything-else” message hitched onto the “civil society” demands in an apparent display of goodwill to discuss any necessary changes. The thrust of his message though still let off a whiff of the appropriation (and watering down) of national causes that we have seen all too often from nationalist circles.
Labour, on the other hand, while leaving the door open for some kind of constitutional reform, bent over backwards in trying to explain that the rule of law is already alive and kicking in Malta. The collective denial of the patently obvious is in line with the daily Potemkin Village approach that their government’s propaganda machine seems intent on portraying. Under a Labour administration of L-Aqwa Zmien, the revolution will definitely not be televised.
Civil society has made its first calls that are not so much a call for blanket reform as for clear signs of change. The replacement of the AG and the police commissioner is still couched within the old principle of “justice and fairness” – approval by the two princes in parliament. A real constitutional reform must target more profound changes – a more representative parliament with a stronger monitoring role, an accountable executive and an independent network of judicial, monitoring and policing structures.
Calling upon the political parties to do what they do worst is counterproductive. A real constitutional convention would be made up of a cross-section of experts from civil society with the parties as equals among others and not as the leaders of such a project. The DNA of a new constitution should not be framed in terms of the needs of two parties but with the idea of a Malta 2.0 in mind, where the rule of law does finally reign supreme.
We need a Malta where we are all servants of the law so that we may be free.
* This article appeared in the Malta Independent on Sunday on the 5th of November 2017.