16 Sep Letter to GRECO (Group of States against Corruption)
Directorate General of Legal Affairs and Human Rights
Council of Europe
F-67075 Strasbourg Cedex
15 September 2012
(International Day of Democracy)
First of all I would like to disassociate myself completely from the draft sent to you by my country last year, which was drafted by Dr Ugo Mifsud Bonnici from within the Drafting Unit, and about which I had already advised the government not to send to GRECO because it was highly inadequate and definitely unacceptable.
Secondly I would like to bring to your attention and for your consideration a Bill, hereby attached, for which I have extensively campaigned, drafted and presented in Parliament as a private members’ motion on the 21st of January 2012 as motion 288, which is modelled on the laws of U.K. and Germany.
Whilst I am aware this Bill might need some finetuning, especially since it was drafted with the considerably limited resources of a backbencher in the Maltese parliament, I am confident it satisfies all the essential requisites laid down by GRECO and in any case any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
The Maltese are an industrious people who have made a success story out of a small and very beautiful island with limited resources.
Kindly allow me to convey my deep concern about the great resistance I have found to raise an awareness about the importance of this law, and the resistance from the government to start the Parliamentary debate. The legislature is now nearing its end. Some sixteen years ago, our Parliament had commissioned a Report, known as the Galdes Report, but which had since been shelved and no action taken, even notwitstanding persistent calls coming from GRECO.
For example, the spending limit for candidates during election campaigns (around 1,200 euros) had been described as ridiculous in the Galdes Report sixteen years ago, and it is even more ridiculous today, yet it has not been changed, leading to the widespread general impression of its not so infrequent breach by candidates, which might find it impossible to be in conformity, thus giving rise to a very bizarre situation since candidates’ expenses need to be then confirmed under oath.
Whilst in recent years much progress has been made in the electoral process, still much needs to be done, the Electoral Commission unfortunately has no resources to oversee and monitor adequately the conduct of candidates and parties during electoral campaigns, and thus no effective monitoring is carried out, the Electoral Law needs a radical review, inter alia because it discriminates unjustly and makes it practically impossible for new parties to make it to parliament, and thus it is no coincidence if Malta is the only, or one of the very few, if not the only European state having just two parties represented in parliament. Representation is essential to a healthy democracy.
Vote rigging allegations have resulted in prosecutions but better enforcement mechanisms possibly by the Electoral Commission could possibly reveal a more widespread breach.
Unfortunately my country still has no Law on Political Parties and Party Finance, practically placing political parties above the law, no Whistleblower Act, no decent Commission Against Corruption and no Law on the Autonomy of Parliament, which is run on the lines of a government department and the Standing Orders need a radical overhaul since they haven’t been comprehensively updated for more than twenty five years. In fact as an elected member of parliament I have done my utmost to campaign for these laws which, in my humble opinion, are fundamental for a healthy democracy. Moreover the culture of ministerial resignations even for gross mismanagement as a fundamental aspect of ministerial responsibility is totally inexistent.
A Parliamentary Committee for the Strengthening of Democracy had been set up at the start of this legislature, yet it was later dismantled without being replaced.
Since my campaigns for these reforms have met with incredible resistance and reluctance, and I have tried all other avenues, in my humble opinion it is opportune that this Committe is informed about the situation.
Hon Franco Debono (Nationalist)