Let’s get our House in order
The House of Representatives has finally returned following the longest ever summer recess in the post-Independence era. It beggars belief how our highest democratically elected institution can go into hibernation for three months. It was on Wednesday July 6, when the house was adjourned for Monday October 3. Some experienced MPs were taken by surprise if not shocked by this announcement, the bottom line is that nobody lifted a finger or publicly raised question on why our MPs had to take such a long break. While we often hear that the Maltese parliament is based on the Westminster model, this is not the case in this aspect. For comparison’s sake the House of Commons this year rose for the summer recess on July 21 and returned on September 5. Furthermore, the dates for the Christmas and February recesses have been provisionally confirmed to give MP the opportunity to plan ahead. On the other hand in Malta such decisions are the sole prerogative of the government.
This is just one of a vast array of issues which needs to be addressed if we truly believe our parliament should keep up with the times. So far, the only progress made since the establishment of our parliamentary system in 1921, is building itself. Otherwise, the only changes were in the payroll as the number of MPs have soared to almost 90! – the biggest parliamentary representation ratio in the EU.
The road ahead to strengthen our parliamentary democracy is by improving in terms of transparency, accountability and promoting ethical conduct. Two years ago the Standards Commission had put forward a set of recommendations to beef up the code of ethics on matters like revolving door policy, acceptance of gifts and donations, lobbying, use of official communication channels and conflicts of interest. Moreover, there is ample room for improvement in terms of the declaration of assets and the kind of job MPs can accept. Surely, the existing policy of having MPs sitting of State board and entities undermines accountability and discourages public scrutiny from the backbench. Given that this legislature is still in its infancy time is ripe to take the first step to set the ball rolling. Procrastinating further will only result in eroding public confidence in our parliamentary system. Let us not forget that in the 2022 general election a significant chunk of the electorate conveyed a strong message. 60,000 voters decided they had enough and did not even bother to go the polling booths feeling that they were being presented with Hobson’s choice.
If we really mean business on setting our House in order, there is plenty to do. But it all boils down to political commitment.