Edgar Depasquale delivered this contribution at Repubblika’s General Meeting. The text from the manifesto under the Constitutional Reform heading follows.
2. Structural and Constitutional Developments
The time has come for us to examine the Constitution of Malta, the fundamental pact that makes of us a civil and democratic state.
We need to reflect on, and wherever necessary, review our institutions including the Office of the President, Parliament, the Executive, and Public Service, the Courts, the Police and Armed Forces, and the Regulatory Authorities.
The Independence Constitution, together with the amendments that have been made to it in the last fifty-five years, have served us well up to now. However, the experience we have had of the Constitution and socio-economic and technological changes have shown the need for serious reflection and for the courage to update it, wherever necessary.
We do not see why we have to remove all that has served us well through time; we believe that in our Constitution, the following should be maintained:
- A parliamentary democracy where the majority of the Executive is chosen among those parliamentarians who enjoy the trust of the parliamentary majority;
- Protection of the fundamental rights of the individual;
- An electoral system which allows voters to express their preference from among the candidates contesting parliamentary seats on an individual basis;
- local democracy and regional autonomy for Gozo;
- a Republic founded on work which identifies itself with European values.
However, we also have clear objectives for progress which we would like to see in our constitution. These include:
- A real and protected separation of powers between the Legislative, Executive and Judiciary;
- A strong Parliament having the real and credible authority to ensure scrutiny of the Executive;
- An independent judiciary;
- A permanent public service, without any partisan loyalties, that offers continuity, memory and awareness of public interest;
- independent institutions, particularly in the sectors of law enforcement;
- electoral reform that better reflects the popular vote when the latter demands a plurality of political parties in Parliament;
- Recognition and definition of the role of political parties in the functioning of democracy;
- Regulated financing of political parties in order to do away with any secret obligations on their part towards private interest;
- Regulation of lobbying that occurs in order that persons in public life may listen to the opinions of those who have an interest in influencing the legislative or administrative process;
- Enforceable safeguards of the democratic principles which comprise not only individual rights but also the obligations of institutions and of the persons leading them to act according to the principles that the Constitution is based on;
- more responsible and autonomous local councils;
- the building of a secular Republic based on the principles of justice, meritocracy, work, economic and environmental sustainability, social inclusion, clemency and compassion, participation, reciprocal respect, equality between sexes, between persons of different sexual orientation, between persons of different political views, between people who were born in Malta and others who have made it their home, between persons of different religious beliefs, including those who have none.
- Despite these aspirations, it is not enough for us to see these reforms adopted. In order for Constitutional change to have the desired effect, Repubblika believes that this exercise should possess the following qualities:
I The Constitution should be emended, not replaced.
Currently, the Constitution is an imperfect tool that safeguards the interests of the community and the rights of persons. It is true that there is no perfect Constitution, it is better to keep the current shortcomings than introduce others that may be even worse. All change should occur only after much thought, discussion and collective agreement.
We feel that if there is not enough agreement, it would be better to suspend change until the thinking of the community develops further, rather than enforcing change in order not to show that the process has not been completed.
Our starting point should be that we already have a Constitution, and until our community is ready to make changes, we shall remain faithful to our current Constitution.
This also means that any thought of a new Constitution or of changes to the current Constitution which do not gather wide consensus will be just as illiberal a step as the constitutions that were imposed on our country during colonial times, and which did not have popular consent.
Moreover, consent regarding change between the two large parties is not sufficient because it can still endanger democracy.
II Any changes to the Constitution cannot occur as a package, but should be divided into themes
It is not wise to carry out simultaneously reforms that have nothing in common with each other. This is necessary both in order that citizens may have the time to absorb these subjects and allow their thoughts to mature, and also to give institutions the time to adapt without weakening their effectiveness or stability.
This principle has to be balanced out by the principle that isolated changes may bring instability, consequently, a certain number of changes must occur at the same time.
As an example, in order to make ourselves more clear, a radical change in the electoral commission does not necessarily have to be carried out at the same time as a change in the functions of the President. In this way, one avoids the danger of diverting attention from things that may appear secondary in relation to others which may seem more interesting or controversial, when in effect, they merit more consideration and greater attention.
No element in the Constitution is too small and therefore every change risks taking place without wide and informed consensus.
Even though there may not necessarily be any evil intent, the introduction of changes which have nothing to do with each other, risks bringing in hidden change.
Finally, when some of the proposed changes are agreed to, this does not necessarily mean that there is agreement on all changes, and all those involved in the reform process should have the right to reconsider their position and give or withdraw their consensus for changes proposed without committing themselves to any form of package of changes.
III. Changes which may, on their own, increase the powers of the Executive, should be adopted together with others that limit these powers.
Constitutional reform that occurs in various phases carries the risk that the process may stop at a point where the changes introduced may increase the power and authority of the Executive before the implementation of initiatives that are devised to lessen these.
This risk can be diminished by tying together a number of reforms that in their totality can ensure the balance of power and the limitation of the power of the Executive by ensuring that all change is to be effected only when the change that balances it out is adopted.
IV. The design process should be transparent
The process of reform should not be dominated by the political parties.
The Constitution is the basis of the Government’s obligations towards the citizens. It is a tool that is used in case of disagreement and issues where already at the outset, the resources and influence of the parties are totally unbalanced.
For this reason, it would be helpful if the reasoning at the time of the Constitutional amendment being proposed is written and registered. It is only fitting that the debates taking place within the gatherings involved in the amendment before the parliamentary debates should be transmitted ‘live’ to the public and be recorded and kept, so that in case interpretation is needed, they can be referred to.
The points of view and positions emerging from public debate should be taken into careful consideration in the debate that takes place in Parliament.
V. All proposed changes should be considered according to the reasons in favour or against their adoption.
In spite of the fact that agreement between the main parties is desirous and necessary for Constitutional reform to take place, it carries the risk of forfeiting the dialectics by means of which alternative solutions may be proposed or the relative change not carried out.
Consequently, it must be ensured that even if the two main parties agree in favour of a Constitutional amendment, there has to be clear and appropriate space for public discourse arguing against that same amendment.
VI. Constitutional Reform without Time limits
We understand that in the light of past failures to bring the two parties to agree on reform, political parties may feel the need to grab the opportunity or exploit moments of crisis or of changes in their relationships to rush through the changes.
Reform should be based on the principle that the rarity and narrowness of this window of opportunity should not be a consideration on the rarity, quality and process of change and it certainly should not be a consideration that in some way may go against some of the principles listed here.