With opposition MPs sticking to their objections to various constitutional reforms proposed by the government – generally over mechanisms they deem problematic – the government has often insisted that they would be held responsible for the fallout.
But as the crucial votes approach, the Nationalist Party’s constitutional reforms spokesman Chris Said hit back, highlighting that the government remained intransigent even in cases where it actually needed the opposition’s support, let alone in other situations.
A bill introducing various reforms concerning the Office of the Ombudsman was being discussed on Tuesday, but it includes the same anti-deadlock mechanism that PN MPs have strongly opposed in other bills previously presented by Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis.
According to the bill, a two-thirds parliamentary majority would be required to appoint an Ombudsman, but an absolute majority of MPs will be enough if the first two attempts fail. The same mechanism has been proposed for the President, the Chief Justice and the chair of the Permanent Commission Against Corruption in bills previously debated in Parliament, which will be voted upon on Wednesday.
But in contrast to all these posts, the Ombudsman already requires a two-thirds parliamentary majority, without any anti-deadlock mechanism, prompting Said to protest that this would be a step back.
The mechanism and other contentious measures were discussed by the Committee for the Consideration of Bills on Monday, but neither government nor the opposition budged on any of them. A vote on these measures will be taken in plenary at the end of the sitting.
Minister ‘under pressure’
As the crucial deadline draws ever nearer, with no sign of a compromise being reached, Tuesday’s sitting was testier than Monday’s, with Said interrupting Zammit Lewis and the minister interrupting the MP in turn when it was his turn to speak.
Said said that it was clear that the minister was under pressure, but insisted that the fault was that of a government whose misconduct drew the attention of international organisations, including the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission.
“The government is under pressure because in the past seven years, the institutions have been used as its screen, not at the service of citizens,” he maintained.
Said also observed that while the reforms comprise 10 bills, the government has made sure to present all the ones amending the Constitution – which require a two-thirds majority to pass – ahead of the summer recess. The intention, he said, was clear: the opposition’s support would not be needed on the remaining bills, and its opinion could then easily be disregarded.
“We know that these amendments have not been presented out of conviction, but because the government was constrained to act,” the MP said.
‘There’s still a chance’
Said also questioned the government’s arguments that it was seeking to implement the recommendations of the Venice Commission, stating that it was only seeking to push through what it wanted. It did not act on the recommendation that MPs should not be given consultancies or top government posts, he pointed out.
Upon the next interruption by Zammit Lewis – which prompted Speaker Anġlu Farrugia to remind him that he would be winding up debate – Said remarked that the minister appeared angry, but brought the situation upon himself.
“If he carried out consultation properly, this would not have happened,” he said.
But he added that there was still time to reach an agreement, ahead of the 7pm vote on the contentious clauses.
“We have made our position clear. If the minister wants to, we may reach an agreement by 7; if not, we will both assume our responsibilities.”