PL statute ties PM’s hands

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

Legal sources told Newsbook.com.mt that Mr Fearne did the right thing when he instructed his driver to clear his personal things from his ministerial office. If the other ministers did not clear their office, they are in the wrong, our sources said. But this being Malta things get complicated. The Constitution gives full freedom to the Prime Minister to appoint whoever he wants to his Cabinet but the Statute of the Partit Laburista seems to appropriate unto itself part of the Constitutional duties and rights of the Prime Minister.

Constitution gives full rights to PM

Following the election of Robert Abela as leader of the governing Partit Laburista, the country may reasonably now look forward to a reshuffle in cabinet ministers. While this may be as wide or as limited as the new Prime Minister would like to make it, certainly, he needs to appoint a Minister for Tourism, which portfolio is currently vacant.

However, when perusing the Constitution, one sees that it is not that portfolio only which is empty. The constitution makes it clear that “The office of a minister…shall become vacant (a) upon the appointment or re-appointment of any person to the office of Prime Minister” (Constitution of Malta Art 81 (3)). This means that, at the moment when Robert Abela becomes Prime Minister, the whole cabinet will automatically become vacant. This means that ministers cease to be ministers and cannot act even as caretaker ministers

The Constitution is very precise in its wording “shall become vacant” which means that the ministers do not even have to resign: the office immediately becomes vacant. Indeed, this will take place only after the new Prime Minister is sworn in for the Constitution makes it clear that the Prime Ministerial appointment lies in the hands of the President of the Republic.

This position is to be conferred to any of the members of parliament whom the President feels can command a parliamentary majority.

The PL statute put limits

On the other hand, the powers of the new Prime Minister are somewhat limited by the statute of the party he leads.

This states that “The party deputy leader for parliamentary affairs shall serve as Deputy Prime Minister when the party is in government”. The role of the Deputy Prime Minister is a role of convenience and is not found in the constitution. Mintoff, for example, had appointed two deputy prime ministers concurrently. They were Dr Joe Cassar and Mr Wistin Abela.

However, unless Fearne resigns from his party position, it is difficult to see how Prime Minister Abela can refrain from appointing him as Deputy PM unless the statute is changed. The news prime minister has the constitutional right to do what he deems fit, but politically speaking overruling the party statue, even if he would want to do so, is not deemed to be realistic, even if the Constitution is supreme.