Responsibility for various appointments will shift from the Prime Minister to the Cabinet after the next bill in the series of reforms proposed by the government following the recommendations of the Venice Commission, though the effectiveness of such a reform was questioned by Opposition MPs.
The bill – which was in any case approved unanimously without a vote – would affect the way members of the Employment Commission; the governor, deputy governors and directors of the Central Bank of Malta; the Malta Financial Services Authority’s board of governors; the board of the Arbitration Centre and the Data Protection Commissioner are appointed. Since the Employment Commission is a constitutional body, it will also require a Constitutional amendment.
But while Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis sought the importance of reducing the discretionary powers of the Prime Minister, Opposition MPs proved largely unimpressed, even if they acknowledged it would be a step forward.
Chris Said observed that such a system could make a difference where coalition governments exist, as the various parties would help keep each other in check, but far less so in a single-party government where the Prime Minister is free to appoint and dismiss every member of Cabinet at whim.
Since the Employment Commission is a constitutional body, the bill required amending the Constitution, but Said questioned why three other constitutional bodies – the Broadcasting Authority, the Public Service Commission and the Electoral Commission – were not included in the reform. He argued that all three were more important in safeguarding Malta’s democracy than the Employment Commission.
Recommendation to stop paid posts for backbenchers ignored
Said and fellow PN MP David Thake also spoke about the practice of granting paid posts and consultancies to backbench MPs, with Said going as far as to insist that the government backbench had been “bought.” This led government backbencher Jean-Claude Micallef to protest, though in response, Thake wondered out loud whether Micallef was making an appeal because government had forgotten him.
Thake highlighted that among others, even incumbent Prime Minister Robert Abela had earned thousands a month in government contracts when he was a backbencher in the Muscat government, and that former ministers and those who were made to resign invariably received contracts paid through public funds.
Said emphasised that the Venice Commission had asked for the practice to stop, but in this specific case, the government chose not to follow suit.