Malta: No more 'circuses': new bills to push for better-behaved MPs

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Giving parliament full autonomy through a Parliamentary Service Bill and producing 'better-behaved' MPs with the Standards in Public Life Bill.

The Maltese parliament may soon consider itself to be fully autonomous if the House of Representatives agrees to the Parliamentary Service Bill by the end of this month.

Published just a few days ago, the Parliamentary Service Bill would bring Malta in line with the administrative and financial structures of other parliaments. Under the directorship of the Speaker, a parliamentary board would be responsible for parliament’s administration. The House Business Committee would receive a three-year financial plan submitted by the Speaker. Parliament’s financial provision would be derived from a consolidated fund as opposed to a budgetary allocation.

A second important introduction expected by the first quarter of this year is the appointment of a Commissioner for Public Standards. Parliament has first to enact the Standards in Public Life Bill, which should result in more accountability.

Parliament ended 2015 on a sour note, questioning the levels of sensibility of the elected representatives and the respect – or lack thereof – shown towards parliament as an institution.

The ugly showdown between MPs Joe Debono Grech and Marlene Farrugia may have been a one-off in terms of language used, but bickering and insults among MPs have increased. It is no surprise that the Speaker is more often than not seen controlling what looks like an unruly class rather than policymakers.

Speaker Anglu Farrugia expects the MPs to be more respectful to one another and towards the institution. More importantly, Farrugia expects the MPs to be more “professionally prepared”.

“I know that this was not the case on rare occasions but I am convinced that the MPs will strive to address their constituents’ needs in the national interest,” Farrugia told MaltaToday.

For a more accountable parliament, the Speaker also reiterated his call for the citizens’ right of appeal on what is said in parliament. MPs enjoy parliamentary immunity, which means that citizens cannot seek redress if they feel they have been wronged by an MP during an address in the House.

“This measure needs to be thoroughly discussed to ensure that its implementation doesn’t hinder or limit the existing parliamentary privilege awarding MPs protection to speak out freely in parliament,” the Speaker said.

Giving a preview of the government’s agenda, whip Godfrey Farrugia said the government would push for the implementation of its electoral manifesto and the transposition of EU directives. The focus during the first quarter will on be the implementation of budgetary measures and the presentation of entities’ reports, including the Housing Authority.

The government plans on approving the Parliamentary Service Bill and the Standards in Public Life Bill before the Easter recess.

Farrugia urged the opposition to respond to the government’s proposals on parliament’s Standing Orders that haven’t been updated in 35 years. His call will be answered as opposition whip David Agius told MaltaToday that changes to the Standing Orders form part of the PN’s agenda.

“Over 18 months have passed since the government passed on its proposals to the opposition but no replies have been forthcoming,” Farrugia said.

Whilst calling for regulations to improve parliamentary procedures, Farrugia admitted that the government has held back from presenting a procedural motion.

He went to add that “the dynamic legislature” was yielding the needed results.

Looking forward for a year of hard work in parliament, Opposition whip David Agius said the PN would be focusing on various private members’ bills and constitutional changes which it will be presenting.

Special attention will be given to the Public Domain Bill. The opposition will propose changes to the Standing Orders to reflect the Nationalist Party’s proposals in the document ‘Restoring Trust in Politics’.

“The opposition will remain pro-active and constructive in its criticism and arguments whilst continuing with its scrutiny of the government,” Agius said.

SOURCE: Malta Today, January 11th 2016: