This week government withdrew outrageous amendments on MPs’ pensions after the Opposition made a U-turn after initially supporting the changes.
The amendments would have seen MPs receive a full pension after only one term. Currently MPs who serve for a minimum of two terms receive their parliamentary pension once they turn 65 but, unlike other citizens, they are allowed to retain their uncapped parliamentary pension over and above their social security pension.
As the late Charles Miceli would have testified, many pensioners and low-income earners are struggling to pay their rent and make ends meet. However, in a textbook case of political suicide, the Labour government and the PN wanted to make it easier for MPs to receive a parliamentary pension.
Clearly, the PN withdrew its support after the public uproar caused by the proposed amendments. There is absolutely nothing wrong in listening to the people however the PN runs the risk of appearing opportunist and populist.
The PN should have opposed the move from day one but it lacked the guile to predict the public opposition and for once an opportunity to corner the government.
The electorate deserves an opposition which keeps its fingers on the people’s pulse but also an opposition which shows leadership. Leadership does not only demand politicians with ears firmly planted to the ground but it also demands risk-taking.
Despite genuine concerns among the electorate, especially the conservative elements, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat introduced same-sex marriage and personally backed divorce.
Instead of sitting on the fence, he stood his ground and his boldness shaped public opinion. It was a calculated risk, but the smokescreen civil liberties revolution strengthened Muscat and put him in the driving seat.
His bullish stand on civil liberties did not endanger his majorities in the last two elections but unlike the PN he chose to lead, rather than react.
Had government went ahead with the pension reform amendments without the opposition’s backing, the PN would have held the high moral ground while once again Labour would have been exposed for what it is, greedy and insensitive to the needs of the most vulnerable. Instead both parties have been exposed.
Muscat, a shrewd chess player, should have known better before agreeing to the pension amendments. Possibly, he only went ahead with the move after being guaranteed the PN’s backing but with this move he committed the same mistakes committed by his predecessor in Castille, Lawrence Gonzi.
In 2011, Muscat – then opposition leader – had described Gonzi’s decision to grant ministers and parliamentary secretaries a €500 increase in their honoraria as “the worst decision ever taken.”
Labour turned the honoraria fiasco into a political minefield, which caused irreparable damage to the already crippled PN administration.
But there is a silver lining in this public relations disaster. Instead of improving their pensions, the parties in Parliament should legislate to improve the House of Representatives’ efficiency and accountability.
The country deserves, full-time MPs who are sufficiently remunerated and provided with the necessary resources and tools to carry out their duties to the best of their ability.
Only three years ago, the PN itself had presented an ambitious set of proposals on good governance which among others included stricter ethics rules for lawmakers and ministers.
The PN’s document, ’Restoring Trust in Politics’ hit at the heart of the current malaise and proposed the removal of MPs from boards of public authorities, agencies or positions of trust with the government.
The PN had also proposed banning ministers from retaining their private practice; restricting public appointments to not more than one institution for each individual appointee, with a maximum two consecutive terms in that role; and prohibiting senior party officials from holding positions of trust.
It also prohibited the appointment of political party employees, such as journalists, to positions of trust or ministerial secretariats.
These are the reforms needed by Parliament (and the country) and politicians will only earn respect once they start legislating for the country and not for their own good.