A leaner, more efficient parliament

A leaner Parliament with fewer ministers and parliamentary secretaries who are better paid but can appoint only three persons of trust per ministry are among the proposals put forward by the Malta Employers’ Association (MEA) for a more efficient and productive parliament.

In a position paper for parliamentary reform, the employers association issued a set of recommendations that would help “restore faith in our institutions by the general public and internationally”. These are split into parliament, positions of trust and Party financing.

The Maltese political situation – especially over the past months – was the “culmination of issues that have been bubbling over the years under what appeared to be a serene democracy”. However, it now erupted “in a political and moral crisis that is raising many questions about the state of governance and rule of law in our country,” the association said.

The fallout severely damaged Malta’s international reputation and created a situation where “many of our political and business contacts question previous positive evaluations of our country’s standing”, with a potentially negative impact on the country’s image, investment and jobs.

This also led to a state where there was a general disillusionment in Maltese institutions. “Politicians are seen as crooked or incompetent; the business community is perceived as corrupt; our justice system feared as being selective and manipulated. This distrust in our institutions is also eating away at our core values, with many believing that you cannot make headway in life through honest means.”

These are the proposals put forward by the MEA:

Parliament

  • The number of members of parliament will total 45.
  • There will be a maximum of eight ministers.
  • MPs will be full time and receive €55,000 per year.
  • Parliamentary secretaries to receive an annual salary of €65,000 plus current perks.
  • Ministers remunerated at €85,000 per year plus current perks.
  • The prime minister will receive €110,000 per year plus current perks.
  • MPs will not hold other positions in government entities, nor have an interest in private sector companies which can create a conflict of interest with their duties.

At the moment, Prime Minister Robert Abela’s new team is the largest ever in Maltese history and stands at 26 MPs: 17 ministers and eight parliamentary secretaries. Former prime minister Joseph Muscat had stopped declaring his actual salary but his lavish trips abroad had raised eyebrows about the source of his income.

The amounts proposed by MEA were considered to be minimum remuneration rates based on market rates in the private sector of individuals holding positions of equivalent responsibilities.

Also, the improved salaries would help attract better qualified people towards politics as a profession and help strengthen Malta’s democracy.

“Asking an established professional to give up his/her career for a pittance (and for what is generally a thankless task) carries the danger of attracting persons who are in it for ulterior motives, and who, in turn, deter honest persons from entering the fray by their presence. A career in politics will invariably entail sacrifice, but such sacrifice should never be confused with masochism,” the MEA said.

Working as a full time MP would also allow them focus on the legislative aspect of their duties and they would no longer be involved in operational activities in the public sector that may create a conflict of interest. It would also help eliminate the issue of ministers and MPs hiding their assets from public scrutiny.

The separation of the legislative from the executive was one of the preconditions of good governance and these proposals would eliminate the unethical involvement of MPs with businesses, reducing the temptation of unethical and/or corrupt involvement with businesses, the MEA said.

It would also create a level playing field among MPs and eliminate the current situation where many government MPs, especially backbenchers, have the “privileged position” of supplementing their income through their “supposed involvement” in government entities.

Positions of Trust

  • Each ministry shall be allocated a maximum of three persons on a position of trust basis.
  • There will be full disclosure of who occupies these positions.
  • Contracts of persons on a position of trust, including responsibilities and remuneration, will be made public.
  • There will be periodic auditing of performance of persons in a position of trust.
  • The principle of equal pay for work of equal value will apply between persons on a position of trust and civil servants.
  • Persons on a position of trust will be subject to due diligence, and not have been involved in any cases of corruption.
  • All current contracts of positions of trust to be disclosed and reviewed, and terminated where necessary.

These recommendations would do away with the situation where ministers were paid less than their subordinates who, under the pretext of a title ‘position of trust’, had a financial package that was not tied to the public sector salary scales.

Also, a number of ministers and MPs who lost their positions often ended up financially better off than when they were in parliament. “Such situations raise serious suspicions and are a hotbed for corrupt practices. They can only be justified in exceptional circumstances requiring specialised technocrats, rather than party cronies,” the MEA said.

Party financing

  • There will be discussions with Malta Council for Social and Economic Development for a transition to partially State-funded political parties. Fundraising will be restricted to individual donations and member subscriptions. Corporate donations and door-to-door collections will be strictly prohibited.

Through partial State funding, party financing would become “credible” and “transparent” as political parties would no longer have to resort to shady – possibly corrupt – dealings.

Malta’s international reputation has suffered serious damage and the full repercussions were, as
yet, unknown. “There has to be tangible action and evidence that the country has learnt from its mistakes and is approaching issues in a determined manner, even if radical choices have to be made,” according to the MEA.

Although there was no perfect system to eliminate corruption, existing structures can be improved “to prevent a relapse into a series of scandals and corrupt practices, which would be catastrophic for Malta”.

                           
                               
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