Civil society NGO Repubblika launched a document containing a raft of proposals meant to improve Malta’s unenforced electoral laws that are meant to prevent politicians from abusing resources in their bids to get re-elected.
Speaking at a brief press conference held earlier this morning, Repubblika president Robert Aquilina argued that public awareness about the rules of conduct for politicians is essential for the system’s reform.
Aquilina also emphasised that the “desperately needed changes” that the organisation wishes to see in the electoral system are meant to eliminate the culture of clientelism.
“Our laws actually prohibit politicians from giving and lending or making plans to lend or offer promises of procurement money or any other object that can be exchanged for money,” Aquilina stated.
“However, we all know that these practices are extremely commonplace in our country and they are the focus of many of the conversations politicians have when they visit their constituents at home,” he added.
The organisation also called for increased scrutiny of the voting process itself, not just by the major political parties but also by independent media and external observers.
How are state resources abused?
Repubblika highlighted various ways in which incumbent politicians have abused their positions of power to secure their re-election.
Chiefly, Repubblika mentioned how “elections and the conduct of their actors are almost exclusively within the remit of the politicians themselves”, referring to how the electoral process is monitored largely by representatives of the two major parties.
The document also highlights the lack of distinction between state, government and parliament, a problem that is exacerbated by the political culture of favours.
The NGO further argues that although laws exist to prevent such abuses, the lack of enforcement from the electoral commission as well as the police force implies that “the main reason for the acceptance of corruption is the full expectation of impunity”.
The document further argues that “power is not predominantly held by backers of political office but rather by their backers and controllers who stay in the shadows”, emphasising the need for equal, fair distribution of state resources for campaigning that is held on equal footing.
What does Maltese law prohibit?
The General Elections Act, effective since 1991, suggests that candidates should submit documentation related to expenses, including a detailed report that is filed not more than 28 days after the election.
Candidates who are found to be in breach of such laws are subject to a fine of €465 and being struck off the voting register, thereby automatically losing any chances of holding office.
It is also illegal for political candidates to offer “food, drink or entertainment” to influence how they vote.
The law also bans the practice of giving or promising to give employment in exchange for votes. Anyone found in breach of these laws is subject to a fine of €1,160 and a 6-month prison term, along with being struck off the register.
What is Repubblika proposing?
The organisation argued against the abuse of state tools such as the manipulation of public broadcasting or diverting funds to companies associated with political parties.
Repubblika also advocated for the enforcement of rules related to freedom of information requests to ensure suspected misuse of public resources can be thoroughly investigated.
The electoral commission should also be scrapped in favour of a three-person commission that is appointed after an “open, merit-based, competitive process”, with appointees being selected by independent offices such as the Ombudsman.
Legislation should also be in place to strictly ban any unfair use of public buildings, facilities or any other physical assets for campaigning purposes.
Governments should also be banned from making major policy or project announcements in the run-up to the election.
In the same context, Repubblika proposed bans on non-essential public entity appointments, promotions and the awarding of public land, social housing and development permits.
The organisation plans on further pushing the government to adopt these proposals via the formation of a coalition with NGOs and stakeholders to ensure that pressure is further applied in the next general election.