First impressions: the governing party’s raft of electoral promises

In another instalment of The Shift’s 2022 elections series, we are publishing an initial assessment of the manifesto put forward by the governing Labour Party.

Since the PL’s was only published yesterday, the analysis focuses on the main proposals highlighted so far. Given the fact that the Labour Party has been in government for the past nine years, the main proposals addressed in this article are being analysed in conjunction with the party’s track record since 2013.

The obvious starting point on Labour’s track record is its long list of corruption scandals that occurred on the watch of the two prime ministers who have led the Labour administrations of the last nine years – disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat, and his successor, Robert Abela.

Predictably, Labour’s manifesto is not able to offer redemption for the party’s sins beyond paying lip service to governance reform, vaguely promising to strengthen financial regulators like the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit (FIAU) without elaborating on how the party is planning on doing so despite its past failures and in the context of Malta’s FATF greylisting.

The only related proposal on offer is the promise of work to be carried out by ministries and the public service to draft a national strategy on corruption. The term ‘national strategy’ has, time and time again, been used by the Labour Party to signal virtue while committing to very little in terms of tangible promises.

A sample of the government’s numerous ‘national strategies’.

The manifesto does not refer to any concrete solutions to the problems surrounding two major privatisation deals that still hang around the government’s neck – the Electrogas deal and the hospitals concession which is now in the hands of Steward Healthcare.

Both deals have been the subject of intense scrutiny from regulatory bodies like the National Audit Office (NAO), and both are mired in documented, systemic corruption and collusion between the government and private interests.

There is not a single mention of any review, negotiation or termination of any of these deals, leaving open questions as to how the party plans to move forward from deals that have cost taxpayers millions of euros with little to no benefit for the public.

Besides PL’s corruption scandals, a look at what the incumbent party is offering in terms of long overdue press freedom reform is also warranted given that journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was assassinated on the present government’s watch in October 2017.

Following the Caruana Galizia public inquiry board’s conclusions, which stated that the government played an undeniable role in facilitating the climate of impunity that led to the journalist’s assassination, the government has failed to pledge full implementation of the board’s recommendations.

The only proposals linked with press freedom include a specific reference to “recognise journalism and media pluralism as the fourth pillar of our democracy” in Malta’s Constitution and a promise to implement anti-Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) legislation.

The two proposals above jar completely with the government’s past resistance towards enacting legislation that specifically sought to enshrine journalism as the fourth pillar of democracy in the Constitution and towards anti-SLAPP legislation.

As for the PL’s stranglehold over state broadcasting, the only reform alluded to in the manifesto amounts to the party promising to “include people who are not involved in politics” as part of the Broadcasting Authority’s board of directors.

Another major point of criticism during the Labour Party’s last nine years in government has been rampant over-development all over Malta and Gozo and related allegations of grave corruption within planning and environment bodies such as the Planning Authority (PA) and the Environment Planning Review Tribunal (EPRT).

The manifesto’s proposals to address construction and development are limited to references to already-existing laws and regulations which the PA and the EPRT are already supposed to uphold and enforce, with no concrete proposals to at least look into how the systemic issues that have plagued Malta’s planning process for years could be improved.

As for the green environment, which has borne the brunt of the expansion of Malta’s urban footprint, the government’s proposals indicate it is keen on convincing voters that ideas like a €700 million urban greening project and a pledge to plant 100,000 trees in five years can restore what has been lost to excessive development.

Following its heavily-criticised decision to concede management of L-Aħrax tal-Mellieħa and Miżieb woodlands to the hunters’ lobby (FKNK), the Labour Party has pledged to open up the woodlands to campers year-round without explaining how people would be doing so safely during hunting seasons. The Labour Party also doubled down on its support for spring hunting, promising to safeguard the controversial season despite it being illegal under EU law.

The PL’s electoral programme, published on 11 March, three weeks after Robert Abela called a snap election and only two weeks before general elections will be held, follows the publication of the manifestos of all the other political parties in this year’s general elections, a move that has in itself led to criticism of Abela’s leadership.

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