This article was published in The Malta Independent on Sunday - 29th January 2012
The vote of no confidence debated and decided in parliament this week produced the exact opposite of what was intended.Instead of stability it accentuated political instability.We have a government without a parliamentary majority, an opposition that failed to assemble a majorityfor its no confidence vote, and a rebel member of parliament who is not supporting the government but has not steppedup his resistance yet to the point of total adversity.
Dr Franco Debono has a vested interested in not toppling over the government.The moment he does so he is history.And once he is history he cannot deliver the agenda for the progress of the many valid points he raised in his criticism of government’s inertia.
What stands out from these events is that the vast majority of MP’s agree with Dr Debono’s arguments.Many find fault with his methodology but that’s another argument. What no one can deny is that Dr Debono believes so much in his causes that, not unlike yours truly, he is prepared to sacrifice his political career to push forward an agenda he truly believes in.He has put the national interest before his own.
For that alone Franco deserves respect.
The PN government cannot continue to govern without a parliamentary majority.The Prime Minister will not be taken seriously in international fora.And government cannot function if it is not sure it can find parliamentary majority even for crucial money bills.So when this weekend the PN general council expresses unconditional confidence in its current Leader, it has to mandate him to inform the President that Dr Gonzi no longer commands a majority in parliament, and to ask the President to dissolve parliament unless in the opinion of the President there could be another member who can obtain the support of a majority in parliament as it is presently composed.
Once this happens the President should not do the same mistake done in 1998 by the then President Ugo Mifsud Bonnici by dissolving parliament without making any effort to explore if there is another person in parliament who can form a majority government.
The President would have to consult with the Leader of the Opposition and with Dr Franco Debono to see if between them they can form an interim government with a parliamentary majority for a strict mandate to deliver the agenda on which there is broad agreement.This will include, as a minimum, legislation to control the financing of political parties, changes to libel law and changes to the Broadcasting Act to make TVM under the direct responsibility of the Broadcasting Authority with adequate and fair access to political parties.These matters have been paid lip service for more decades than I care to count, and the PN government is clearly against any change of the status quo which has given it a clear political advantage to achieve and retain power in spite of the democratic deficit inbuilt in the present situation where political parties are financed by ‘donations’ from business circles who then expect handsome return for their investment from the government they help to elect.
If any proof was needed that the PN is not serious in promoting serious legislation in this regard it came along when it brushed aside the work done by Dr Franco Debono when he was parliamentary assistant in the office of the Prime Minister, and instead promoted a new draft, reportedly authored by President Emeritus Dr Ugo Mifsud Bonnici, which makes a mockery of the whole project to bring discipline to the current chaotic situation of political party financing.
The draft suggested byMifsud Bonnici brings in the concept that party members can escape discipline for any amount of money donated.To avoid the intended discipline, all that a donor with investment expectations has to do according to this draft,is to become party member.
The draft of Franco Debono which now forms the basis of a private members bill presented to parliament does away with such non-sense but in my opinion is still not strong enough.I continue to maintain that all donations to political parties should be abolished, there should be no thresholds under which donors can swim without any discipline, and that political parties should be just that, not holding companies for clusters of businesses including media companies, travel agencies or mobile phone network operators.Political parties, as the main instruments for the execution of democracy, should be financed in a controlled manner by public funds.Taxpayers pay for so many frivolous projects, even fora bridge on the breakwater, it is small fry to finance democracy especially if that helps to stamp out expensive corruption.
To ensure that Debono gets the respect he deserves the legislative suite of the interim government should be commonly referred to as the Debono legislationas he performs his last dance in politics by delivering on the agenda that he so firmly believes in.
This has to happen within a very brief time frame so that once parliament under the interim government, possibly led by Dr Debono, performs the restricted agenda agreed with the President, parliament gets dissolved and the country proceeds to fresh general elections before summer.
This suggestion will have another great advantage to protect democracy, the national interest and taxpayers’ money.It will remove the power of incumbency that the PN so masterfully uses in the run-up to the general elections which is a serious source of financial ruin to the country’s economy and the physical environment.
Once the interim government will have a very restricted mandate, the government will go into caretaker mode where new employment with the public sector will be totally frozen, MEPA permit issue will be postponed till after the elections and all freebies and favours so common during election campaigns will be abolished.
So those that have been occupying Armier illegally for decades at the expense of law-abiding citizens, will receive no promises of having their illegal position regularised, hunters and bird trappers will not be promised the impossible,surplus Air Malta employees will not be promised easy employment alternatives with government, and many other decisions out of the strictly ordinary course of business will have to wait until a new government gets sworn in.
This may freeze the economy for a few weeks ( as all general election campaigns normally do) till fresh elections before summer, but it will save the country the huge cost of abuse of incumbency and will respect true principles of democratic values.
Franco Debono deserves a platform from which he can give us his last bow.