MaltaToday | 18 May 2008 | A new Constitutional order for Malta, Bartolo style

NEWS | Sunday, 18 May 2008

A new Constitutional order for Malta, Bartolo style

Charlot Zahra

Labour leadership contender Evarist Bartolo has called for a radical transformation of Malta’s post-Independence Constitution into an instrument which re-invigorates democracy in this country and protects civil liberties.
Bartolo, who is known for his liberal viewpoints, told MaltaToday that Malta needs a new Constitution “which is relevant for Malta in the 21st century”, giving more powers to the President, who should be a figure on national unity.
“Instead of patching here and there I am suggesting that we have a wide consultative process about a new constitution, which means that we should build on what we have and which we agree is still good, change what we think should be changed and introduce new elements that we agree would be introduced,” he said.
Asked whether he believed that the existing Constitution, which has been in force since 1964, had become dated or not and which were those areas where the existing Constitution needs to be revised in order to be up to scratch with the present-day realities, Bartolo said that the answer to these questions “should not come from me or from one individual or from the major parties.
“These relevant questions should be answered by political parties, business organizations, members from civil society... organizations and individuals... and then we try to find common ground and converge on common answers to such questions,” the Labour MP explained.
Asked to elaborate on what were the main issues which need to be addressed when drafting a new Constitution for Malta, Bartolo said that universal participation was “our best guarantee of an energetic and prosperous society. Social equality is crucial, but it is potentially very dangerous if not coupled with liberty, particularly associational liberty.
“Equality in servitude does nothing for democracy. If anything it paves the way for tyrannical government, manipulating civil society for ends of its own choosing and undermining the potential of individuals as agents of social change.
“When equality exists side by side with free political association, on the other hand, it empowers people. It invigorates democracy. It creates a politics of presence, where the people are at home with democracy and democracy is at home with the people,” Bartolo insisted.
He said that “44 years after becoming a sovereign state and 34 years after becoming a republic with our own head of state, we still need to take steps to ensure that all of us living on these islands feel that we live in a common home.
“Many of us who do not have the right connections still feel like second class citizens. Most of our national institutions are national only in name and people of different political opinions do not perceive them as national and fair and do not identify with them or own them."
He said that rhetoric was not enough to bring about inclusive national institutions that help us live in and share a common home. “Issues like civil rights, environmental protection, animal welfare, disability and minorities are only some of those which a vibrant civil society can make its own.
“It is time that government divested some of its power. I have already done this as Minister of Education when I gave every individual state school its own budget and delegated all my power to the Monitoring Board of the Teaching of English as a Foreign Language Schools.
“With a strong base and a leader who is in touch, not just with his party members but with society at large, relinquishing some of our power, giving it to the people, giving them a real stake in society, is not something to be afraid of.
“That is something I feel extremely strong about and the more I speak to people, Labour Party delegates and people outside the party, the more strongly I feel about it,” he added.
Bartolo explained that one way of building a common home was “to take ‘national’ institutions away from the control of the Government of the day and out them in the hand of the President of the Republic elected with a two thirds majority in parliament.
“Giving the President such a wide national consensus would be only a first step. Then we should consider putting institutions like the Ombudsman, the National Audit Office, the Public Service Commission, the Government’s Contracts Committee, the Public Broadcasting Services, the Electoral Commission and the police and the army under the jurisdiction of the President.
“At the same time Parliament should stop being run like another Government department and given the necessary resources to become an independent national institution that holds the government to account on behalf of the tax-paying citizens.
“I think that equality and liberty are the necessary prerequisites for a healthy and vibrant democracy. If I am elected as leader of the Malta Labour Party, I will ensure that equality does not mean equality in silence. To be truly equal, we must also be equally free,” Bartolo insisted.
Asked to elaborate more about his proposal for the establishment of a Constituent Assembly in order to formulate the new Constitution, and who should form part of the new Constituent Assembly, the Labour MP said: “Representation should be as wide as possible: political, economic, social and cultural forces in our country – both organizations and individuals.”
Asked about the timeframes envisaged for the new Constitution, and whether he believed that this project should be tackled immediately by the Nationalist Government or should it wait for a new Labour Government maybe in five years’ time, Bartolo did not mince his words: “It should be tackled immediately and the time frame is to be agreed together.”

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