Opinion | Sunday, 21 March 2010

Bookmark and Share

Let’s have a real parliament, not an expensive shell

In 1860, when the British governor took steps to build the Opera House in Valletta, the project was engulfed in controversy from the very beginning, with accusations about irregularities in the tendering process, bad workmanship, exorbitant charges and arbitrary alterations to the original plans. The first foundations had to be demolished and reconstructed by another contractor. Paul J Naudi, the secretary of the Royal Opera House Reconstruction Committee appointed 57 years ago, writes: “Although the Royal Opera House was completed in 1866, between the initiation of the building and its completion there are five years of heartrending disappointments, as well as a beginning full of misunderstandings which nearly ended in failure.”
148 years ago some Maltese politicians blamed this shabby way of doing things on the fact that Malta was still a British colony and because the Maltese were not adequately represented in the running of the islands’ affairs. They were sure that once the Maltese had more say in running these islands, the administration of the country and the management of projects like the building of the Opera House would improve immensely.
The Opera House was finally completed and inaugurated 144 years ago, on 9 October 1866. But seven years later, the theatre was extensively damaged by fire and had to be reconstructed. It took four years to reconstruct the theatre and the new inauguration took place on the 11 October 1877.
In April 1942, the German Luftwaffe reduced the Opera House to a heap of rubble. The rubble has at least been cleared since then, but the site still gapes like an ugly mouth full of broken teeth at all those who enter Valletta through the main city gate. For 46 of the 68 years since the Opera house was bombed, we have been a sovereign nation. So we cannot continue to blame the coloniser for neglecting our cultural heritage or for failing to get our act together to rebuild the Opera House. We have no one to blame but ourselves.
Between 1942 and 2010 there have been five attempts to reconstruct the Opera House site: in 1954, in 1991, in 1995, in 1998 and… sort of today, as what is being proposed is not the theatre’s total reconstruction but some partial rehabilitation using the leftover of funds devoted to build a new Parliament nearby.
Many are disappointed and angry that the government is going ahead with its project without any public consultation. Two years ago Dr Gonzi led an electoral campaign promising that he would consult the public in every major decision to be taken. That promise is being broken once again. Many people were expecting the rebuilding of the theatre, the reconstruction of City gate and never demanded the building of a new parliament.
Government is not only being insensitive to the public, it is also getting its priorities wrong again by burdening taxpayers with an unpopular project at a time when so many are finding it hard to make ends meet because of water and electricity bills, expensive medicine and health care, the high cost of living and when the national economy is still performing poorly in manufacturing and tourism and public finances are undermined by a high deficit and public debt.
I agree that we need to build Parliament, but from the inside, giving it a soul and a purpose, equipping it with adequate resources to carry out its function, but not simply by building an expensive hollow shell for it. We need a proper Parliament to represent taxpayers effectively, legislate on their behalf, scrutinise government and work hard for the common good.
Government wants a weak and irrelevant parliament. Parliamentary institutions like the Ombudsman and the National Auditor are attacked when they hold the government to account.
The country is being let down with the present parliamentary set up. We are the only part-time parliament in the European Union. Parliament is not being given its due importance. The Lisbon Treaty has given national parliaments the right to co-legislate with the European Parliament and European institutions as of last January.
As MPs, we are being inundated with EU documents that we have to analyse before making our comments and proposals to ensure that they have a positive impact on our country. Maltese MPs are part-timers and the government has made no investment in resources to help MPs scrutinise Government and EU legislative proposals. We need to learn from countries like Denmark where the Danish government has set up new structures to involve national parliament and civil society fully in the policy making process of the EU.
In Denmark, a European Affairs Committee was set up in parliament to act as the driving force in the country’s role in the EU legislative process. This committee co-ordinates its work with all the other parliamentary committees working on the basis that once a country becomes a member state, EU affairs are not foreign affairs any more but become very much domestic politics and so all Members of Parliament should get involved in EU affairs. The Danish parliamentary committees also involve civil society in their work by organising public hearings in parliament on proposed EU legislation and policy. Twice a year, meetings are also held with citizens and non-governmental organisations to engage them in EU policy-making.
We should learn from the Danes. It would make more sense (in terms of efficiency, accountability and democracy) to involve fully structures like MUESAC in parliamentary work. Apart from avoiding duplication and waste of very scarce resources, such a move would help to spur on the national effort needed to get as many benefits as possible from EU membership. Instead of becoming a co-legislator the Maltese, Parliament is losing its sovereignty and becoming just a ritual. It is more important to have a real Parliament which functions properly than a new expensive building housing an ineffectual parliament. No taxation without representation. No new parliamentary building without the consent of the taxpayers.

Evarist Bartolo is shadow education minister


Any comments?
If you wish your comments to be published in our Letters pages please click button below.
Please write a contact number and a postal address where you may be contacted.



Download MaltaToday Sunday issue front page in pdf file format


A waste of taxpayer’s time and money

Anna Mallia
No policy on work permits

Copyright © MediaToday Co. Ltd, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann SGN 9016, Malta, Europe
Managing editor Saviour Balzan | Tel. ++356 21382741 | Fax: ++356 21385075 | Email