Malta awaits Venice Commission’s reactions to Maltese government’s proposals

By mid next month, the Venice Commission, is expected to give its reaction to the Government’s proposals on reforms to strengthen democracy.

Minister Edward Zammit Lewis reiterated the Government’s commitment for a Constitutional Convention, while Opposition spokesman Chris Said stated that the Opposition would not accept the granting of executive powers to the President if the latter continued to be appointed by a simple majority.

The Minister for Justice and Good Governance, Edward Zammit Lewis, said that after the Government passed on the proposals for reforms to strengthen the rule of law and democracy to the Venice Commission, the Commission itself had started consulting with various entities on the government’s proposals.

“They have done it with the Speaker of the House of Representatives, with the Leader of the Opposition, with civil society and with the President of Malta. These are all people who can make a valid contribution.”

Minister Zammit Lewis said that the Commission would give its reaction by mid-next month. He added that the Government had consulted with the Opposition on various areas, ranging from the powers of the President to the judiciary.

Opposition Spokesman Dr Chris Said said the Opposition had not been consulted on all issues. “It was only on the appointment of the judiciary. On other aspects – and there are many other aspects – we have not yet started discussions, and there are divergences on them. For some reason, the Government has now decided to rush.”

Dr Said made it clear that it would not be acceptable for the Opposition for new powers to be given to the President unless it was agreed that henceforth the President would be appointed by a two-thirds majority of the House of Representatives.

Minister Zammit Lewis said that the Government was ready to continue to improve on its proposals, but stressed that these must be done without delay. “The brief I have been given by the Prime Minister is clear – to push with these reforms without dealy.

In an intervention, Dr. Franco Debono said that the government’s proposals were bold and stressed that the government should be cautious before relinquishing certain powers. “Let’s not forget that ours is a Prime Ministerial system of Government, the Prime Minister has the power he has because he is elected by the people . ”

Attorney Austin Bencini, who specializes in constitutional law, called for the inclusion of the views of the people and not just the institutions. “In a constitutional convention the whole country, individuals, NGOs, constituted bodies, religious associations, anyone and everyone can enter into a debate and make proposals.”

Minister Zammit Lewis said that although the pandemic had somewhat hampered the public consultation process, he had forged ahead with his commitment in favour of the constitutional convention. “The Government is fully committed to conducting and consulting widely with civil society and every individual in Malta and Gozo.”

Due to the fact that the Venice Commission expresses its views only in an official communication, its views will be known when it publishes its opinion in two weeks time.

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