Transparency, integrity and fairness in the decision-making process are crucial to safeguard public interest
Despite Malta’s strong economic performance and the two major parties’ attempts to outbid each other in their proposals, corruption is the single most important issue as we enter the last stretch in the electoral campaign.
42% of respondents in MaltaToday’s latest survey said that corruption or the Panama scandal is their greatest concern.
Unsurprisingly, MaltaToday’s survey revealed that PN voters are more concerned about corruption and Panamagate than Labour voters. More interestingly, almost a third of Labour voters could not mention one single issue which will motivate them on 3 June.
This is a clear indication that while the PN has managed to create a battle cry for its followers,
Labour is struggling to build a narrative for voters in an election which was called a year ahead of its time by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.
Corruption hinders social and economic growth and hampers the efficiency of public services. More importantly, it undermines confidence in public institutions and could have long lasting repercussions on the country’s reputation.
Recently The Economist pointed out that “the island could be used by dubious interests as a private back door into the EU” and these lingering doubts are doing a great deal of harm to Malta.
Unfortunately, in Malta and abroad, people’s faith in the political class and public institutions is stagnating, with citizens questioning their trust in their leaders to make ethical and moral decisions. People increasingly feel that democracy is not working in their favour and financial interests are taking precedence over the common good. A key reason for this is the perception that when it comes to politics, money talks.
There is no silver bullet for fighting corruption but robust legal frameworks which guarantee transparency and laws which strengthen criminal, administrative and audit regimes, and mechanisms for prevention, investigation and sanction are tools which have helped other countries fight corruption.
The introduction by the current administration of the whistblowers act, the removal of the prescription period for crimes of corruption committed by politicians and the feeble party financing law were a step in the right direction.
But implementation and law enforcement are as important as the legislation itself. Effective law enforcement is essential to ensure the corrupt are punished and the cycle of impunity is broken.
Successful enforcement needs a strong legal framework and independent institutions.
Yet, this is not the case in Malta as while the Ombudsman and National Audit Office have proven themselves to be efficient and unyielding in carrying out their job, other institutions leave much to desire.
Public institutions such as the police and the Attorney General have often shown complacency in tackling corruption – especially when politicians are involved – and only act upon instruction from the executive.
Good governance requires Constitutional and institutional checks and balances. The country urgently needs institutions which are independent from the executive and accountable only to the State.
Strengthening the Permanent Commission Against Corruption is one of the solutions to restore trust in our politicians and institutions. However this will not be enough. One key measure in the fight against corruption is transparency. Transparency, integrity and fairness in the decision-making process are crucial to safeguard public interest.
Lobbying in Malta might not be as organised as it is Brussels or Washington, however it still needs to be regulated.
Lobbying is a democratic right and allows citizens and interest groups to present their views on public decisions. But lobbying can also lead to unfair advantages for vested interests and is often associated with secrecy and unfair advantage.
Financial contributions by lobbyists in the political process presents a threat to fair and democratic decision-making.
Therefore politicians should disclose all meetings with lobbyists and recommendations should be made public.
A comprehensive public record of lobbyists’ influence on legislation – or legislative footprint – allow citizens, journalists and civil society to monitor lobby influence around the decisions that affect us all.
Moreover, current party financing rules should be stricter and the regulator should be given all necessary tools to investigate and scrutinise party donations.
These, and other measures such as public funding for parties, stopping banks and financial institutions from cooperating with tax havens and empowering citizens through community monitoring initiatives, will not abolish corruption but will provide further tools in the perpetual fight against corruption.