Not just energy rates…
The energy rates blitz of these past two weeks has eclipsed other important proposals made by Labour leader Joseph Muscat. The thrust and parry on cheaper energy solutions, a topic which hitherto was not discussed by the Government – as it continued stressing that it is impossible to charge less for our electricity and water needs – has been making the headlines day after day.
A positive aspect that has come out of this situation is that, at least, now the topic is on the national agenda (and how). If anything, people can weigh the Labour Party’s proposal against the Government’s inertia and its refusal to seek solutions. All this is buttressed by what GonziPN has been saying for years, until Labour came out with its project, that it is impossible to reduce the price of utilities.
Having said this, I believe that everyone can notice that the Nationalist Party’s input to the discussion is poor and inconsistent. After Labour disclosed its energy project, GonziPN changed its tune several times. First it said that this is an Alice in Wonderland plan, that it can’t be implemented. They said the proposal is a gimmick. Then the news came from the Prime Minister that a new PN government is committed to lower rates.
Thanks to Labour, we thus now have the PN competing (albeit verbally, as we have had no concrete proposals) against the PL on who will reduce the utilities rates the most. This, after GonziPN let the price skyrocket during its years in government. It is now a question of credibility.
All this has relegated other important issues to second and third division. So much so, that, for instance, there have been few comments on Labour’s proposals on good governance.
At the end of a legislature where the Auditor General ended up telling the Administration, when it surreptitiously awarded itself a €500 salary increase , that this was a good example of bad practice, it is a breath of fresh air to hear Labour’s proposals for a transparent, accountable and efficient public administration.
One also has to view these proposals in the context of Eurobarometer statistics which show that 88 per cent of the Maltese – 14 per cent more than the EU average – believe that corruption is a major problem on the island and is rife in all main public institutions, from the national to the local level.
One of Labour’s pledges regards the time bar that will be removed in cases where politicians are involved in corruption. Politicians will be held responsible for their actions with no time limit on when criminal action can be taken. This will be a measure to strengthen checks on politicians’ actions, underlining the PL’s intentions of encouraging the presence of clean MPs in Parliament.
Another proposal is that of the introduction of the Whistleblower Act. The Government had presented a Bill on this, which never got to see the light of day. This gives further proof that the matter was not a priority for GonziPN.
Labour’s Bill will be a stronger and better one, in that, for instance, the law will apply retroactively as opposed to the Government’s proposal, whereby it is said that the law applies from the day the law comes into effect.
Another proposal is that of the appointment of a Commissioner on Parliamentary Standards. This office will be a watchdog on all parliamentarians, including Cabinet ministers. The salaries and sitting attendance of parliamentarians will also be under scrutiny.
Labour is promising the strengthening of the code of ethics for chairpersons on boards of government entities so that conflicts of interest are avoided. This was one of the proposals made by the Auditor General in his report on the investigation on the contract of the power station extension.
A Labour government will strengthen the Auditor General’s office resources and powers so that s/he will be better placed and better equipped to investigate. Also, the government will be bound to reply formally to the Auditor General’s annual report in a way that it gives time frames on when it would adopt its recommendations. This should result in more accountability and transparency.
There is also the proposal on a Bill on the financing of political parties, which GonziPN has been resisting like the cold weather of January without giving any reasons for its reluctance and procrastination.
These are but a few of Labour’s pledges in the area of good governance. The proposals, when implemented, should improve public administration and be instrumental in changing for the better people’s perception on matters in this area of policy.
Helena Dalli is shadow minister for the public sector, government investments and gender equality.