It’s strange. Here we are with all the signs indicating that both the Labour and the Nationalist Party have breached financing laws. Everything points to one obvious conclusion – that both have been benefitting from undeclared donations from big business (and consequently bound to their paymasters). And not only is there absolutely no evident inclination to haul them up before whichever entity checks these things out. Not only is there this fatalistic shoulder shrug of dismissal. Not only do we grin and bear it. Now we are actually seeking to reward the political parties by proposing State funding.

The reason behind this insane proposal goes something like this: We acknowledge that the Labour Party and the Nationalist Party cannot keep their party machinery afloat in the same way that your average citi­zen keeps their companies solvent. We know that if the parties don’t want to be busted by bankruptcy they have to rely on big donations from businesses. We also recognise the fact that the parties will continue devising ways to conceal these donations in one way or another.

But we don’t question whether these resource-draining party machineries are really necessary in a democracy. Nor do we insist that they get with the programme and sustain themselves in the same way as everybody else. Not for them the normal budgeting and “cutting your coat according to your cloth” idea. Not for them the normal payment terms of utility bills. But we ignore all this and propose to give them taxpayers’ funds to prop them up.

The rationale behind State funding is that the political parties will not need to receive money from businesses and wealthy lobby groups, as they will be receiving fairly distributed funds from the State instead. That’s the idea anyhow. It’s just wishful thinking. State funding is no guarantee of political honesty for several reasons.

State funding is no guarantee of political honesty for several reasons

In the first place, what would stop politi­cal parties or politicians that are sucking up State funds from continuing to benefit from bungs and bribes?

Look at the experience in other jurisdictions. Germany has provided public funding to the political parties since 1958. That did not stop the huge scandal in the 1990s where the leading party received some one billion euros in illegal party funding became public. The Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, refused to reveal the provenance of DM2 million (€1bn) worth of donations. This inevitably gave rise to the suspicion that the donations were kept secret because they influenced key government decisions.

Italian political parties benefitted from State funds in a big way – and it was absolutely no bar to bribery, corruption and influence-peddling. In France there are generous State-funding laws but still illicit-donations scandals aplenty – former president Nicolas Sarkozy has been charged with receiving illegal campaign donations. There are several other examples which show that receiving State funds has absolutely no bearing on political behaviour.

There’s another thing. Who is going to decide which parties are going to benefit from State funds and to what extent? The Labour Party and the Nationalist Party themselves? What’s to stop them from awarding themselves huge dollops of public money and not letting others share in the bounty?

Judging from their past record, it is not as if the two major parties are fine with an even playing field for all.Only they benefit from those manifestly unfair electoral laws which result in the PL or the PN being awarded parliamentary seats for a handful of votes, while the same number of votes for a smaller party will not result in a parliamentary seat. I would say it is a given that the State funding of political parties in Malta would result in the usual big party cartel to the exclusion of smaller parties.

State funding is not a solution. It will be an added burden on the citizen with no discernible improvement in behaviour. If anything, there should be stricter dis­closure laws. Allow all donations but make them all subject to disclosure without exception. It will not change the auction-like acquisition of influence over political parties but at least it will render it public.

Sign up to our free newsletters

Get the best updates straight to your inbox:
Please select at least one mailing list.

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link in the footer of our emails. We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By subscribing, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing.