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View split on ‘divisive’ Debono appointments

Franco Debono was appointed both Commissioner of Laws and constitutional reform coordinator. Photo: Jason BorgFranco Debono was appointed both Commissioner of Laws and constitutional reform coordinator. Photo: Jason Borg

His legal mind might make for a good Commissioner of Laws but entrusting former Nationalist MP Franco Debono with constitutional reform duties could prove to be a mistake, some political analysts believe.

Dr Debono was appointed both Commissioner of Laws and constitutional reform coordinator by the Government last Saturday, in a move criticised by the Nationalist Opposition as “divisive and insulting”.

And while some commentators said they saw nothing problematic with Dr Debono’s new positions, others believe the dual role appointment is flawed.

Opposition leader Lawrence Gonzi said he had little to add to the statement issued by the PN on Sunday. “I would have expected to have at least been consulted before such a decision was taken. It’s simple decency,” he said.

Alternattiva Demokratika deputy chairman Carmel Cacopardo distinguished between Dr Debono’s two new roles. He saw “absolutely no problem” in the former MP being made Commissioner for Laws but insisted – as he had done previously on his personal blog – that entrusting him with coordinating constitutional reform was a mistake.

“The person coordinating must be open-minded and enjoy the trust of all parts of society. After all, the Constitution belongs to the people, not to Parliament.”

Dr Cacopardo argued a public discussion about the issue would have easily identified consensually acceptable candidates for the role.

“A decision of this impor-tance merited a level of mature thinking higher than that afforded to it,” he said.

One policy consultant who spoke on condition of anonymity felt that Dr Debono would make a good Commissioner for Laws but poor constitutional reformer.

“Despite his behaviour in Parliament and treachery towards his party, Dr Debono had some excellent ideas when it came to judicial and legal reform.” But that praise came with a caveat: despite its legal character, constitutional reform concerned every strand of Maltese society, the consultant said. That meant “the responsibility of coordinating its reform should have been given to a more unifying figure with a more generalist background”.

President emeritus Eddie Fenech Adami declined to comment on the appointment, while sociologist Mark-Anthony Falzon used sarcasm to drive his point home.

A decision of this importance merited a level of mature thinking higher than that afforded to it

“Franco Debono is the finest legal mind and possibly the cleverest person in Malta today. He has a proven track record of consistency and loyalty, with one of his strengths being his ability to work as part of a team,” Prof. Falzon said.

He stuck to the derisive tone, adding Dr Debono “comes with very little biographical baggage, which means there are no unsettled accounts or conflicts of interest. It’s a very wise appointment, I’m sure members of the Commission are excited at the prospect of working with a person of such high calibre.”

But there were two dissenting voices among the sceptics, both of which believed Dr Debono’s political baggage was of little relevance to the tasks at hand.

Former PN president Frank Portelli said he had disagreed with Dr Debono’s parliamentary behaviour in voting against the Budget and for the removal of then-minister Carm Mifsud Bonnici.

“But the present situation is different. We should be asking whether he’s qualified to perform the tasks assigned to him, and I believe he is,” Dr Portelli said.

Was the appointment divisive, as the PN had termed it?

“Is Franco Debono irrelevant?” he retorted, in a reference to Opposition leader Lawrence Gonzi’s pre-election dismissal of Dr Debono.

“If he is irrelevant then he cannot be divisive.”

Columnist and former PL minister Lino Spiteri also felt controversy was unwarranted.

“Quite frankly I don’t know why the PN is complaining. It all seems to stem from the fact that he fell out with them politically.

“But no one person will have the power to set the agenda for constitutional reform and the Government will certainly ensure things are done properly,” he said.

Mr Spiteri felt there were two sides to Dr Debono’s personality, with the divisive character who had clashed with the PN administration sitting alongside the lawyer who had “extensive knowledge of laws and proposals for change which have, over time, proven to be justified”.

“The Government is clearly tapping this second side to his personality,” Mr Spiteri said.

“And that’s a side the previous government tapped too, when they entrusted him with leading a parliamentary committee on the consolidation of laws.”

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