Guidelines for parliamentary petitions still not finalised
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Guidelines for parliamentary petitions still not finalised

One petition urges for transformation of Manoel Island into heritage park

The petitions committee has not processed any of the petitions presented during the current legislature. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

The petitions committee has not processed any of the petitions presented during the current legislature. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

It is yet unclear how parliamentary petitions, some of which have garnered thousands of signatures, are being processed. 

During a recent House Business Committee meeting, Democratic Party MP Godfrey Farrugia questioned why the petitions committee had not processed any of the petitions presented during the current legislature.  

The meeting was told that the committee had drafted a set of guidelines setting terms of reference on which the petitions filed by the public will be considered valid or not but they had not been finalised.

There are currently 10 parliamentary petitions online, six of which have been closed for signatures. 

One of those that closed last year objected to an extension for an existing tuna farm operation off the north-east coast garnering some 1,865 signatures.

Another petition calling for the protection of embryos, which attracted more than 8,780 signatories, had created quite a stir last year with the Gift of Life Foundation calling for an independent investigation into why it had become impossible to sign it. 

Speaker Anġlu Farrugia had clarified that submissions could not be received because of an update carried out by Google to its reCaptcha software, which is widely used to prevent spam submissions. 

In the previous weeks the number of signatures had mysteriously decreased and the deadline allowing signatures was also suddenly brought forward. 

It has temporarily stopped people’s right to petition Parliament

Among the open popular petitions, one is urging for the transformation of Manoel Island into a national heritage park. It closes on April 14 and has some 7,340 signatures, while a Stop the Malta-Gozo Tunnel petition has raked in 3,015 signatures so far.

Dr Farrugia told the Times of Malta that the delay in setting guidelines for the petitions had become a stumbling block.  

“It has temporarily stopped a means whereby people’s right to petition Parliament be processed. Timely execution is of essence. I hope that the conditions imposed will not hinder freedom of expression and association,” he said.

Dr Farrugia noted that the European Parliament has always considered petitions as a key element of participatory democracy.

This was one of the fundamental rights of European citizens: any citizen, acting individually or jointly with others, may at any time exercise his right of petitioning the European Parliament under Article 227 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU, he added.

Questions sent to the House of Representatives at the end of February remained unanswered by the time of going to print.

The House was among others asked whether these included a grandfather clause, therefore exempting the existing open or closed petitions from any requirements stipulated by the new guidelines and what happens to parliamentary petitions once they close for signatures.

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