Dad, political sociologist, local councillor, drummer from Malta

Friday, November 27, 2009

Auditing a democracy

Michael Briguglio

The Times Friday, 27th November 2009
http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20091127/opinion/auditing-a-democracy



So Mepa audit officer Joe Falzon is once again under attack. Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi and Mepa have lambasted him for doing his duty and pointing out inconsistencies and irregularities at the planning authority.

This comes after various other attempts to undermine the moral strength of Mr Falzon. For what else can explain the fact that his office has been stripped of the necessary workforce, thereby reducing its effectiveness? One wonders whether this was intended to hamper the auditor from exposing the government's and Mepa's inconsistencies.

The attack on Mr Falzon is not surprising. A few years back, the Nationalist government also heavily criticised former Ombudsman Joe Sammut, who, like Mr Falzon, was simply doing his duty.

Apparently, this government wants such important posts to be filled by yes men. One wonders also whether the government considers loyalty to ministers as being more important than transparency and accountability. The attitude adopted by the government is making a farce out of serious institutions - including the office of Mepa's audit officer - which are essential in a democracy. Together with the President, civil society, the media and opposition political parties, auditors and regulators provide necessary checks and balances that should help prevent the government from slipping towards authoritarianism.

It is therefore very disappointing to see Lawrence Gonzi - who was so promising in the early years of his tenure - trying to undermine the credibility of Mr Falzon. If anything, it is the Prime Minister's credibility that is very much in question at the moment.

His leadership is rife with internal conflicts, lack of enforcement and delaying tactics relating to major economic, social and environmental issues. The Mepa so-called reform is a major example of these realities where the basic issue - which, basically, revolves around the immense power of big developers - remains untouched... It was only Mr Falzon's office that was touched.

The Labour Party is obviously making a field day of all these contradictions. It is depicting the Nationalist government as being arrogant and corrupt. But, like the Nationalist Party, is Labour credible enough when it comes to environmental policy and essential reforms in a democracy such as party financing and reform of the electoral system?

On the environmental front, Labour seems to speak up only when a Nationalist parliamentarian or candidate is involved. In many other instances I have not heard Joseph Muscat criticise Mepa decisions that place the interests of developers before those of the common citizens. The horrendous development at Tignè in Sliema is a case in point. It appears that the stands taken by the PL with regard to the environment are mostly intended to gain political mileage.

The attack on Mr Falzon is not an isolated incident. It represents an essential weakness of Malta's democracy, where main actors fear auditing exercises.

This can be said for both major parties, which, while maintaining a political duopoly, try to give the impression that they are in favour of transparency and accountability. Reality shows otherwise.

From a cynical viewpoint one can say that the people are getting what they deserve as, after all, we elected the major parties.

But I do believe we can change things if we use our votes judiciously in favour of those who really believe in transparency and accountability.

Readers can sign the petition in solidarity with Mr Falzon at www.petitiononline.com/MEPA/petition.html.

The author is chairman of Alternattiva Demokratika - the Green party.

www.alternattiva.org.mt

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