Dad, political sociologist, local councillor, drummer from Malta

Monday, February 18, 2013

‘Always ahead of time’

The Sunday Times 18 February 2013
http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20130217/interview/-Always-ahead-of-time-.457931


Alternattiva Demokratika chairman Micheal Briguglio is confident that voters are finally realising the need for a third party in Parliament. Interview by Matthew Xuereb.


Alternattiva has contested each election since 1992 but each time failed to get the much-coveted seat in Parliament. More than 20 years on, Dr Briguglio still believes the party remains relevant.

“The issues we have been talking about for years are now mainstreamed in Maltese politics. We are always ahead of time. We introduced issues into the political vocabulary. On issues like divorce and EU membership, AD’s role was crucial,” he said.

The 37-year-old Sliema councillor and sociologist is confident his party can get 2,000 first-preference votes in one district to clinch a seat in Parliament.

Assuming AD got a seat and the victorious party won with a three or five-seat majority, what difference would AD make in Parliament?

“We believe the voter can really make history by electing the third party in government. AD in Parliament would give the voter a voice he never had before to scrutinise the Government through its role on the Public Account Committee. Whether in coalition or opposition, we would be very influential.”

He said even Andorra, Liechtenstein and San Marino had more than two parties in Parliament.

“Democratic pluralism has worked in Europe and Malta has been lacking this for more than 50 years in a bi-partisan system where winner takes all and the loser is excluded. We will be the voice of reason in Parliament. Maltese politics became too black or white,” he said.

And Dr Briguglio is quick to point out that his party transcends merely green matters.

By occupying a seat in Parliament, AD would have a voice to influence others and table motions and legislation for the introduction of reform such as the abolition of hunting in spring, introduce same sex marriage and a progressive income tax.

AD feels that the appointment of people to key posts, such as judges, Broadcasting Authority heads and others had to follow a parliamentary screening, just like the appointment of Malta’s European Commissioner who has to face a grilling by European parliamentarians.

He lambasted Labour for ridiculing the issue by proposing what he described as a “televoting contest” to choose people to run Government entities.

“Having a transparent and fair system does not mean choosing them on the basis of a vox pop. The most democratic way to appoint them is through a parliamentary process because here we are speaking about meritocracy where the most capable people have the best posts in authorities,” he said.

Dr Briguglio lamented that the main political parties literally copied its proposals. The Labour Party, for example, lifted a proposal on music, while the PN retracted its original proposal to refund patients who bought out-of-stock medicines privately and was now saying the government will settle directly with the pharmacist.

He believes the two main parties’ commitment to reduce income tax to 25 per cent from 35 per cent will return to haunt them. Apart from being socially regressive, this cut was unsustainable because it slashed a large chunk of the government’s revenue.

He said this maximum income tax rate will have to be reverted sooner or later because the welfare state Malta has built over the years is at stake.

Dr Briguglio stuck to his guns on the decriminalisation of all types of drugs, from cannabis to heroin, as long as this was for personal consumption. He insisted that smoking a joint did not necessitate tainting a criminal record, making it more difficult for people to find a job.

He does not agree that decriminalising drugs could lead to an increase in drug use and possibly an increase in trafficking by those who need cash to sustain their habit.

“Junkies who are addicted to heroin should be helped and not thrown into a cell. Unfortunately, in prison a vicious circle results because you have a spiral of hardships. A junkie, not a drug baron, needs help.”

He said AD’s proposal was based on the “responsible” model adopted in Portugal which decriminalised drugs in 2001 and saw drops in deaths related to HIV, syringe-sharing and problems related to hard drugs.

This had to be accompanied by a fierce public health campaign and the classification of drugs.

Dr Briguglio said his party was adamant about the abolition of spring hunting and agreed with a recent European Court of Justice ruling that spring hunting in Malta is illegal.

He said there were different interpretations to this judgment and believes that the European Commission will take further action against Malta in future unless this practice is stopped.

On the Armier boathouses, Dr Briguglio said all those without a permit had to go because no squatter could occupy public land in that way, being accessible only to the select few.

Asked whether being green and pro-environment meant AD was anti-development, Dr Briguglio said this was incorrect as Alternattiva was in favour of sustainability which is “development that makes sense”.

“We oppose destructive development. Sliema is classic example of this. We are also saying that the construction industry should be restructured to cater for the renovation of houses and the beatification of our village cores.”

Dr Briguglio said AD’s policies were clear as summed up by his party’s ‘With us you know where you stand’ slogan.

“We are not a populist party and we are not there to please everyone. We are there to push forward our green, progressive policies.”

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