Government Should Commit to Reform of Parliament

By 2nd February 2021 No Comments

It is incomprehensible that a Government that used to say before the election that the Parliament should be reformed should now attempt to pretend that Parliament works well in independently scrutinising the Government. If it believes in reform it should get on with taking the steps necessary to change the working practices of Parliament in the interests of the public and accountability of their decision-making.

Leader of the Opposition Keith Azopardi said: “Trying to justify what is going on by counting the number of times the Parliament has come together last year and comparing it to what used to happen before 2011 is to put a cloak over the truth. In fact, some of those times the Parliament has come together to simply adjourn sessions for 5 minutes or to take Ministerial statements or legislation only but no questions. We can all play the game of comparisons with the past but I thought Mr Picardo did not want to be compared to the GSLP of the 1990s? He said he would do things differently. He knows I have been campaigning to reform of Parliament for longer than he has been GSLP Leader. It doesn’t help him to pretend otherwise or twist the facts.

How does Parliament work when Ministers have not answered questions in Parliament for 5 months? How does Parliament work when Ministers cannot be probed on issues of public importance? The Government is avoiding the accountability of questions from Opposition members and instead sometimes chooses to put out answers by press release which then overtake Parliamentary questions and avoids scrutiny.

The Government knows that we have made significant allowances for the BREXIT and COVID issues. But until mid-December COVID was largely under control and neither that nor Brexit can constantly be used as a shield against accountability. People want to see the Government answer questions in Parliament. If laws are passed without proper scrutiny they can detrimentally affect people’s lives. If the Government think that they are helping their cause by issuing that type of reply they are sadly mistaken. Their attempt to defend themselves by referring to the recent deaths of COVID victims in the same press release is disgraceful.”

It is a fact that in the Unlock the Rock Document the Government said that the Select Committees on various issues would meet after May last year and have not yet done so. They haven’t met since the election in fact. The assertion that the Opposition is somehow taking a lazy approach to Bills is simply false. The Opposition never knows which Bills the Parliament is actually taking on the day. Imagine being asked to attend a meeting and not knowing what subject will actually come up. Under the constitution a Bill cannot be taken before 6 weeks have passed from the date of publication. This is to allow the public to be aware of proposed legislation and allow proper scrutiny. If a Bill is urgent the Chief Minister can certify it as urgent and a Bill can be taken earlier. We have no issue with this practice but there are times that we do not even know that a Bill has been certified as urgent. Recently the Parliament considered the Competition Bill which was over 350 pages with the Opposition only being told on the day that the Bill would be certified urgent. When the Government rams legislation through in that way it does not lead to proper scrutiny of important measures affecting members of the public. That then leads to bad decisions affecting people’s lives.