Malta

   

Executive Accountability

#22
Key Findings
Reflecting several notable weaknesses, Malta’s overall score for executive accountability falls into the middle ranks internationally (rank 22). Its score on this measure has improved by 0.1 point relative to 2014.

The part-time parliament has few resources and comparatively weak executive-oversight powers, though a new act gives it greater control over budget decisions. Both main parties have called for greater oversight powers. The audit office is independent, and has seen its workload increase substantially in recent years. The ombudsman is highly esteemed but has limited powers.

While media competition has improved public access to information, the primary media outlets are dominated by the country’s two political parties. Infotainment programming remains widespread.

Political parties take different approaches to choosing leadership, but are increasingly looking to civil society for agenda ideas. Economic-interest groups are usually capable of formulating relevant policies. Non-economic groups are typically reactive, but have played a key government-advisory role on issues such as migration.

Citizens’ Participatory Competence

#9

To what extent are citizens informed of government policymaking?

10
 9

Most citizens are well-informed of a broad range of government policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many citizens are well-informed of individual government policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few citizens are well-informed of government policies; most citizens have only a rudimental knowledge of policies.
 2
 1

Most citizens are not aware of government policies.
Policy Knowledge
6
The level of information available for citizens on policies is relatively high and in general easily accessible. The government provides data on policy areas, and if a certain set of data is not available, it can be requested under the Freedom of Information Act. However, the restrictions placed on this act result in information not always being available. Access to contracts between government and private investors remains problematic. The National Statistics Office and the Department of Information regularly make information available to citizens. Some of the more complete reports assessing government policy however come from the European Commission. Competition between media outlets has improved public access to information with leading media outlets hosting their own investigative television series. Although most citizens follow political party-controlled media in their evaluation of policy objectives, political debate is nevertheless widespread and enables citizens to examine different aspects of policy. Policy discussions occur in regular civil society forums and are reported on by the media. However, local opinion surveys are rarely used to evaluate policy proposals. The 2016 Eurobarometer survey found that Maltese respondents do not view local media as truthful when reporting events and that only 28% (the second lowest score) trust the press. Overall, only 15% (the third lowest score) have high trust in the media. The survey also found that 74% of Maltese watch television every day, while only 15% read the written press daily. In addition, 36% look to online social networks to receive national political news.

Citations:
Maltese more likely to trust government than the media study shows, Times of Malta 02/06/17
Standard Eurobarometre 86 Autumn 2016 Media use in the European Union

Legislative Actors’ Resources

#36

Do members of parliament have adequate personnel and structural resources to monitor government activity effectively?

10
 9

The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for monitoring all government activity effectively.
 8
 7
 6


The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for monitoring a government’s major activities.
 5
 4
 3


The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for selectively monitoring some government activities.
 2
 1

The resources provided to the members of parliament are not suited for any effective monitoring of the government.
Parliamentary Resources
4
Members of parliament have little resources to support their legislative work. Staff members are too few in number and occupied by their primary duties. MPs work part time as legislators and typically maintain some form of private employment once elected. There have been calls for reform from within both government and the opposition to grant parliament more powers to monitor the government. These proposed reforms include a prime minister’s question time, the review of political appointments (e.g., ambassadors, chairpersons of public entities and chiefs of police and the military), the appointment of a commissioner for standards in public life, reducing the time needed to introduce a private member’s bill, MPs to transition to full time, and for more family friendly hours to be introduced to encourage an increase in female MPs. A new parliamentary committee to scrutinize public appoints is in the process of being established. Members of permanent parliamentary committees enjoy support from newly appointed research officers as well as academics and specialists. Greater participation of MPs in international conferences has helped bridge the resource gap, but more is required. These developments have improved the process for evaluating EU legislation and other social issues. In 2014, the budget for parliament was increased by €300,000 and new officers were employed in the international relations unit. Meanwhile, legislation was passed in 2016 giving parliament financial autonomy over budget decisions (Parliamentary Services Act) and in 2017 €580,000 was allocated for capital expenditure to establish a parliamentary archive, a library and additional committee rooms. Additional resources must be allocated to the parliamentary scrutiny committee dealing with pipeline aquis.

Citations:
Camilleri, I. Parliament is out of touch with Brussels. No feedback to Brussels’ documents. Times of Malta 14/06/11
Its too early to talk about what is in store for me Times of Malta 11/10/2015
MPs express different opinions on pay rise for politicians, full-time parliament proposals. Malta Today 6/01/2015
http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20160111/local/new-law-will-make-parliaments-administration-autonomous-of-the.598431
Parliamentary service Act Chapter 562 ACTXL11 of 2016
Most PN proposals to improve parliamentary work included in PL manifesto - government Times of Malta 19/08/17
The PN has seven suggestions for a better functioning parliament Times of Malta 18/08/17
Speaker concerned about incomplete security coverage around parliament. Times of Malta 30/11/17

Are parliamentary committees able to ask for government documents?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may ask for most or all government documents; they are normally delivered in full and within an appropriate time frame.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to ask for government documents are slightly limited; some important documents are not delivered or are delivered incomplete or arrive too late to enable the committee to react appropriately.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to ask for government documents are considerably limited; most important documents are not delivered or delivered incomplete or arrive too late to enable the committee to react appropriately.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not ask for government documents.
Obtaining Documents
4
Parliamentary committees may request documents from the government, though the government is not obliged to comply. For example, the government could refuse to release documents, because the documents could contain commercially sensitive information or it is too soon to make the information public. The 2015 parliamentary ombudsman report highlighted the need to publish government documents and agreements and for limits of the state’s duty to disclose. The ombudsman also stated that in some cases non-disclosure by the executive is totally unjustified citing the example of parliament not being privy to commercial agreements entered into by the public administration. The ombudsman’s 2018 plan again stressed the need for government transparency and accountability. The freedom of information act must be strengthened.

Citations:
Said Pullicino, J (ed) 2015 The State’s Duty to Inform Office of the Parliamentary Ombudsman
Annual Report 2015 Parliamentary Ombudsman
How the rule of law is being undermined Times of Malta 23/10/17

Are parliamentary committees able to summon ministers for hearings?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may summon ministers. Ministers regularly follow invitations and are obliged to answer questions.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon ministers are slightly limited; ministers occasionally refuse to follow invitations or to answer questions.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon ministers are considerably limited; ministers frequently refuse to follow invitations or to answer questions.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not summon ministers.
Summoning Ministers
7
A parliamentary committee may call any minister unless precluded from doing so by a vote within the committee. In 2012, the house speaker ruled that committees have the authority to devise their own rules and approved this method. However, since 2013, ministers have freely appeared before various committees to provide explanations or answer questions.

Citations:
http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20150824/local/security-committee-to-discuss-visas-scam.581745
http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20160919/local/public-accounts-committee-expected-to-examine-state-hospital-contracts.625475
http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20160118/local/committee-wrapping-up-long-oil-procurement-debate.599271

Are parliamentary committees able to summon experts for committee meetings?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may summon experts.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon experts are slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon experts are considerably limited.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not summon experts.
Summoning Experts
9
Parliamentary committees may summon experts to make presentations or help committees evaluate policies under discussion or shed light on issues under investigation. In January 2018, the opposition called for stakeholders to testify within the context of scrutinizing a controversial deal that saw government sign a 30-year contract with Vitals global health care to run three state hospitals.

Citations:
Let MPs summon Vitals deal stakeholders. PN tells government, Times of Malta 06/01/1
Standing Orders of the House of Representatives Subsidiary Legislation Constit.02 Article 164

Are the task areas and structures of parliamentary committees suited to monitor ministries effectively?

10
 9

The match between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are well-suited to the effective monitoring of ministries.
 8
 7
 6


The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are largely suited to the monitoring ministries.
 5
 4
 3


The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are partially suited to the monitoring of ministries.
 2
 1

The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are not at all suited to the monitoring of ministries.
Task Area Congruence
6
There are presently thirteen standing committees, several of which are fully congruent with ministerial portfolios. These include health, foreign affairs, environment, economic and financial affairs, and social affairs. The main monitoring committee is the Public Accounts Committee, which is chaired by a member of the opposition. Since 2016, committees have become more involved in monitoring ministries, though they also retain an advisory role. In 2013, an ad hoc standing committee was established to monitor progress in light of Malta hosting the 2018 European Capital of Culture. Two joint committees were also established bringing together social and family affairs, foreign and EU affairs, public accounts, and economic and financial affairs. The standing committee on foreign and EU affairs, among other tasks, scrutinizes pipeline aquis. In 2016, it considered 102 EU legislative proposals. As a result of this onerous task, this standing committee has become quite sophisticated and has three subcommittees: one acting as a clearinghouse and the other two dealing with the various policy areas in line with ministerial portfolios. This standing committee also works very closely with the other standing committees.

Citations:
http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20160118/local/committee-wrapping-up-long-oil-procurement-debate.599271
http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20151024/local/zonqor-university-site-selection-to-be-discussed-during-parliament.589443
http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20150724/local/committee-to-consider-whether-gay-men-should-donate-blood.577877
http://www.parlament.mt/standing-committees?l=1
The Parliament of Malta web page
Parliament Annual Report 2016

To what extent is the audit office accountable to the parliament?

10
 9

The audit office is accountable to the parliament exclusively.
 8
 7
 6


The audit office is accountable primarily to the parliament.
 5
 4
 3


The audit office is not accountable to the parliament, but has to report regularly to the parliament.
 2
 1

The audit office is governed by the executive.
Audit Office
9
The National Audit Office is an independent institution, reports exclusively to parliament and is charged with scrutinizing the fiscal performance of public administration. Both the auditor general and his deputy are appointed by a resolution of the House, which requires the support of no less than two-thirds of all of its members. The auditor general enjoys constitutional protection. The Public Accounts Committee has limited means at its disposal and depends on the audit office for support. Referrals by the prime minister and parliament to investigate matters that fall into his competence have been regular and increasing in recent years. The office audits all central government ministries and local government as well as publishes special reports on key and often controversial policy areas (currently higher education and health).

Citations:
2013 A Challenging year for the National Audit Office. Malta Today 12/03/14
http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20150731/local/national-audit-office-investigation-requests-quadruple.578701
http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20151119/local/PM-welcomes-NAO-s-inquiry-on-visa-claim.592668
http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20160202/local/nao-stands-by-its-findings-in-gaffarena-scandal.600970
http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20160627/local/spend-more-on-primary-health-care-nao-urges-government.616991
http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20151110/local/NAO-finds-25-permits-issued-just-before-poll.591562
Report by the Auditor General on the public accounts 2016
Annual Report on the working of local government 2016
Performance audit: outpatient waiting at Mater Dei hospital
Ombudsman annual report 2016

Does the parliament have an ombuds office?

10
 9

The parliament has an effective ombuds office.
 8
 7
 6


The parliament has an ombuds office, but its advocacy role is slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


The parliament has an ombuds office, but its advocacy role is considerably limited.
 2
 1

The parliament does not have an ombuds office.
Ombuds Office
7
The ombudsman is elected by a two-thirds majority of the House of Representatives and held in high esteem by the public. The appointment of three commissioners (on the environment and planning, health and education) to investigate complaints as well as the office’s wide-ranging powers to initiate inquiries considerably increased its standing as a watchdog for good governance. A secondary function of the ombudsman is to act as a catalyst for improving public administration. The ombudsman has stated that in pursuing these initiatives he has generally found collaboration from ministries, government departments and public authorities and that there have even been cases where public authorities have sought his advice. The Ombudsman Office, however, is not empowered to deal with human rights complaints and its recommendations are not binding. A recent clarification confirmed that the office has jurisdiction over complaints emanating from the armed forces of Malta. In his 2017 report, the ombudsman drew attention to the lack of jurisdiction his office has over privatized entities, particularly in the health and energy sectors, and the need for a remedy. He also drew attention to the problem of obtaining information from government on sensitive issues. A case in point are the uncensored texts of the agreements on the privatization of the health sector. The ombudsman recommended the office be granted constitutional protections and the appointment of a deputy ombudsman to strengthen the office and to extend the remit of the office to investigate the administrative actions, inactions, decisions and processes of public administration to further good governance.

Citations:
Aquilina, K. Strengthening the Ombudsman’s office. Times of Malta 14/08/12
On the Strengthening of the Ombudsman Institution: A Proposal by the Office of the Parliamentary Ombudsman January 2014 Ombudsman.org.mt
The Parliamentary Ombudsman The Independent 27/11/2016
Ombudsman against making hos own recommendations enforceable by law The Independent 04/01/2016
Parliamentary Ombudsman Annual Report 2016

Media

#23

To what extent do media provide substantive in-depth information on decision-making by the government?

10
 9

A clear majority of mass media brands focus on high-quality information content analyzing government decisions.
 8
 7
 6


About one-half of the mass media brands focus on high-quality information content analyzing government decisions. The rest produces a mix of infotainment and quality information content.
 5
 4
 3


A clear minority of mass media brands focuses on high-quality information content analyzing government decisions. Several mass media brands produce superficial infotainment content only.
 2
 1

All mass media brands are dominated by superficial infotainment content.
Media Reporting
5
According to the Media Pluralism Monitor 2016, television remains the main and most trusted source of news on national political matters. According to the 2016 Eurobarometer, respondents in Malta see their national media as more free and independent and providing more diversity of viewpoints than five years ago. However, the media outlets are dominated by Malta’s two major political parties and published information can often be described as “infotainment,” sensational or superficial. Detailed reporting on government policy are rare. However, increased competition among independent media has improved the quality of media reporting. Improvements to the Freedom of Information Act in 2012 have also improved media reporting, though numerous restrictions still exist and often newspapers cannot obtain relevant data. Increased competition has also allowed for more sensational reporting. Journalists have poor protections from owner and advertiser influence and political control over media outlets remains high. Malta is one of the few countries in Europe that has no policy on media literacy to empower citizens with critical skills needed for active participation in the contemporary exchange of information.

Citations:
Aquilina, K Information Freedom at last, Times of Malta 22/08/12
Media Pluralism monitor 2016

Parties and Interest Associations

#20

How inclusive and open are the major parties in their internal decision-making processes?

10
 9

The party allows all party members and supporters to participate in its decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are open.
 8
 7
 6


The party restricts decision-making to party members. In most cases, all party members have the opportunity to participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are rather open.
 5
 4
 3


The party restricts decision-making to party members. In most cases, a number of elected delegates participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are largely controlled by the party leadership.
 2
 1

A number of party leaders participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are fully controlled and drafted by the party leadership.
Intra-party Democracy
5
Political parties are increasingly coming under pressure to consult beyond party membership. This shift has been driven by voter volatility, with voters less constrained by party loyalties. Recently, the Nationalist Party (PN) decided to open to its members the second phase of voting for the party’s leaders. However, these members are only allowed to vote after party delegates have made an initial choice from among the contenders. The result has been the election of a new leader who does not have the support of a number of the old stalwarts of the party. The Labor Party is presently utilizing a top-down approach in the selection of its deputy leaders. In selecting their agenda, the parties do now consult more widely with civil society. This explains the Labor Party’s reference to itself as a movement, since it has succeeded in bringing together groups from various identities. This is an approach the Nationalist Party is also attempting to adopt.

Citations:
Are political parties becoming irrelevant? Malta Today 09/02/16
Replacing political parties. Times of Malta 01/01/18

To what extent are economic interest associations capable of formulating relevant policies?

10
 9

Most interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 2
 1

Most interest associations are not capable of formulating relevant policies.
Association Competence (Business)
7
Economic interest associations have structures capable of formulating relevant public policies. The greater resources commanded by economic interest associations enable them to employ highly qualified personnel and consult qualified academics according to the policy issue involved. The larger trade unions have their own research officers and can also draw on the expertise of the Centre for Labor Studies (CLS) at the University of Malta which was established to facilitate the trade union sector. Trade unions also use existing studies or academic and specialist support. EU support funds and structures such as internship programs have strengthened non-economic interest associations, allowing them to produce detailed research in their area of expertise.

To what extent are non-economic interest associations capable of formulating relevant policies?

10
 9

Most interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 2
 1

Most interest associations are not capable of formulating relevant policies.
Association Competence (Others)
6
Malta has a large number of non-economic interest associations. Though typically short on resources, they access external support through international membership or regional federations, which helps them, on occasion, to formulate extremely well-informed policy papers. EU funds and other structures (e.g., the internship programs) have also helped them improve their policy capacities. Few organizations employ full-time staff, but many have academics as part of their leadership structure, thereby utilizing their expertise. In some cases, organizations are able to attract research support on a voluntary basis from like-minded academics and other volunteers. Nonetheless, many of them still need to become proactive, rather than reactive to events or government proposals. Having said that, these organizations often provide government with expert support and at times provide resources, support and direction for policy areas for which the government has little input. A case in point is that of support for policies associated with migration, asylum and the politics of integration.
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