Malta

   

Executive Accountability

#24
Key Findings
Reflecting several notable weaknesses, Malta’s overall score for executive accountability falls into the middle ranks internationally (rank 24). 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, and funding has recently been increased. The audit office is independent and active, while the ombudsman is highly esteemed but has limited powers. The data-protection authority is effective and independent.

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. Public trust in the local media is very low.

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, but rarely act proactively. Non-economic groups too are typically reactive, but have played a key government-advisory role on issues such as migration.

Citizens’ Participatory Competence

#22

To what extent are citizens informed of public policies?

10
 9

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


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


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

Most citizens are not aware of public policies.
Political 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. The ministries received 402 requests from media organizations and members of the public between 2015 and 2017. Under the Freedom of Information Act, 54% of these were upheld in part or in full. 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 2017 Eurobarometer survey found that Maltese respondents do not view local media as truthful when reporting events, and that only 31% (the second-lowest score) trust the press. Overall, only 14% (the third-lowest score) have a high level of trust in the media. The survey also found that 72% of Maltese watch television every day, while only 14% read the written press daily. In addition, 45% 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
Standard Eurobarometre 88 Autumn 2017 Media use in the European Union
Over 400 freedom of information requests in three years. Times of Malta 30/11/17

Does the government publish data and information in a way that strengthens citizens’ capacity to hold the government accountable?

10
 9

The government publishes data and information in a comprehensive, timely and user-friendly way.
 8
 7
 6


The government most of the time publishes data and information in a comprehensive, timely and user-friendly way.
 5
 4
 3


The government publishes data in a limited and not timely or user-friendly way.
 2
 1

The government publishes (almost) no relevant data.
Open Government
5
Malta provides a mixed picture with regard to open-government issues. Since the country obtained EU membership, governments have found themselves increasingly pressured to provide information through more open and transparent channels. The National Statistics Office (NSO), reformed in the late 1990s in view of Malta’s EU membership, regularly makes freely accessible information available on various matters. The NSO also responds to researchers and the media seeking access to information relating to a great diversity of subjects. Furthermore, information can be obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. Between 2015 and 2017, just over 50% of all requests submitted under the terms of this act were answered in full or in part. Every ministry and department publishes reports and information. A vast quantity of information can be accessed online through government websites or EU portals. However, some problems remain. Governments tend to be reluctant to publish public contracts, citing commercial sensitivity. This can be true in some cases, but is not in others. A recent information request by the parliament was refused, with a response indicating there were insufficient human resources available to collect the data. The new commissioner for standards in public life recently criticized government ministries for inviting only selected journalists to certain public events. However, the evident capacity of hackers to infiltrate government systems should demonstrate that secrecy is no longer an option. The 2017 parliamentary ombudsman report stated: “Regrettably the public administration – and this includes public authorities – appears to have adopted a generally negative approach towards its duty to disclose information and the citizen’s right to be informed. … Outright refusal or extreme reluctance to disclose information can be said
to have become a style of government that is seriously denting the openness
and transparency of the public administration.”

Citations:
Ministers should not only invite selected journalists to public events standards commissioner says. Times of Malta 06/02/19
‘Humanly impossible’ to establish number of vacant state properties Times of Malta 05/02/19
2017 Parliamentary Ombudsman Report

Legislative Actors’ Resources

#38

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
5
The passage of a new act in 2016 giving parliament financial autonomy over its internal budget decisions (the Parliamentary Services Act), and an increase in funding in the 2017 and 2018 budgets, has left MPs in Malta with more resources than previously. 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. Additional resources must be allocated to the parliamentary scrutiny committee dealing with pipeline aquis. Furthermore, despite improvements, legislators have too few resources to support their legislative work. Staff members are too few in number, and fully occupied by their primary duties. MPs must bear some responsibility for this situation, since most of them appear loathe to give up their professional activities, and regard their role as legislator as a part-time occupation. MPs can now be fined for not attending sittings. The prime minister is pushing harder to discuss the matter of a full-time parliament, but this, along with any change to current remuneration levels, would require consensus among a majority of MPs.

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 request 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 the full publication of the contract between the government and VGH, a controversial deal that saw government sign a 30-year contract with Vitals global health care to run three state hospitals, instead of the heavily redacted version presented in parliament. There was also a call for stakeholders in the deal to testify before the parliamentary Health Committee. However, full disclosure has as of the time of writing been precluded by the data protection commissioner.

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
Financial scrutiny of Vitals to remain secret: Request to publish due diligence exercise denied by Data Protection Commissioner, Times of Malta 03/10/18

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 16 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. Ad hoc committees are also established from time to time. The Standing Committee on Foreign and EU Affairs, for example, scrutinizes pipeline aquis; because of the scale of this task, three subcommittees were created: 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. In 2018, a new Standing Committee for Standards in Public Life was inaugurated to assist the new commissioner in this area. This figure was empowered to look into breaches of ethics committed by members of parliament and those appointed within the public service on a position-of-trust basis. A new Petitions Committee has also been created. Additionally, a number of joint committees facilitate policy development and implementation across ministries.

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

Media

#7

To what extent do media in your country analyze the rationale and impact of public policies?

10
 9

A clear majority of mass media brands focus on high-quality information content analyzing the rationale and impact of public policies.
 8
 7
 6


About one-half of the mass media brands focus on high-quality information content analyzing the rationale and impact of public policies. 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 public policies. Several mass media brands produce superficial infotainment content only.
 2
 1

All mass media brands are dominated by superficial infotainment content.
Media Reporting
5
Maltese media outlets often publish what can be described as “infotainment,” or sensational or superficial content. Two reasons may explain this: First, in the country’s highly polarized and very small society, media outlets tend to follow their owners’ political lead, which here is often political parties or people with political connections to a political party. Second, the competition for readership and audiences is fierce, and revenue constraints restrict the quality of publications’ output. High-quality analysis of government policies, for example, remains rare. That said, people in Malta today see their national media as being more free and independent, and as providing more diversity of viewpoints, than was the case five years ago. Improvements to the Freedom of Information Act in 2012 have also improved media reporting, though numerous restrictions still exist and newspapers cannot are often unable to obtain relevant data. The 2017 Media Pluralism Monitor assigned Malta a medium risk level (56%) in its protection of the right to information indicator. Malta is one of the few countries in Europe in which there is no media-literacy policy aimed at giving citizens the 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
https://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20180309/local/maltese-journalists-basic-protection-takes-a-dip-report.672768Media
Media Pluralism Monitor 2017

Parties and Interest Associations

#21

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 issue agendas 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 issue agendas 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 issue agendas are fully controlled and drafted by the party leadership.
Intra-party Decision-Making
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. Party committees collaborate with party leaders to select candidates.

Citations:
Are political parties becoming irrelevant? Malta Today 09/02/16
Replacing political parties. Times of Malta 01/01/18
https://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20180906/local/labour-approves-first-group-of-euro-parliament-election-candidates.688524

To what extent are economic interest associations (e.g., employers, industry, labor) 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 (Employers & Unions)
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. However, most NGOs remain reactive rather than proactive. In its 2019 budget, the government has earmarked some financial support for NGOs to help them overcome some of these problems.

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, some organizations provide government with frequent 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.

Independent Supervisory Bodies

#21

Does there exist an independent and effective audit office?

10
 9

There exists an effective and independent audit office.
 8
 7
 6


There exists an effective and independent audit office, but its role is slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


There exists an independent audit office, but its role is considerably limited.
 2
 1

There does not exist an independent and effective audit office.
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
https://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20171215/opinion/Eventful-year-for-NAO-Charles-Deguara.665670
https://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20171114/local/most-nao-recommendations-addressed.663116
https://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20181008/local/audit-office-adopts-new-strategy-to-improve-governance.691098

Does there exist an independent and effective ombuds office?

10
 9

There exists an effective and independent ombuds office.
 8
 7
 6


There exists an effective and independent ombuds office, but its advocacy role is slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


There exists an independent ombuds office, but its advocacy role is considerably limited.
 2
 1

There does not exist an effective and independent 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. 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

Is there an independent authority in place that effectively holds government offices accountable for handling issues of data protection and privacy?

10
 9

An independent and effective data protection authority exists.
 8
 7
 6


An independent and effective data protection authority exists, but its role is slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


A data protection authority exists, but both its independence and effectiveness are strongly limited.
 2
 1

There is no effective and independent data protection office.
Data Protection Authority
8
Malta has an information and data-protection commissioner who is appointed by the prime minister in consultation with the leader of the opposition. This figure heads the Data Protection Authority, which is both effective and independent. The authority’s website provides information about the protection the office provides in various fields. It also provides assistance to citizens who believe their privacy has been invaded. Malta also abides by EU legislation and decisions by the Advocate General of the European Court in this area, and in May 2018 transposed the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) into law. Since the law has taken effect, 100 breaches of the data protection act have been reported, with 17 of these leading to a fine. Maltese courts can also be called upon to adjudicate complaints relating to data privacy infringements. A recent ruling by the Information and Data Protection Appeals Tribunal clarified that the data protection commissioner has the right to issue enforcement orders when a government ministry fails to issue certain information – in the case under review, information relating to government consultants’ contracts.

Citations:
https://idpc.org.mt/en/Pages/Home.aspx
Data Commissioner has right to access contracts of government consultants - appeals tribunal
Economy Minister loses legal challenge. Times of Malta 29/01/19
DLA Piper GDPR data breach survey: February 2019
https://www.dlapiper.com/en/uk/insights/publications/2019/01/gdpr-data-breach-survey/
Back to Top