Have our institutions been hijacked?

The Times reported that the Prime Minister Joseph Muscat commented that while on the one hand the Opposition argues that the island’s institutions have been “hijacked by the government”, its representatives were now quitting these same entities.

Institutions such as the Planning Authority, Lands Authority etc are not prevented from being hijacked by the government by having an equal amount of members of parliament (MPs) from both the government and the opposition sides on their boards, but by being absolutely devoid of people from the political class or people who are proxies or emissaries of the political class.

This is called separation of powers, a doctrine of constitutional law under which the three branches of government (executive, legislative, and judicial) are kept separate. This is also known as the system of checks and balances, because each branch is given certain powers so as to check and balance the other branches. The intent of separation of powers is to prevent the concentration of unchecked power by providing for “checks” and “balances” to avoid autocracy, and the over-reaching by one branch over another, because as Lord Acton put it, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. “

Having MPs, political appointees, persons of trust, party apparatchiks, party officials and party activists appointed as CEOs or chairpersons of boards of government institutions and agencies flies in the face of the doctrine of separation of powers. It makes a mockery of the doctrine of separation of powers, and hence of the rule of law and of democracy, and is symptomatic of authoritarian, populist heads of states and governments who aspire to absolute control by doing away with checks and balances.

Yet there is not a single institution in Malta that is not headed by a PL apparatchik. The Malta Financial Services Authority (MFSA), Planning Authority (PA), Lands Department, Malta Tourism Authority (MTA), and the Malta Police Force are just examples. Which country can boast of having a Police Commissioner who publicly declared on social media that he admires the Prime Minister’s testicles?

There is not a single government MP (the legislative arm) who does not occupy a senior position within the executive arm. Not one. The Commissioner for Standards in Public Life is pushing to put a stop to having MPs on the government payroll, and rightly so. MPs should not occupy positions within the executive, and this includes Opposition MPs.

There have never been as many persons of trust on the government payroll as there are currently. Appointing persons of trust runs against the constitution. The praxis of appointing persons of trust has been highly criticitised by constitutional experts, the Ombudsman and the Venice Commission and cannot be allowed to continue brazenly and unfettered.

The judiciary has not been spared from the systemic and systematic hijack. “60% of all judges and magistrates sitting in judgement of us have a personal history that is intimately, actively and explicitly intertwined with the Labour Party” Vicki Ann Cremona wrote in an article on The Times.

She correctly points out that this does not mean that the judgements of these magistrates and judges are necessarily influenced by political considerations, but it does not give a person the comfort that they are not, and it is of fundamental importance that justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done. In order for justice to truly be justice, a trial needs not only to be fair, just and unbiased, but it is of the essence that it is also seen to be fair, just and unbiased. Without transparency and trust in the courts, there is no justice.

State capture, the hijacking of the government and government institutions, serves the purposes and interest of a very small handful of individuals. In the short term, many may benefit from the crumbs that fall from the table, but the price comes heavy, and the sooner the public puts its foot down to this folly the sooner we can start working our way back to rule of law and liberal democracy.