The publication of two draft laws last Thursday (30.9.2010) should serve us as steps that bring us closer, not push us further apart. The draft law that introduces the concept of the whistleblower and the Bill that extensively amends the Permanent Commission Against Corruption Act are the perfect opportunity for both sides of the House of Representatives to unite on a common goal.
This is an opportunity to gain more maturity and let the people know that all sides, government and opposition, stand firmly against illegality and corruption.
Although there are those who might think that at such a time, a party may score cheap political points by accusing the opposing party of wrongdoing such as corruption, in reality it is only belittling the political class as a whole.
Since entering politics, I have tried not to fall into the rut of calling members of the other side corrupt.
First, because I do not believe any honourable member of the House to be corrupt, but rather the contrary I feel that I would be corrupting the democratic fabric itself if I were to call someone corrupt while knowing well that he wasn’t. Second, I firmly believe that Parliament should always be united against corruption and that when we enter into futile political quarrels corruption slips away.
Even though the Opposition might not agree with this because it feels it is losing one of its battle-cries, it must acknowledge that whoever is corrupt would not propose legal measures that would convict him, but rather avoid seeing them through.
I consider it to be a long-term mistake for a party in opposition to dismiss these additional measures. A move in the opposite direction by the opposition would be more beneficial in the current political climate, where more members of the electorate look at us with a sceptical and critical eye and where pedestals and sheer respect are being eroded.
I do not expect praise for these two legal steps through which we are addressing illegal action and corruption in the private, commercial and public sectors, but I think it would be a mistake to quarrel when we should both be contributing to the debate.
We have done our best to draft laws that answer for the complexity of today’s developments. The truth is that a number of laws have been enacted in the past few years that added more checks and balances and these should be brought to the attention of the public by both sides of the House.
It would also be a mistake to give the impression through our criticism that these legal and administrative tools in favour of and at the disposal of the citizen do not exist.
Should we do this, we would be strengthening corruption and illegality because the number of people who see but don’t speak and who want to come forward to blow the whistle will diminish.
Misinformation gives an impression that in itself is counterproductive to our cause because instead of showing that there is a system where whoever commits an act of corruption will ultimately be punished by the law, it makes one think that institutions to deal with this do not exist and that no one will ever be caught.
Now, particularly with the introduction of the Protection of the Whistleblower Act draft bill, there will be an instrument for the employee who witnesses an illegality or irregularity at his workplace to come forward and report it.
This draft act adds in the transparency, accountability, legality and most of all the value of work for employees. It adds to this, firstly because he or she would see changes at the workplace in favour of the environment, working conditions as well as occupational health; and secondly it would add to the stability of employment – the job itself – because it would ensure that the employing company operates according to the law.
This is truly a unique opportunity for Maltese politics. When one side insults the other with corruption, let no one believe that there will only be those who believe that only one side is corrupt.
There will also be, without fail, speculation and rumour surrounding those who did the mud slinging. Without futile quarrels and controversy, we should send the clear message that both sides of the House are united against corruption.
These draft laws were drawn up with utmost seriousness. I therefore appeal that instead of dismissing them, we should join to make sure they become good and direct legal instruments our people and the workforce will feel confident to use.
* This article was published in the Sunday Times on the 3rd October 2010.