Archive for October 2009

Muscat continues to negotiate on human rights

The new and improved statute of the Labour Party (and I don't say this with any sarcasm) has the following article listed as one of the 7 basic principles of the party (loosely translated into English by myself):
2. The Labour Party has full respect for Fundamental Human Rights as written down on the Constitution of Malta and the European Convention on Fundamental Human Rights and believes that every individual as well as society should have the necessary equal opportunity to succeed in work and in education.
Now I can never understand how one can harbor a respect for fundamental human rights and at the same time support a policy (forced repatriation of asylum seekers at sea or the principle of non-refoulement) which very clearly goes against human rights. If someone can help me understand this reasoning I beg him or her to enlighten me.
The way I see it, even if one, just one, out of a hundred or two hundred asylum seekers, has a genuine case for asylum and that one person is turned away this constitutes clear breach of an international norm. There are no two ways about it. The argument is that Libya is a safe place for migrants. Come again? How can you tell me that Libya is a safe place for migrants when it is not even party to the Geneva Convention (the very same convention from which the principle of non-refoulement arises) and when investigative reports clearly show that there is widespread mistreatment of migrants in this particular nation. Sending migrants back to Libya is a breach of their fundamental human rights. Punto e basta.
What is worse and far more alarming, in a way, is that Muscat believes that such a policy is in the national interest which, in typical national socialist fashion, 'comes first and foremost'. This means that, according to Muscat, the national interest has an overriding precedence over human rights and international law.
But as long as a firm belief in this policy will win Muscat elections then it is OK to negotiate on human rights.

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As of late, a number of journals have come up with polls wherein persons have been asked to list issues which concern them the most. Results indicate that the issue which troubles people the most is the high cost of living. There has been much talk of class, especially how the middle class has been hit hard by the economic recession. In fact, the Labour Party, upon realization that it has consistently failed to communicate with the 'middle class', has converted the latter social grouping into one of it's main pillars in terms of strategy and policy. Whilst this may be a good thing, in the sense that the Labour Party should and must strive to be the voice for all citizens and not just for the working classes, it must never abandon those who are truly struggling to make ends meet and simply favor those whose life has become less luxurious. The Labour Party should thus speak up against the employers and business lobby who are fighting tooth and nail to keep wages ridiculously low, when the cost of living has become ridiculously high. I fully agree with the GWU here, which claims that the business lobby cannot continue to threaten workers with job losses each and every time there is mention of a rise in wages (or more specifically the COLA). Having said that, the Labour Party needs to come up with credible and convincing economic policies. It needs to realize that it can no longer glorify tax cuts because tax cuts means less public spending, which in turn means status-quo mediocrity: low wages, inefficient and polluting energy facilities, a shoddy health service and infrastructure (roads in particular) inferior to most developing nations. On the other hand, the Labour Party needs to be honest with citizens by not introducing taxes subversively and out of context as the present administration is so keen on doing. I also agree with Joseph Muscat that careful planning and wise spending will save the treasury millions of euros as opposed to the over-zealous and ridiculously wasteful spending of the GonziPN regime.
But I have to say that in my case there is something that worries me more than the rising cost of living and that is parliament which supposedly is 'the highest institution of the country', whatever that means. I see nothing high and mighty in our parliament. To the contrary parliament is turning into a sick joke. The UK Parliament website lists three main functions of parliament. These are:
1. Examining and challenging the work of government (scrutiny)
2. Debating and passing all laws (legislation)
3. Enabling the government to raise taxes
On the first two points especially, our Parliament fails miserably and it fulfills the third in a most subversive and arrogant manner (of course it is the executive that raises taxes but it does so through parliament). The recent 'Arsenal-gate' is proof enough that parliament is powerless to scrutinize the workings of government. When a minister justifies his or her actions solely in a newspaper interview and not in 'the highest institution of the country' (as if it is a perfectly normal thing to do) goes to show that there is no modicum of scrutiny in parliament. Over and above we are facing a situation where ministers and the prime minister himself fail to attend parliament and how can one scrutinize the work of government, if government is not even present to be questioned? Last but not least it must be said scrutiny rarely takes place in parliament. Facts clearly show that TV producers, journalists and opinion writers do a far better job in scrutiny (some honestly, most with an agenda) than parliament does.
The second function is to debate and pass ALL laws. Another revolting joke. I sincerely believe (and I hope that I can be proven wrong on this) that if one had to analyse how laws are passed one would find that a great majority of them are passed by way of legal notice and not in parliament. This means that it is ministers and civil servants that pass laws and not parliament. Granted that it would be quite an impossible task for parliament to pass all laws and thus the need for power to be delegated but the use of legal-notice-law-passing has increased to such a considerable extent that it creates reasonable doubt in any sane person as to whether parliament is fulfilling this fundamental function correctly. And whilst our parliament wins top marks in adequately transposing EU regulations and directives into law it has failed miserably in debating such regulations and directives.
All of this begs the question as to what the hell is our parliament doing? It is worrying because losing faith in one's parliament means losing faith in one's democracy. If there is something Maltese citizens should protest about - it is this.


The Times bigger than Parliament according to Minister Tonio

Minister Tonio Fenech does not feel compelled to make a statement in parliament about his private trip with business tycoons having vested interests in the gaming industry. The reason for this is that he has already said what he wanted to say to mainstream newspaper The Times. This goes to prove three things:
1. that the media (The Times in particular) is far stronger than the other institutions (amongst which is parliament of course) of the country;
2. that The Times directly or indirectly serves as the government's Pravda; and
3. that arrogance and unaccountability have firmly substituted the principle of ministerial responsibility or what's left of it
In other democracies (except for the Italian kind which we admire so much) a situation like this would have spelled the end of a politician's career. But this is Malta and I have to say that Harry Vassallo is spot on when he says that in Malta there exists no culture of political responsibility and it is only the electorate that can elect, re-elect or remove MP's and members of the Cabinet from power once every five years. Problem is we have become so used to such 'scandals' that four years down the line we would have forgotten all about it. What's worse is that the politician embroiled in any controversy tends to emerge stronger than ever.
The good news is that we can save our coffers several million euros by not having to build a new house of parliament.

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An undeserving laureate?

The question that's on the mind of many at the moment is whether President Barack Obama truly deserved the Nobel Peace Prize. He was nominated just two weeks in office and took the award just nine months later in what has been dubbed as a "shock announcement". As with all things that get the sentiments flowing we bring out the 'expert' in us and hear all sorts of opinions.
It seems to me that both those in favor of handing out this prestigious award to Obama and those against make valid claims. Obama has, in my opinion, certainly made great efforts to instill a sense of hope and good feeling both for America and the rest of the world in general. His mission for nuclear disarmament, his reaching out to the Muslim world, his quest for making the world a better place is commendable and cannot simply dismissed as rhetoric.
On the other hand there is much truth in the saying that actions speak louder than words. Obama can never achieve peace in the Middle East for example if he continues to be bullied by lobbyists whose sole interest is that of seeking a Zionist agenda for Israel. He was too soft with Netanyahu and to this very day many Palestinians are systematically kicked out of their homes to make way for Jewish families. Another conundrum is the fact that conflict is still the status quo in the troubled region of Afghanistan and conflict is the opposite of peace. But what is to be done in such situations? Would it be responsible or moral to abandon Afghanistan and leave it to its fate?
I believe that Obama is definitely peace prize material. The potential is there. Having said that, I agree that it may have been too early to hand out this award to the President. The award is peculiar in the sense that it is not so much an appraisal of what the man has achieved but of what he should be doing and must do. It is a reminder of the tasks Obama has before him in these early days of the 21st Century. Whilst it is a glorification of the trust the world has vested in Obama it would be a grave mistake for us to expect change and the pursuit of peace to come from just this one man.


Ok, what Way now?

The German SPD's electoral untergang was perhaps one of the very few remaining nails hammered into the coffin where European social democracy as we know it has been laid to rest. Whilst social-democracy is still relatively powerful, it must be said that the "hard" left and other fringe-groups of political spectrum such as the Greens are becoming more trustworthy than the political orientation which seeks the middle-ground. These are all facts which no one can deny.

This is a problem for social democracy and therefore a problem for the left. It is real, it is identifiable. One leading argument for this downfall is that the electorate is no longer bothered with ideology and fancy statements of policy about social markets and regulation. So it follows that the 'message' of third-way political parties was not explained/delivered well enough, or it simply wasn't what the elctorate wants to hear. Some even argue that it had no message to begin with. This argument however, stops here for whilst it identifies that the 'message' has failed it offers no plausible alternative. One still needs to identify therefore the type of message social-democracy needs to deliver if it is to become credible once again.
Another argument is that the mix-and-match politics of the third way has alienated those who identify themselves with socialism and the labour movement. The new left tried to supplant the old grass-roots by embracing neo-liberalism as the way forward. It is of no surprise that these voters, which reject the centre-ground, turn to more radical parties such as those falling on the hard left and perhaps even the Greens. This has led to a deep fragmentation in socialist parties across Europe culminating in the battle of different factions and ultimately in party splits. No wonder that social democrats fared hopelessly even in times of economic crisis.
In December the PES will hold its 8th Congress since its conception, with the aim to tackle the social democratic crisis. It is admirable that the pan-European socialist party openly admits that its message has failed to reach voters' aspirations. Questions need to be raised as to how and why this is so. More importantly however, it needs to seek solutions to the problems that have become so deeply rooted in social democracy and this requires a revisionist as well as a pragmatic approach. How can social democrats convert the ideological politics of a better tomorrow into something sensible, real and credible? What can social democrats do to overcome the problems that accompany certain issues such as immigration, climate change and globalisation? Should social democratic parties become more open and more pluralistic? Is it time to move away from the centre-ground? These few questions have certainly been posited before. Now is the time to come up with plausible answers.


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