Archive for 2013


Here's a couple of thoughts now that Election 2013 has come and gone. In droves, the people have spoken and voted for change. They gave a massive middle-finger and a righteous ass-kicking to the status-quo. To be honest with you, I was skeptical to the very last moment. When they were banging on the perspex 30 or 40 minutes past 11 on Sunday morning I still couldn't fathom who had won. But my distrust or pessimism was entirely misplaced. The electorate has not feared to change when change was needed. It did it before on several occasions, 1971 and 1987, 2011 (divorce referendum) to name a few. It was, beyond a shred of doubt, a historic result in a local context (any delusions of grandeur would be misplaced). 

The Victor

As a natural consequence of its campaign, the PL now faces a tall order and high expectations. In its first 100 days of government it must set in motion its energy plan, enact the Whistleblowers Act, party financing legislation, and the removal of time-bars on political corruption. In the first year it must embark on a thorough reform of justice and home affairs. Coupled with this would be a much needed (and anticipated) Constitutional reform. This is just the bare minimum that is being expected. Equally important would be to instill a culture of meritocracy and transparency in public appointments, but it would be foolish to assume that Muscat's government should be devoid of persons who enjoy his party's trust and vision. In all European democracies this is a sine qua non

A fundamental aspect of PL's campaign was its energy plan. Had it failed to be credible on this issue its entire edifice would have crumbled and I would assume that we would have had a possible 2008 repeat. But it is rather clear that it has been credible on its plans. Now it must transform that credibility into concrete action. In doing so, however, it will surely face fierce criticism on three crucial aspects: (1) the two-year time frame, (2) the public procurement aspect, and (3) the environmental impact assessments. It must be prepared to tackle these issues and give clear answers.  

One also expects crucial reforms on social issues such as gay rights. I also wish that PL will revise its position on IVF both on its social aspect by making it accessible to all persons and on its scientific aspect by allowing for the freezing of embryos. 

Most importantly, however, PL must be closer to the people. This, in realization of the most basic fact that it is there to serve them, and not the other way round. 

The Loser

I am elated that the PN lost the way it did for the simple reason that it taught them a much-needed lesson that the days of nepotism and political patronage are over. All that talk about "arrogance", "cliques" and "oligarchy" might've sounded absurd but there was a lot of truth in that absurdity. Now this is a golden opportunity for the PN to renew itself as a modern Christian Democrat/centre-right party. European Christian democrats might stand for conservative social policies (ideally mild or moderate) and liberal economic policies but they should never treat people as numbers or scum as that would be a gross betrayal of their supposedly Christian roots. 

In my opinion, Simon Busuttil should not even be considered as a contender for the PN leadership. His oratory my be calm and sharp but he sounds (and acts) like a patronizing priest preaching from the pulpit. He has proven to be sickeningly condescending as well as gaffe-prone and, therefore, a liability. More serious contenders for this post would be Mario Demarco or Chris Said who are (I hope) more amenable to collective/national interest rather than political/partisan interest.  

In essence, PN requires a thorough cleansing of its entire political structures. Rather than embarking upon the project of building a new parliament building it should have seriously invested in rebuilding itself. Yet, despite these much needed calls even from significant insiders the PN continued to pander to personal interests and never distanced itself from scum like DCG, il-Bocca (who has laughably taken credit for PL's victory) and the WE crew. 

Kudos go to Dr. Lawrence Gonzi for being more than gracious in defeat although I do respectfully disagree with certain statements I've seen that Lawrence Gonzi's exit was a mistake. Lawrence Gonzi might have fared more than well on the economy but he was dethroned by major political and personal interests throughout these five years and had failed to do anything about it. If not direct acceptance it was a tacit one.  

The Minnow

AD was once again the minnow of the electoral result. But this time it got its best result yet with a respectable 1.8% of the national vote (roughly an increase of 38% - 40% over its 2008 result). Hand on heart, however, I truly believed that AD would fare better by making it to the 2% - 2.5% region as polls were showing. I think AD believed this too, or were at least highly optimistic about it. AD must take stock and do away with the profound belief that as a party it is infallible, rather it is the system and/or the electorate which is against it.  Blaming everything or everyone but itself would be a grave mistake. I also maintain that AD erred (big time) by ridiculing and generalsing about everyone who would not vote for it. Instead of ridiculing it must ask why. Blaming DCG and Lou Bondi for a swing in Labour's favour is feeble. AD must also accept that even though a mere 8 or 15 minute appearance on public broadcasting is undemocratic, it did get far more airtime, publicity and endorsements this time round. AD also ran an impeccable campaign in social networking. Furthermore, whereas Michael Briguglio's chairmanship might have garnered the respect of the radical left wing,  AD needs to stop relying on disgruntled Nationalists (which might explain the great disdain for Muscat) and move beyond the 10th District. 

However those 5,500 AD votes should not be forsaken. These votes exceed the national quota. I am delighted that Evarist Bartolo has already spoken up about this issue concerning electoral reform and hope that it is taken on board in this legislature. Bartolo extended the olive-branch before but unfortunately it was shot down by Cassola and (especially) Cacopardo who I respect and admire. Unfortunately an arrogant streak (i.e. a belief that progressive politics is the sole domain of AD) got the better of them at the time. I hope for AD's sake that this does not persist. 

I do not expect a co-option in this legislature but I do seriously hope for amendments to the 2007 electoral reforms through which parties or independents can be represented in parliament if they obtain a national quota. I also concur with Mark il-Biwwa that proposing an AD speaker would be a sign of good-will. 

*** Fin ***

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Vote 2013 Explained

The primary concern

The first thing that comes to mind is change from the status quo. This change must not be based on a mere transition of faces, colors and slogans but it must be deep-rooted; that is to say from the top-down, from the bottom-up and from side to side. It must reflect a change in political culture and ultimately socio-cultural mentality itself. It must therefore be a change that resists and overcomes the culture of patronage and individual interests. It must defeat divisions and destroy divide-and-rule. It must, at the very least, lay the groundwork to eradicate nepotism and cronyism which, in turn, give rise to abuses, clientelism and corruption. 

Secondary but (pretty much) equally important concerns

A - Social Equality and Liberties

Equality is a social issue that is closest to heart. It must be real and it must be felt. The underlying motif should always be that basic fundamental norm that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and in rights. All distinctions based on race, sex and gender, creed, sexual orientation, political grouping and so on must be slowly destroyed. But I do not realistically expect that on the morrow of the election we will have a complete liberalization of all social constraints. Socia liberalisation, secularisation and europeanisation cannot be completely divorced from historical identity at the click of a finger. Prudence demands patience, mutual understanding and compromise and I am somewhat irked by the mentality of "all or none". The same reasoning applies to addressing immigration. I expect much more to be done to safeguard and enhance rights and dignity of asylum-seekers but won't go to the other extreme by claiming that greater efforts at EU-level on responsibility sharing is taboo or unjust, especially considering Malta's limited size and resources. 

B - Social Justice 

Social justice is equally as important. I am not against success and profit so long as it is shared prudently and fairly. I want to be able to be truly proud to pay taxes in the full knowledge that they are going to benefit those who are lesser off. Having said that, no one should simply live off social benefits for the simple reason that they couldn't be arsed to at least try. I am somewhat averse to means testing but I find nothing wrong with giving people the choice to opt out, voluntarily, from benefits such as stipends - guided by civic duty and social justice. Also, austerity politics should be overcome as it is short-sighted and self-defeating. Saving and spending should be wise and prudent. My basic economic compass tells me you should tighten the belt when the economy is strong and smooth - to spend when rainy days come (and not the other way round). Furthermore, spending should be made on things that matter and reap long-term benefits. 

C - Social Corporatism 

I am not anti-capitalist and have faith in the private sector but I expect employers and laborers to have equal seats at the table. I also believe that the state has a role to play in guiding and regulating economic practice when necessary. This is no taboo and should never be treated as such. 

D - Transparency and Accountability in Governance

Transparency and accountability are pretty much tied up with my primary concern. It goes without saying that  enacting transparency and accountability requires a holistic approach and not 1 or 2 pieces of legislation. Nonetheless a Whistleblower's Act, party-financing legislation, appointments on public authorities and boards, and stronger action against political corruption should be mandatory for a new government (although I do agree that with respect to political corruption  - the same measures should apply to the corrupter whoever he or she or it may be - and not just the politician). 

E - Justice (Law & Order)

Justice is also close to heart especially now that I work in the field. The judiciary and organisation of the courts require urgent reform ranging from the way appointments are made to increasing court facilities and staff. There are many issues that need to be addressed which I have briefly touched upon here (paras 18 to 24) and here

F - Other issues

Several other important issues that must be addressed such as ending moral paternalism,  sustainable development and planning, constitutional revision, child-care, employment, energy poverty, electoral reform and so on. 

The Choice


I confess that, being a social democrat firmly on the side of the liberal left, the most obvious choice would be to choose AD in these elections. However, you would be mistaken to think that it is so straight-forward. AD has made grave errors in this election and it is not infallible or beyond reproach. AD is right to claim that is has been consistent and progressive. Yet, in claiming the mantle of "the voice of reason" it has zealously overstepped limits of even basic courtesy and manners by dubbing anyone who votes otherwise as "tribalist", "sheep" or unable to "think freely". This is insulting to say the least and betrays its progressivism and inclusiveness by giving way to quasi-unbridled arrogance which really puts me off. It seems that AD has become an exclusive club that measures intelligence and free-thinking on the basis of your vote. I am also completely against the "PNPL-dichotomy" label because it is a historical falsity. It is PN which has been in power for the last 25 years and not PL. There is no wrong in differentiating oneself from other parties (actually this is a sine-qua-non in politics) but to lump all the country's faults as "PLPN" is misleading.


The only thing that PN has going for it is the relative economic stability in a turbulent economic climate. Of course this has to be qualified by conservative and prudent banking policies. And to be fair, one must conduct a thorough audit of all public authorities and corporations to be able to get a better picture of the state's finances. Other than that PN represents the status-quo defined in my opening paragraph. No chance.


This leaves PL. The thing that put me off most about PL throughout this entire campaign was Muscat's answer to push-backs on asylum-seekers, even if he has qualified this insofar as Libya is a "safe country". Secondly, the hunting issue will cost more votes than gained; that is a certainty. I don't appreciate hunting and  have difficulty appreciating law-breaking hunters even more than hunting itself. But the portrayal of Muscat as a reckless gun-toting-bird-killing redneck  irks me when you consider that he has been very clear: hunting strictly within EU-law framework and increase in enforcement. If you are truly against hunting then criticize the law that allows it to happen in the first place including the judgement that allowed for a spring-hunting derogation under strict supervision. Furthermore, if you are truly against hunting you should call for it to be banned outright. In my opinion, Muscat's true mistake on this issue was not inviting ENGO's such as Bird-Life to also have a seat at the table of discussion. Because of this omission, ENGO anger is merited.

Whilst there are clear red-lines for me on immigration, I will not base my entire vote on spring hunting as the major issue of this campaign. One has to also acknowledge the fact that it is simply not possible to agree with absolutely everything. If I want a party with which I can agree with 100% I'll just go and become a candidate myself. Indeed, Michael Briguglio himself had disagreements in 2008 with AD. Unlike Briguglio, however, I do not think that either-all-or-none is a valid approach to take. I will not abandon ship (as I've done before) but do my damnedest to vocally-crticise and sway opinion, and I do believe that Muscat is not averse to changing his opinion.

These issues aside, PL has opened up. It has been firm and consistent on the need for change from the status-quo, as it has been firm on equality, transparency and accountability.


Sorry to disappoint, but my "very limited cognitive faculties-cum-tribal instinct" tells me to vote for PL candidates best placed to bring about change. Don't worry though, insults aside, AD will still get my cross-vote, with a higher preference than you may think. 

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Criminal Defamation: Just Plain Evil or Necessary Evil?

From the outset the title of this blogpost immediately conveys the idea that I consider criminal defamatory libel "evil". In particular, I find that it is inherently wrong and undemocratic to put someone in prison for words or writings about others even if they end up to be purely speculative or outright false. Criminal libel is part of our criminal law and is established as a crime in Article 252 as follows:

252. Whosoever, with the object of destroying or damaging the reputation of any person, shall offend such person by words, gestures, or by any writing or drawing, or in any other manner, shall, on conviction, be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months, or to a fine (multa). 

The penalty is decreased where the defamation consists of vague expressions or indeterminate reproaches, or where the words or gestures used are merely indecent (crime becomes a contravention). However, it is increased if such defamation occurs in writing, drawings or effigies that are divulged and exhibited to the public (imprisonment of up to one year). Moreover, the party who defames is not allowed to produce evidence of the truth except in the case of public officials and he/she shall only be exempt from punishment where that truth is deemed by the courts to be in the public interest. It appears that in the case of private individuals there is no defence. 

The criminal law, however, makes a distinction between defamation and libel on printed matter. In the latter case, it states that the provisions of the Press Act shall apply. 

The issue with defamation is a delicate one. Unfortunately for free-speech radicals, damage by words or writing to the reputation of others is one of the exceptions to freedom of expression. One must bear in mind that the motivation behind such law is that a person who, in bad faith and with malicious intent, conjurs up a falsity to utterly destroy the reputation and honour of another (his family included) should be made to suffer some form of punishment. I think that most would agree that this is a serious inherent wrong that is objectively justified. The problem arises with respect to punishment: is imprisonment a proportionate response to counter such wrong? 

Furthermore (and parallels can be drawn here with the laws on obscenity and their consequences viz-a-viz artists) such a punishment may indeed serve to stifle the media. But one must not immediately come to the conclusion that, as a result, laws such as these should be immediately demolished and thrown in the dustbin of history. That would be rash and may open up a Pandora's box - or simply a case of going from one extreme to the other.  

The UK abolished criminal defamatory libel as recently as 2010, but as other more recent events suggest (Leveson comes to mind), the media too can play very dirty games. Of course, one has to take into account the fact that the case with NotW/Murdoch/etc involved other offences relating to privacy -  but these same issues (recordings and whatnot) are cropping up here too. 

Whatever the case, I claim that the motivation behind this law is well-reasoned but it does require serious reform. Perhaps one step forward would be to give the alleged "defamor" more freedom to prove the veracity of his allegations - in other words this defence should not be restricted in any way. Secondly, the law or procedure should be drafted in such a way that the prosecution and/or complainant must prove beyond any reasonable doubt whatsoever three key points: (1) the falsity of the words, writing or gestures (the mind boggles at what such gestures could be) ; (2) bad faith; (3) malicious intent. Thus, even though a writing may found to be ultimately false, the "defamor" should be exonerated when he/she proves that such writing was drafted in good faith and/or without malicious intent. A case that comes to mind is that issue concerning Joseph Mizzi's (public official) alleged "drunk" episode at the Eurovision. Mizzi may have furnished proof that his drink was in fact spiked, but it does not mean that the press who brought this incident to light did so in bad faith. Other obvious cases are articles on statements on serious shortcomings - even corruption (and associated whiffs) - but which cannot be definitively proven. 

Thirdly, the punishment for imprisonment should be removed as I feel that, although the damage caused may be serious, it would be a disproportionate response to mitigate such a crime - all the more so when it is applied to journalists who draw up articles from various sources. Furthermore, it appears that such punishment is a mere relic of the past as it is supposedly no longer applied/enforced by the courts.

Another plausible alternative would be to merely remove the criminal aspect and to retain the civil "offence" under tort/libel. A legitimate downside to this (in my opinion) is that in the civil realm, the court bases its decisions on what is called 'balance of probabilities' rather than 'proof beyond reasonable doubt'. Thus it may be easier for a civil court to conclude that harm was done than a criminal court; and there is more scope for subjectivity rather than objective forensic evidence.  

Ultimately, the monetary compensation and the exoneration by the court of the alleged crime should definitely serve as sufficient remedy. Coupled with this should be other procedural reforms in the sense that such cases are treated with greater urgency by the courts. This is best for both parties for on the one hand the alleged victim may lose not only his reputation but also livelihood (by being forced to resign for example), and on the other hand (if the criminal offence is retained) the alleged violator would be accused of a crime which is serious in itself. Another interesting aspect (more substantive than procedural), but which may not go down well, would be to apply fines that are proportionate to the damage suffered - both actual and moral - and not a mere maximum of €x. Lastly, and perhaps this is the most difficult part albeit the most obvious, persons in the public sphere have to acknowledge that they are not immune from scrutiny - that the functions they serve (and not their private lives, please) and how they serve them must be put under the magnifying glass. 

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