How long will this ‘ad hockery’ last?

Those who think Muscat showed weakness when he brokered this ‘ad hoc’ solution, are completely off the mark

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had implied that Lifeline will be impounded upon arrival, and the Captain’s actions in this incident will be investigated
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had implied that Lifeline will be impounded upon arrival, and the Captain’s actions in this incident will be investigated

Late last Wednesday the rescue vessel owned by an NGO (Lifeline) carrying 230 ‘migrants’ was permitted to dock in Malta after an ‘ad hoc’ agreement with seven other EU member states

While the MTV concert was going on in full blast in Floriana, a short distance away, three babies and an adult migrant who disembarked from the rescue vessel Lifeline were taken to Mater Dei hospital for medical assistance and the rest were escorted in police vans to the Marsa reception centre.

Addressing a Press Conference before the ship’s docking, the Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had implied that Lifeline will be impounded upon arrival, and the Captain’s actions in this incident will be investigated. He also said that Malta, Italy, France, Ireland, Luxembourg, Portugal, Belgium and the Netherlands had pledged to distribute the rescued migrants between them once they were processed.

Meanwhile, the ship’s Captain was being advised by two Maltese lawyers after he was informed by authorities that he was in breach of a number of regulations. I would not be surprised if by the time this piece is published, he would have already been arraigned in Court.

On his part, the Leader of the Opposition, Adrian Delia, said his party is proposing that the country makes its principles clear, and that the situation itself needs to be clarified, Delia said, “The government so far only spoke about the incident itself and not the plan in the long term.”

There is a point in this.

However, in my opinion, Muscat has managed to broker an EU breakthrough solution to the migrant problem, albeit being a temporary ‘ad hoc’ one. It is Muscat who should be congratulated on this one. Salvini’s salvoes about some imaginary Italian victory are nothing but hot air.

Will this ‘ad hoc’ solution become more permanent as the summer continues to roll in? That is exactly the other side of the coin that expounds Adrian Delia’s very pertinent question. However, this sort of thing develops slowly and planning some rigid policy applicable in all cases is not indicated at the moment.

The Mediterranean migration problem has become more complicated with the advent of vessels belonging to NGOs who think that they are doing a service to humanity by picking up migrants from rubber dinghies in the sea and transporting them to Europe in spite of instructions to the contrary. Migrants picked in the territorial waters of Libya should be sent back to Libya – as far as current legal provisions are concerned. Lifeline was technically breaking the law when it refused to comply with these instructions.

We still have to see whether this ‘ad hoc’ solution to a very permanent problem will lead to a more permanent solution. In other words, how long will this ‘ad hockery’ last?

When niggling international problems without any solutions are faced by the EU – or anyone else, for that matter – even finding an ‘ad hoc’ solution is difficult. Over time, it may well be that the ‘ad hoc’ solution becomes more permanent, if it is resorted to more and more often.

Indeed, those who think Muscat showed weakness when he brokered this ‘ad hoc’ solution, are completely off the mark

On Wednesday, I met a switcher who was livid about the solution, saying that Muscat should never have accepted the ship to dock in Malta. He was criticising Muscat, for the first time since he switched his political allegiance. I found myself on Muscat’s side, attempting to explain what this new approach meant. To no avail, of course.

Indeed, those who think that Muscat showed weakness when he brokered this ‘ad hoc’ solution, are completely off the mark.

Prime Minister’s powers

Every time a Constitutional reform was mooted, I always insisted that the biggest problem with our Constitution is that it vests the Prime Minister with too much power.

In my opinion, this was the result of our Colonial roots. When we became independent the powers of the colonial master were practically all passed on to the Prime Minister, who became, in practical terms, a dictator for five years until an election confirmed him or kicked him out.

It does not matter who the Prime Minister of the day is/was. It is irrelevant whether the dictatorship is (or was) malign or benign – or something in between. This has been the real situation with the wielding of power in Malta ever since the 21st September of 1964.

So, I was not surprised when I read that the same conclusion was reached by Dutch MEP Pieter Omtzigt (Christian Democratic Appeal) who was appointed by the legal affairs committee of the Council of Europe as rapporteur on the investigation into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia and the rule of law in Malta.

In a preliminary overview of the case, Omtzigt said it raised “many issues concerning the rule of law in Malta, the progress made in investigating the murder, and the attitude and behaviour of certain senior public officials.”

Omtzigt remarked that: ‘The way senior officials in the public administration are appointed suggests a remarkable concentration of power and influence in the hands of the Prime Minister.’

So, what’s new? Did we need a foreign MEP ‘investigating’ a horrible murder executed under the watch of Malta’s most popular Prime Minister – in terms of voter support – to wake up and realise this harsh truth?

And are we going to do something about it?

I doubt it.

Death of a monster

When I was minister responsible for infrastructure – many moons ago – I thought that one could wrest the power to issue building permits from the hold of the politician – for which read Minister appointed by the Prime Minister – and hand it over to an independent technical body. Politicians were to have their say in the approval of policies while technocrats would be responsible for the issuing of building permits.

At first there was a negative reaction. No one could understand how a Planning Authority official was not under the politician’s direct control. In hindsight, I think the technocrats should have introduced their power slowly and in stages, and not so suddenly.

Anyway, for many citizens, the Planning Authority soon became a monster created by yours truly.

The monster is no more.

And, as every minister will tell you, it has now become a docile pussycat.

More in Blogs

Get access to the real stories first with the digital edition

Subscribe