Malta—Malta is an idyllic, ancient and historic island in the Mediterranean. Once host to the Knights Templar, it hosted this week the Congress of the European People’s Party (EPP), the governing political coalition in the European Parliament. The top bureaucrats of the European Union (EU) and its leading center-right political leaders, like Chancellor Angela Merkel, were in full attendance. I was an invited guest to the memorable event, and I also attended the Executive Board meeting of the Centrist Democrat International (CDI) held in Malta, too.
The EPP Congress tackled existentialist concerns, such as Brexit, the future of the EU, the threat of extremist Islamists, the ultra-rightists and Russian aggression against its neighbors. The CDI Executive Board, on the other hand, approved a new Charter strengthening its presence in Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa, while it denounced Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s closedown of its Congress.
All the above events were fully reported by the international media. The Maltese media highlighted, though, the need for state subsidy to political parties in order to prevent not just regulatory capture but, worse, state capture by the oligarchy.
The issue erupted, as a sweetheart deal between the government of Malta and the DB Group caused public uproar. Both signed a €60-million contract (roughly P3.22 billion), selling to the DB Group a highly prized public land occupied by the Institute of Tourism Studies beside the scenic Saint George’s Bay. The DB Group plans to build on the property a €300-million development that includes a 315-room Hard Rock hotel, up to 209 residences and some office spaces.
Simon Busuttil, head of the opposition Nationalist Party (PN), criticized the deal, saying the government sold the land at a price way below its value. He then revealed in a press conference that the DB Group demanded a refund for its contributions to his party in light of his criticisms of the deal. The DB Group responded, saying the contributions were “requested” by the PN and not “donated” to the party, and that it is paying the salaries of two PN officials.
The controversy unearthed the close ties between Maltese political parties and big business, where the former relies on the latter to operate. Under this system, politicians end up owing their election more to the largesse of their campaign donors, rather than to the state or to the ideals of their party. Politicians—with few exceptions—end up marching to the tune of their contributors and backers.
Busuttil and the Maltese opposition now advocate stricter political- party finance regulations, also state funding of political parties similar to Germany, the United Kingdom,
Canada, Australia, France, the United States, and even our neighbors Singapore, Japan, Korea and Malaysia.
The state’s financial support for political parties would act as a counterbalance against private interests aiming to use their contributions as leverage over the recipient-party. This ensures that programs—not personalities or private interests—become the focus of a political party’s electoral campaigns.
Such a system was one of the main features of the Political Party Development Act (PPDA) that I filed as early as 2004. The PPDA, among other provisions, creates a State Subsidy Fund that would be proportionately shared by accredited national parties, and subject to strict regulations.
Such fund shall be used exclusively for campaign expenditures and operations of the political party, such as research or training for members. Parties that receive the subsidy would be required to submit regular reports on their expenditures to the Commission on Elections.
Unfortunately, the PPDA never passed the legislative mill while I was still serving. Several versions of the measure have already been filed in the 17th Congress and, hopefully, will be tabled for discussion soon.
State funding for political parties, as proposed in the PPDA, will help cure the ills of our political party system that is rife with turncoatism and driven by personality and political machinery, instead of ideology and ideas. It also prevents politicians’ capture by oligarchs, reducing the opportunity for corruption and unethical behavior.
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