Parliament kicks off again this Monday, and while the three-hour tri-weekly sittings can seem a chore to sift through for the everyday person (and journalists for that matter), this upcoming season will see some debates on critical issues for Malta.
With prostitution, gender quotas, the Gozo tunnel, and land reclamation on the agenda, here’s what you have to look out for:
1. The Gozo tunnel
After being unanimously approved by parliament earlier this year, initial tenders for the construction of the Gozo tunnel will be published by the end of 2019. Expect more debate on the subject, which has proven controversial with the general public.
The proposed tunnel would be 13km long and 500m wide and would link Nadur to the hamlet of L-Imbordin.
Connectivity between the two islands has long been an issue for Gozitans who commute to Malta for work, but Gozo Tourism Association President Joe Muscat has said the recent introduction of a fourth ferry has cast doubt over the necessity of a tunnel.
Meanwhile, Opposition leader Adrian Delia is now saying he has significant environmental concerns and will wait until studies are concluded before taking a stance, even if he voted in favour of it.
2. Prostitution Reform
In September, the government unveiled its plans for reforms after publishing a consultation document on human trafficking and prostitution. Following the Nordic model, the proposals will likely decriminalise prostitutes but criminalise their clients.
The public consultation period, which will end in October, tackle human trafficking issues as well as black market sex work in so-called gentleman’s clubs and massage parlours with both set for further regulation.
The issue has already split opinion, with women’s rights groups arguing that legalising prostitution will have harmful psychological effects on prostitutes and would be damaging to society as a whole.
In a debate with lawyer Lara Dimitrijevic, proponent Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando argued that legalising prostitution was a feminist issue.
He also added that no country can ever hope to eliminate prostitution and that legalising it will prevent it from entering the black market and allow the state to safeguard the health of prostitutes and impose taxes on it.
3. The Budget
Essentially, the only thing that matters to most people, whether or not they care about politics at all.
The budget, which sees the rollout of various government initiatives for the upcoming year in one sitting, will be presented on 14th October.
According to the pre-budget document, safeguarding the environment, sustainability in energy and water management, improving the road network, investing and promoting social justice and achieving gender balance in parliament are the government’s top priorities.
While the public was often suspect of government budgets and proposals in the past, people have grown a lot more warm to the idea, with the government regularly fulfilling all the plans it has for the year.
On a political level, expect the government to announce a surplus to much fanfare, with the PN commenting on issues of sustainability and the lack of a long-term plan.
4. Gender Quotas
The Labour government, who has ushered in a progressive era in Malta, has also set its sights on introducing gender quotas (or titled by the government as a ‘corrective mechanism’) in parliament.
Malta does actually have one of the worst rates of female representation in Parliament, with even the likes of North Korea, Libya and Russia scoring better.
However, this is also reflective of the few women who contest elections in the first place.
Indeed, 15% of all female candidates were elected in the last general election, compared to 19% of male candidates. Contrarily, 50% of female candidates and 8% of male candidates were elected to the European Parliament in the 2014 MEP election.
According to the proposed law, political parties will be financially incentivised to recruit, train and promote female candidates but won’t be obliged to present gender-balanced candidacy lists.
If the under-represented sex obtains fewer than 40% of the seats, a ‘gender corrective mechanism’ will automatically kick in. This will be capped at a maximum of 12 seats, which will be equally divided between the PL and the PN.
While Adrian Delia initially slammed the law, the PN later backtracked and backed the proposal. However, with the public also seemingly doubting the need for such a mechanism, questions remain whether the plans will at all change.
5. Rent Reform
In the face of a rapidly inflating rental market, the government announced a long-awaited reform last June.
The proposals are looking to inject some stability and predictability in the market, namely a minimum contract length and notice periods registered formal contracts and legal and fiscal incentives.
The plans have courted controversy themselves with the Malta Developers’ Association and other landlords raising concerns that proposed law will give tenants way too much power, something which the PN has latched on to.
The government has stuck by its position as detailed with a recent tense meeting with MDA Chairman Sandro Chetcuti. However, it remains to be seen what changes will be made once it reaches the parliamentary floor.
6. Land Reclamation And Construction Waste
With the Environment Resource Authority’s plans for land reclamation being presented to cabinet in the coming weeks, expect the issue to be debated heavily in parliament over the next few months.
The issue, while not expressly connected, has been linked to the growing issue surrounding construction waste. What little space quarries have left is being eaten up by rapid development, with MDA’s Chairperson Sandro Chetcuti even speaking out against the issue.
The growing problem needs to be tackled with urgency, so legislation should be unveiled eventually.
7. Venice Commission recommendations
In a wide-ranging but highly-critical report, the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe’s expert body, issued a series of recommendations that must be implemented in Malta.
Beyond calling for an increase in MPs salaries and instituting a stronger president, the report had some choice words for the judiciary, which appears to have spurred on reform.
The double role of the Attorney General as an advisor to the government and prosecutor is expected to become a thing of the past in this parliamentary season, with the creation of a new role for a lawyer to the government.
Other changes include reforms to judicial appointments, the role of the Ombudsman, permanent secretaries, positions of trust, independent commissions and the police force, among others.
8. Safe City
A mass surveillance project is set to launch in Paceville by the end of the year after the control room of the ’Safe City’ project was completed last April.
The control room staffers will be assisted by technology in the cameras which will alert them as soon as they detect notable changes in activity in streets. This, the government hopes will reduce crime in the area.
After it is implemented in Paceville, the Safe City project will be expanded to Marsa and Birżebbuġa
Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi also confirmed with Lovin Malta that the surveillance technology will no longer be designed exclusively by Chinese tech giant Huawei but the providers will be chosen following a tender process
The issue surrounding data surveillance recently bubbled to the surface, after the police were given access to 60 cameras which Transport Malta operates all over Malta and Gozo. This was later flagged as a potential breach of personal data.