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MALTATODAY 22 January 2023

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maltatoday | SUNDAY •22 JANUARY 2023 8 INTERVIEW Raphael Vassallo Let's look beyond 'Blue' and Last March you were appointed as chair of the Public Accounts Committee: in a reshuffle that saw all three (veteran) Opposi- tion members being replaced. This followed a series of ses- sions over the Electrogas issue, which had descended into par- tisan bickering. Do you feel that your own appointment - as one of the PN's younger, and more 'moderate' voices – signals a change in the Opposition's ap- proach to this committee? First of all, it is important to stress that the appointment of the PAC chairperson is the sole prerogative of the Opposition leader. He alone can take the de- cision; and this is very clearly ex- plained, in the law. At the same time: although the three former members – Karol [Aquilina], Beppe [Fenech Ad- ami] and Ryan [Callus] – certain- ly don't need me, or anyone else, to defend them: all three of them got re-elected, in the last election. So I don't think there was any question of 'trust', concerning any of them… Nonetheless, all three were re- placed, halfway through an on- going debate… Not exactly: bear in mind that, when the PAC's term of office has expired, the subject of discussion ends with it. It was, in fact, our decision to continue the Electro- gas discussion. At the time, many local media were even asking us: 'what are you going to do?' Are you going to continue? Are you going to start afresh?' And I made it a prerogative, within the committee, that: al- though we are going to continue that discussion, from where it left off - and we will be referring to past testimony, just so as not to repeat everything from scratch - this is still a new [committee] leg- islature. Having said that, I still felt the need to resummon sever- al witnesses – including Konrad Mizzi, next Tuesday – because it's not a 'closed chapter'; and also because he is no longer a mem- ber of Parliament (which makes a certain legal difference, even with regard to way he can answer questions). But to go back to your original question: I can only speak for my- self. Just to put you into context: I was also elected as a member of the Commonwealth Association for PACs. As such, I have had opportunity to observe how sim- ilar committees – not to mention Parliamentary systems – func- tion in other countries. One PAC I particularly like to follow, is that of the UK. And I think that, if we were to adopt the same structures, and mo- dus operandi – where it's not just a question of 'scoring polit- ical points' - Malta's Parliament could be so much more effective. So yes: one of my main aspira- tions is to change the overall ap- proach. But not just of the PAC; and not just compared with the previous legislature, either. What is needed is a holistic change, to the way Parliament operates as a whole. Why, for instance, do we have this divide between 'Blue' and 'Red'? Isn't it time to move forward? You mentioned the British Par- liamentary system, as an exam- ple to follow. But debates in the House of Commons can be just as 'divisive', and 'partisan', as what happens here. What is it about this model, exactly, that we should emulate? Well, the biggest difference is that – within the UK's PAC – none of the committee mem- bers, are also members of the executive. It's in fact a rule of the House: PAC members have to be backbenchers, without any ex- ecutive role. Why? Because how it can make sense, for a cabinet minister to be investigated by another cabinet minister? Or by a parliamentary secretary, within a cabinet ministry? I see your point, but wouldn't also be true if all PAC members were backbenchers? None of the government's current four members is, in fact, a 'Cabinet minister'… No, but Glenn Bedingfield is the Labour Party whip: which is even worse. Even if he were a backbencher, though: would it make any dif- ference to how he acts on the PAC? You said it yourself: we have a 'Blue/Red' divide. Even backbenchers are expected to show unswerving loyalty, to their party… Let me put it this way: it's good to be idealistic. Ultimately, the goal should always to be as 'ide- al' as possible; but you also have to keep your feet on the ground. And the system is, unfortunately, 'what it is'. But when you have a situa- tion where the Government's Parliamentary whip – who will DEFINITELY not divert from the direction chosen by the Gov- ernment Executive – continual- ly raises issues, together with all the other government members, like 'their government's major- ity'... arguing that, because the Opposition is in the minority, we should not be 'dictating things'… sorry, but what is any of this con- tributing to the discussion? If there is something I would really like to achieve, over the coming five years: it is precisely to move away from this 'political point-scoring' mentality. Now, don't get me wrong: everybody, ultimately, wants to 'have his day in court'. It's not just Labour pol- iticians, but also Nationalists who want to score political points. But there is another dimension to this. Here, perhaps, I am speak- ing also as a member of a young- er generation, which sees things slightly differently; but a lot of people out there, are detaching themselves from the old idea that – just because they come from a 'blue' or 'red' family – they have to be 'blue' or 'red' themselves. And to widen the discussion slightly: I see this also as a mis- sion, for the Nationalist Party as a whole. It's not just that we need, as a party, to solidify the grassroots support-base – the traditional core of 'staunch Na- tionalists'. Now, we also need to look at those 80,000 who didn't vote in the last election. What do those people want? Do want to see a committee like the PAC, tearing each other to pieces like cats and dogs? Do they want to hear – instead of pertinent questions, about how their own tax money is actually being spent – pointless, time-wasting ques- tions, which are based only on an 'us-versus-them' mentality? Now: I firmly believe that this mentality is changing, on both sides of the divide. And I also be- lieve that, whichever of the two major parties proves capable of winning over that faction of peo- At 19, DARREN CARABOTT became Malta's youngest local councillor. At 29, he was elected to Parliament, and replaced PN stalwarts as Chair of the Public Accounts Committee. Today, he argues that Malta needs to evolve beyond partisan politics, to move forward

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