Pubdate: Thu, 24 Jun 2004
Source: Times Of Malta (Malta)
Copyright: 2004 Allied Newspapers Limited


Labour MP Gavin Gulia, the opposition's spokesman on home affairs, has 
insisted in parliament that the Social Affairs Committee should debate ways 
to update the drugs law.

Replying, Justice and Home Affairs Minister Tonio Borg said he would 
welcome this debate once a report currently being drawn up by a committee 
including NGOs was completed.

Dr Gulia said in an adjournment speech that a written request he had made 
to the chairman of the committee had not even been acknowledged, and he had 
therefore written to the Speaker, asking him to intervene.

Dr Gulia recalled he had written to the then committee chairman, Helen 
D'Amato, on May 8 pointing out that the law needed to make a better 
distinction between drug traffickers and drug victims. There could be areas 
in the law where the traffickers and the victims were confused, with the 
latter receiving the punishment which was more appropriate for the traffickers.

The law had to be amended very carefully so as not to open some loophole 
which traffickers could exploit. That was why he felt the issue should be 
debated in the Social Affairs Committee with the participation of NGOs and 
government agencies which worked with drug victims.

Dr Gulia observed that although the Minister for Justice and Home Affairs 
had twice said the law would be amended, he had not said anything about the 
issue first being discussed in the open within the Social Affairs 
Committee. Indeed, he had said it was being discussed by an ad hoc committee.

It appeared, therefore, that the House would be faced with a fait accompli. 
Although the opposition agreed that the law needed to be amended, it would 
vote against the bill if it did not agree with the method. Certainly, the 
opposition would not vote in favour of measures which would make the 
problem worse.

Nationalist MP Clyde Puli, the new chairman of the Social Affairs Committee 
in a letter to the Speaker yesterday said the President of Malta was 
presiding over a group formed of representatives of non-governmental 
organisations and government agencies to discuss and draw up a report on 
the issue.

It was therefore wise for the Social Affairs Committee to await this 
group's report so that it could then discuss the issue in a more informed 

Dr Borg, replying to Dr Gulia, told parliament that he had, for eight 
months, been saying that the law should make a proper distinction between 
drug traffickers and victims.

He augured that there would be wide consensus on the updating of the law, 
but, he said, that had not always been the case.

It was not true that the government would move the relevant bill without 
consultation. He was awaiting the report being prepared by the committee 
nominated by then President Guido de Marco and including government 
agencies, the police, the AFM and NGOs. Once that was completed, discussion 
would be started on the bill, and he would do so wholeheartedly in the 
Social Affairs Committee. That way, once the bill came before the full 
parliament, no one would accuse the government of seeking to protect 
someone, as happened in the past.

Dr Borg recalled that the same persons from the opposition who were now 
calling for a distinction to be made between drug traffickers and victims 
had in the past voted repeatedly in parliament against amendments that laid 
down that persons caught at the airport in possession of a small amount of 
drugs for personal use would not have to be sent to jail, although the 
final decision would be taken by the courts.

Before those amendments, anyone caught in such circumstances, whatever the 
amount of drugs in his possession, was sent to prison for at least six 
months. No distinction was made then between traffickers and victims.

The opposition should now admit its conversion, Dr Borg said, and apologise 
for having resisted the amendments at the time.

He regretted having to speak in this way on such a subject, but said he was 
only replying to Dr Gulia's aggressive tone.

He augured that both sides would agree on amendments to the law which 
helped victims and punished the traffickers.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jo-D