Are you listening?

It’s baloney to try to justify lack of transparency by referring to results, even if they are good.

In commenting on the results of the European election, Prime Minister Robert Abela said that he is listening to what the voters said. That, presumably, includes me. Now, over the last year, I don’t know how many times I have mentioned the need for good governance and transparency in my musings. But something is going wrong somewhere.

First of all, I think it’s already a problem that I have to write about it. This was solemnly promised in the Labour Party’s 2013 electoral manifesto. We all know what happened to that promise and to the huge troubles caused by its abnegation. Secondly, we have applied to become members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which places huge emphasis on the basic principles of good governance ̶ Principle Four of its 12 principles talks about ‘Openness and Transparency’, while Principle 12 talks about ‘Accountability’.

I am sure that many of the voters who have ditched Labour in droves have done so partially because they are sick and tired of learning about how good governance and transparency have been thrown out the window. So, I would also think that when they heard the PM’s declaration that he had heard the message loud and clear, they might have thought that perhaps things will change.

Well, it seems they won’t. I am referring here to a debate that occurred in Parliament on 12th June regarding the accounts of the Malta Tourism Authority. The Opposition’s Mario de Marco asked for certain details of the financial estimates from a budget which totals €137 million, €62 million of which are earmarked for marketing material.

Mario de Marco wanted to know how the money would be spent. The Minister for Tourism, Clayton Bartolo, didn’t see the need to disclose, to which de Marco replied that this was taxpayer money that he was talking about, and “it cannot remain the Secret of Fatima”.

Right. I too happen to think that the disclosure of the information is fully justified. So, by the way, do the stakeholders – the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association (MHRA) had also requested transparency on which operators were benefiting from the marketing campaign and why. De Marco said that there should be objective criteria in place in terms of how this money is spent.  Absolutely.

Now, readers might not know it, but if I wish to learn what the Office of the Prime Minister is going to spend on incidentals this year, all I have to do is to open the Financial Estimates and find that it is planning to spend €4,647. If curiosity kills me, I can also find out what the Ministry of Health is going to spend on hospitality ̶ that’s €18,900. For the avoidance of any doubt, there are no typographical mistakes; the figures are thousands, not millions.

So, being a Ġaħan, I have to ask, “Why does the Government bother to publish such figures, but we then get a Minister who refuses to say how’s he’s going to spend €62 million?”. All that the Minister could say to justify his refusal was that “results show that the work of the MTA is yielding results – so the expenditure of the MTA is justified”. Who said it wasn’t? I, for one, haven’t. However, I think it’s baloney to try to justify lack of transparency by referring to results, even if they are good. On the contrary, if the results are good, then there is even less justification for hiding anything.

This is the same attitude that allowed the happening of the Vitals/Steward Healthcare disaster, which according to the National Audit Office cost me and all taxpayers several hundred millions. I don’t need to refer to the NAO’s talk about “into the abyss” and “lack of good governance”, then confirmed by the Court of Appeal in quashing the agreements.

I am not insinuating by any stretch of the imagination that the MTA’s budget is about to fall into that same abyss. But if the Minister concerned does not want to raise unnecessary suspicions, he should be transparent. Similarly, if we are expected to believe that messages are being heard, then we need to see the proof of the pudding. Otherwise, I too am going to be seriously pissed off.

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