In a recent European Parliamentary survey 95% of Maltese citizens agree, or tend to agree, with the practices of transparency and effective control with regards to the way EU recovery funds should be disbursed among Member States. This percentage is about 10% higher than the EU average.
This position clearly indicates the level of awareness and importance we, as a nation, attribute to the issues of accountability, equality and value for money. Such sensitivity is not only reserved for the disbursement of EU funds but for all scarce resources especially financial and human resource.
It is therefore not surprising that the concept of Governance assumed greater importance in Malta in recent years. We have become more aware that resources are scarce and therefore value for money is something that people expect to see and to get. Common goods are valued goods that belong to, and are shared by, all and therefore people expect to enjoy them without hindrance. Equality has become a right and not a privilege, and therefore people expect to be treated fairly and have equal and effective access to resources. Participation in decision-making is no longer perceived as a benevolent concession but rather fundamental to the democratisation of how we live. No matter what their political affiliations, or lack of, Maltese people are overwhelmingly embracing these values.
However, the bone of contention comes when our Institutions translate these values into action which often end up the subject of criticism. Sometimes it is legitimate criticism and sometimes not. Governance is a highly political matter. Unfortunately, the matter has been politicised and many shy away from talking about it for fear of being misunderstood. Nonetheless, it is a disservice both not to talk about it as well as to talk about it with hidden agendas.
Unfortunately, the subject of Governance has been politicised and many shy away from talking about it for fear of being misunderstood.
Institutions, which are the backbone of any modern democratic State, are meant to protect, serve, assist and empower each citizen irrespective of who or what one’s station in life is and enabling him/her to live a secured and happy life. Therefore, in this regard, Institutions are too important to fail, especially for those at the lower echelons of the social ladder.
In order to be fit for purpose Institutions have to answer credibly two fundamental questions: How well is the Institution matching the expectations of the people that it serves and secondly how accountable is the Institution in the way it does things?
The clients of our Institutions, whether individuals or groups, have an opinion about the service they expect to get and often tend to be experts in their respective situation or station in life. Therefore, our Institutions need to look closer to home and evaluate the extent to which their mission, policies and corporate culture are influenced by, and aligned to, what the clients’ expectations are.
The narrative among the business community is often a positive one and the results show. The collaboration of the Employers’ Associations and the Trade Unions served us so well during COVID-19. However, it is not the same when it comes to certain community issues where often citizens and local authorities are at odds with the plans of the Institutions. Such as in the case of the most recent controversy related to the proposed marina at Marsaskala.
These two examples clearly demonstrate one important and basic issue; when Institutions listen, they gain knowledge and learn something new; they make informed and better decisions and therefore be credible. Institutions need the involvement of the users of their services to help ensure their relevance and effectiveness.
When Institutions listen, they gain knowledge and learn something new; they make informed and better decisions and therefore be credible.
In a democracy, the service users are both recipients of services and actors for service development. Institutions have a responsibility to support and enable their service users to contribute to the development of the respective Institution. Listening to service users, acknowledging mistakes, clarifying rather than defending one’s positions and communicating effectively is a good starting point. Institutions need to engage with their service users. Furthermore, having the courage to implement change would be the leadership type expected from public officers.
The final point is to what extent does our Governance system clearly demonstrate and practice the separation of powers. Is the public making a differentiation between the role of the elected politicians to legislate and give political direction and the executive boards responsible for the implementation and delivery of the service?
Due to the enmeshed image presented in the media, citizens do not necessarily make this distinction. No wonder the old dictum of the Maltese citizen “Ha mmur ghand il-Ministru” (let me go speak to the Minister directly).
Different levels of administration carry different responsibilities and operate within different structures even if nonetheless integrated. These roles should not be blurred and clearly distinguishable.
However, one must acknowledge that in recent years we have had some good examples of separation of powers. The way the judiciary is appointed, is now independent from Government influence, the separation between the State Advocate and the Attorney General was so important for the workings of a modern State while the new way of appointing the Chief of Police was applauded by everyone.
Such bold and effective changes need to continue, as the needs of the citizens are not restricted to the judiciary and law enforcement only but to every other aspect of our daily living. In this regard, while the politicians’ role is to legislate and provide political direction, the implementation stage could be improved. It is appropriate that, before appointing a board of directors, the members especially the Chairperson should firstly be grilled by a parliamentary committee while periodically also appears before the respective parliamentary committee to account for progress made. Cap 585 of the laws of Malta already provides for such a thing however it needs to be applied for all Institutions without exception. In addition, the process is given a high profile so that the public can engage as they did in the case of the appointment of the Police Commissioner. On the other hand, the Executive team should be made up of professionals selected in a transparent manner and recruited on the strict criteria of their competence and experience in the area. Parliamentary grilling should apply in this regard too.
The Institutions are too important to fail and the Maltese expect all their politicians to come up with proposals that strengthen and take their Institutions to higher levels of performance. The people expect nothing but the best.