Why having technocrat Ministers is a good idea

It is usually not in me to single out anyone in particular for praise when a whole team is doing pretty well in a harmonious way and, most important of all, delivering results to expectations and beyond as has been doing the present Labour administration. Admittedly, there may have been a number of sectors where management could have been improved upon and a number of issues that could have been handled better but more on this on another occasion.

This time around I wish to share with you my analysis of Minister Clyde Caruana’s performance so far without in any way discrediting or sidelining other competent ministers.

Only appointed Minister in November 2020, an economist by training and lecturer on the same subject together with accountancy, and having occupied various positions related to labour policies and financial principles, he has ably managed to make great strides on the political scene on his first foray. True, he is finance minister only because he was co-opted into parliament at Robert Abela’s request. In this sense, he may be considered as a technocrat minister and has, so far, so made a positive impact that our  prime minister is asking us to consider appointing unelected technocrats to the cabinet. There could be a very valid reason for this. Our democratic government has timely felt the increasing need for expertise and technocrats for effective governance, while at the same time remaining committed to and representative of the citizens who voted for them. One has to be able to understand the role of technocracy and the political power of experts within democratic political systems in order to grasp how technocracy is actually entailed in our democracy and the consequences of technocratic-based decision making and its evaluation by citizens.

Our democratic government has timely felt the increasing need for expertise and technocrats for effective governance.

Clyde’s valuable experience during his tenure at Jobsplus and as Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff showed that he had all the makings of an ideal technocrat who could greatly contribute to the country’s social progress and economic stability. He authored several position documents and policy papers, which have been central to the government’s labour force policy. Additionally, he was the main driver to implement these policies and reforms most notably, related to free childcare, In-work benefits and others. On taking up his ministerial responsibilities and duties, Clyde did not only focus and concentrate on the financial sector of our country but went beyond in a holistic manner to enhance the credibility of this government. For example, it was he who has been consistently inculcating the idea that it is about time that Malta shifts away from its dependency on construction to gradually build and improve its credibility on the environment.

As a true technocrat, he had the courage to speak out and explain that the mistake that politics has always made over the years, both on one side and the other, has been to turn to construction as it is the easiest way to boost the economy. Economy-wise and drawing from his expertise as an economist and accountant, he brilliantly expounded how every vital sector of Malta’s economy is intertwined and interdependent. Balancing the construction industry with the environment, prioritising education so that more people are educated with more opportunities as well as income coming their way and investing in people in every possible way in order to have the country’s finances on their feet are just some of his revolutionary thoughts and approaches.

Another radical outlook publicly disclosed by Clyde, a bold move fearlessly trod on by him in contrast to so many other seasoned politicians who, to date, have always kept back from departing from stereotyped measures and policies, was when he declared that the time had come for Malta to move to a new mechanism where the government helps those with a low income affected by particular circumstances which push up prices. He correctly reasoned that the social partners had often called for a revision of the COLA – Cost Of Living Adjustment – mechanism but that reaching an agreement between the government, employers and trade unions on such a revision was difficult. He has, therefore now, devised a new mechanism, a new formula that should come into force when inflation spikes in a way that affects many people. The compensation, given by the government would then be addressed to those who had the lowest income in a true spirit of social justice.

Technocrats, by reputation, competence and experience, can persuade the markets and world leaders that they represent change.

On the international scene, then, Minister Clyde has put in all his efforts, energy and conviction when he presented to global partners at the OECD a set of proposals to protect Malta’s corporate tax regime from larger countries’ efforts to introduce a new minimum rate. Irrespective of the final outcome to such proposals and lobbying, he must be lauded for resiliently defending Malta’s insistence to retain its current offer to international corporations an effective tax rate of five per cent through a series of refunds and related schemes. He continued showing such resilience at the same time as certain countries sharing Malta’s stand, like Ireland and Estonia, were giving up on any hope of having it their way.

Now that I have briefly presented Minister Clyde’s credentials as a valid technocrat minister I put a moot question. What can technocrats achieve that politicians cannot?

In a time of global crisis and unprecedented economic challenges faced by our country one necessarily needs concerted and determining answers and these cannot sometimes be provided by political figures with such efficiency and brazenness. Not only, but technocrats, by reputation, competence and experience, can persuade the markets and world leaders that they represent change.

The measures they need to implement are at times so tough that they would have failed to get the necessary political support if introduced by any politician.

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