Revolving doors

Senior government officials should be handsomely remunerated to block them from being associated with big business for at least three years after they quit - but that’s my wishful thinking...

Summer surely brings everybody their deserved break. Opposition leader Bernard Grech has been busy gallivanting somewhere in Europe in his caravan for some three weeks – busy preparing for the Independence celebrations, one surmises... I hear a pared-down version on some centre-strip in Floriana, barely big enough to house the last of the Mohicans. 

And of course, even the prime minister Robert Abela had his own longish break, refusing it seems, to appoint an acting prime minister in his stead – quite an impolitical break with constitutional tradition, one should add. 

Of course, both men are entitled to enjoy their holidays, even though many around them think they should be tending to the falling pieces in their houses. The lack of energy inside the PN is now all too clear to see, while Abela seems to be giving the impression that everything is hunky-dory inside the Labour administration. Which I am sure, is very far from the truth. 

And while these politicians enjoy their free time abroad, cast your eyes on the free time that is enjoyed here in Malta: such as, taking your private caravan, dumping it along the shoreline or coast road, and hey presto, a free coastline holiday clogging up the beachfront whilst occupying a double-yellow line. 

I remember the last time Malta had such a “caravan crisis”. In 1988, ADPD leader Carmel Cacopardo was director of environment, and he had acted fast to kick ass and have the caravans removed. Now it is back to the classic free-for-all. And the authorities’ answer to the spread of caravans is crystal clear to every-one: they will do f*** all about it. 

And if usurping public land is not a serious enough event then we have the sea to contend with. So when the weekend arrives, those more fortunate to have some sort of boat want to have the time of their life, and opt for a weekend at sea. 

Their idea of fun is sharing an aquatic environment in the few packed bays around Malta. The choice of where to go is limited – there’s Għadira, St Paul’s Bay, il-Ħofriet, the Blue Lagoon, Ramla, and even Balluta. By Saturday morning the bays are clogged with motor boats and yachts all vying for some pretty spot in what becomes a veritable, claustrophobic floating city with the constant aroma of diesel and humming sound of speedboats and jet skis. In some bays such il-Ħofriet and Ramla, the music blasts relentlessly. 

And at the onceuponatime summer hide-outs of Marsalforn and Xlendi, Bugibba and Qawra and Marsascala, these eye-sores are now just magnets for communities boxed together for short periods of time. What fun! The sprawling cement blocks, the never-ending traffic, the feeling of claustrophobia, noise, shabbiness and a grubby atmosphere that leaves us with a feeling of exasperation... when finally the sun sets and darkness falls we can be blessed for being spared the ugliness around us. 

But even that is soon replaced by the phenomenon of noise! From entertainment places with blasting music until the early hours of the morning (thank you double glazing) to the blessed fireworks in every village and town in Malta and Gozo. 

Not one corner of land or sea is spared from the activities from this overpopulated rock. I do love my country – but maybe this love is misplaced and mismatched. 

* * * 

Everyone it seems is complaining about the rise in the cost of living. But no one seems to appreciate that we are all part of the problem. We demand more wages; if we are self-employed we raise the hourly rate; and if we import products we increase our profit margins. 

In restaurants, the price hike has been extraordinary – stupid prices which are unsustainable. It is true, the costs have gone up. But one cannot continuing justifying the prices that match those in Paris and London. At least in Paris you have a French waiter serving you and a French setting; here, the setting is a construction crane and the only Maltese or Gozitan is the patron. Your non-Maltese speaking waiter is probably even unable to serve you a proper gin and tonic these days. 

We have always had this ‘live today and to hell with tomorrow’ attitude, which means that you might as well make as much money today and forget about the consequences. But we are outpricing ourselves, tricked in believing that the golden age of hospitality is yet to come. When the pockets start getting smaller, the restos will be the first to cry wolf, calling for State intervention and calling on the MHRA to come to their rescue. Then I will be the first one to accuse them of being greedy and short-sighted. 

* * * 

Revolving doors is a term which describes when in politics, a person moves between roles as legislators and regulators, on one hand, and members of the industries affected by that same legislation and regulation. 

So it usually applies to senior government officials, those that are privy to sensitive information and that could have also been crucial or central in certain decision. 

Alfred Camilleri was appointed permanent secretary at the finance ministry in 2006 and resigned this year in 2022. He spent a good 16 years under a number of finance ministers, more often than not, his expertise putting him at par with the minister... even the minister himself being described as his underling. He was the principal who master-minded very sensitive decisions that would determine whether one business project would succeed or not. 

It was clear that the new finance minister Clyde Caruana wanted to ensure that he is his own man as well as the real finance minister – and not another Edward Scicluna. So when Camilleri left, it was no surprise at all. 

But what was surprising is that he was appointed very recently to be a director of a major hospitality and real estate company, which recently benefited from a very important alteration to a clause that transformed the use of its extensive premises from tourist, to real estate. Arguably, it was an alteration that allowed it to rake in more cash – a small decision that could only have happened with approval from the finance ministry, when in other happy times, could have been met by a tsunami of protest. 

In 2020, a circular was issued for civil servants and public employees holding posts in regulators and inspectorates that prohibited them from transitioning straight to the private sector for two years after leaving or retiring from a public post. Jobs where the revolving doors rule will enter into force include in the main, all top posts, and regulatory and inspection roles at the Malta Financial Services Authority, the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit, Customs, Internal Revenue and Contracts departments, the Malta Communications Authority, the Malta Gaming Authority, various standards commissions in the education ministry, the energy regulator, Transport Malta – but not its CEO, the Planning Authority, the Environment and Resources Authority, and others. 

Senior government officials should be handsomely remunerated to block them from being associated with big business for at least three years after they quit. But that’s my wishful thinking.