When state institutions are not up to standard | Mark Said

It is time to reinstall and implement the true principles of meritocracy within all institutions and do away with nepotism, cronyism, incompetence, and mediocrity

The consequences of bad ‘governance’ are social instability and even the failure of the state
The consequences of bad ‘governance’ are social instability and even the failure of the state

The modern state everywhere is rooted in the assumption, perhaps all too often honoured verbally rather than in action, that its function is the well-being of the population that lives within the boundaries defined by the reach of the state’s power. The definition of ‘well-being’ and the extent of the exercise and reach of the state’s power are everywhere in contention and constitute the core of ‘politics’, whatever the form those politics take or the course they follow.

What elements constitute the ‘well-being’ of society and its population? And what are the institutions through which that ‘well-being’ is sought? The state has primary responsibility for the security and safety of its population, as well as the protection of the population from disruption of its normal activities, primarily from crime. The institutions responsible for the exercise of this responsibility are the military and the police.

In order for the state to maintain stability and well-being, however that may be defined, within its domains, it requires financial, administrative, educational, judicial, legislative, economic, and audit institutions that, together with the institutions that maintain social safety and stability, constitute what we call the ‘state.’

All state institutions require financing and trained personnel. They also require ancillary institutions that will ensure the enforcement of the judicial institutions’ decisions. This is a good example of the interaction and interdependence of all the institutions of the state, such as finance, police power, bureaucracy, education, and the law. All the institutions of the state ultimately focus on the performance of their policies, that is to say, on the conscious expression of the ways in which the state exercises its functions.

It is in this context that a vitally important distinction has to be made between the ‘state’ and the ‘government’. The state consists of all the institutions, many of which I have defined above, whose purpose is the maintenance of the stability and well-being of society. The ‘government’ is the institution that represents the ways in which a society’s stability and well-being are maintained and may, indeed, even define the particular way in which ‘well-being’ is understood at any particular moment or under a particular set of circumstances.

The word ‘governance’ has come to mean the way in which the institutions of the state are managed and the consequences of that management for the stability and well-being of society.

The consequences of bad ‘governance’ are social instability and even the failure of the state. But it is important to keep the distinction between an institution and the way in which it is used clear. All too often these days, the misuse or malfunction of an institution serves as an excuse for doing away with the institution or for modifying it into something that it was not intended to be in the first place.

Over the last few years, Malta has seen a sharp drop in the standards of good governance, the standards in public life, the upkeep of the rule of law, the handling of the country’s finances, as well as the maintenance of public order and safety. These are all the outcomes of a lack of accountability and responsiveness by our main state institutions, be they the Attorney General, the Commissioner of Police, the Planning Authority, the FIAU, the OHSA, or any other governmental agency or entity that directly or indirectly impacts the ‘well-being’ of each and every one of us.

It is time that our institutions and public administrations implement policies efficiently and are accountable and responsive to users; corruption and harassment are curbed; and the power of the state is used to redistribute resources for actions benefiting all. We need better legal systems to promote legal equity and better access to justice. What is missing is an assurance that the government creates decentralised mechanisms for broad participation in the delivery of public services and minimises the scope for capture by local elites.

It is imperative that all state institutions function collectively. It is useless to have a couple of institutions, such as the Ombudsman, the Auditor General, or the Judiciary, functioning close to expected standards while others, equally pivotal to the state’s preservation, are falling into dereliction, up for grabs by sinister minds.

It is time to reinstall and implement the true principles of meritocracy within all institutions and do away with nepotism, cronyism, incompetence, and mediocrity.

Corruption and weak state institutions take a toll on economic performance, undermine employment opportunities, and cloud prospects for sustainable progress. Even petty corruption dramatically raises the risk. It is, therefore, imperative that each institution be given as broad a mandate as possible, which should be clearly set forth in a constitutional or legislative text, specifying its composition and its sphere of competence.

There can be more than one explanation for how political corruption and bad governance are intertwined, together with the effects of different political institutional arrangements on important outcomes such as economic growth, social equality, and political stability.

This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. God forbid that we one day end up living in a society where people can no longer rely on institutions to do their jobs. In that eventuality, the most difficult but important step would be to bury the legacy of tyranny and establish an economy, a government, and institutions that abide by the rule of law.