Not to appoint cronies

The time has come to start thinking of raising the bar on our standards and reform our existing practice and process when appointing a chair of a key public authority

Maybe we need to start thinking and discussing whether such public appointments should be widely publicised to encourage a diverse range of applicants through a public call
Maybe we need to start thinking and discussing whether such public appointments should be widely publicised to encourage a diverse range of applicants through a public call

Over the time since Malta joined the European Union, we managed to effectively adopt all legal obligations and updated Directives. However we have not as yet succeeded to fully adopt the EU’s way of thinking in some areas concerning public administration. This in my view is the case when it comes to appointments in strategic and sensitive posts such as those of chair in key authorities and similar constituted bodies.

When in opposition, the PL many a time drew the government’s attention to the way it was appointing persons who did not possess the qualities which certain public offices demanded, with the result that members of the public were at times neither served nor protected as indeed was the function of the institution involved.

Over the past 12 years we have witnessed, and as a country experienced, the process which the European Parliament adopts before the approval of a government nominee for posts such as those of EU Commissioner and appointments to the European Court of Auditors. The applied procedure is still alien to our own way of dealing with public appointments. Those nominated by the government of the day to chair a public authority are spared any sort of parliamentary hearing, interview or as some refer to it, grilling.

One also finds that at the UK House of Commons for example, the Treasury Committee is tasked with the scrutiny of the nominees for governor of the Bank of England, and the chairman of the Financial Conduct Authority, amongst others, prior to these being appointed. Through a public hearing the committee is mandated to establish whether those being nominated, primarily fulfill the criteria of ‘professional competence and personal independence of the government’.    

The time has come to start thinking on raising our standards’ bar and reflect as to how we can reform our existing practice and process when appointing a chair of a key public authority. Do we truly believe that the appointments should be on one’s own merit? How can the government adopt a more open and fair process to ensure transparency?

Maybe we need to start thinking and discussing whether such public appointments should be widely publicised to encourage a diverse range of applicants through a public call. Whether present or previous political activity should or should not bar a person from appointment. Should the selection criteria be known and published?

This may contain terms and conditions of appointment which can include that those appointed should not engage in other professional or advisory activities, remunerated or otherwise. Whether there is a need to submit a declaration of any possible conflicts of interest at nomination stage. The possibility that, as in the case of government ministers, an appointed chair should submit to parliament a declaration of assets. The maximum term of office should also be established, and whether the individual may serve in the post for more than one term. In such a case no reappointment or extension for one final term, is made without a satisfactory performance appraisal.

At a time when the public is rightly demanding more accountability from their elected representatives will it not be appropriate that a Parliamentary Select Committee will invite the nominee to a public hearing, scrutiny?  Hearings may not be binding – but ministers will then consider any relevant considerations made by the committee before deciding whether to proceed with the appointment. Would such a process, if not altogether eliminating accusations of cronyism or nepotism, which does no good either to the selected person or the organisation concerned, at least engage the public rather than leaving it disenchanted and critical?

We can keep on being locked-in our thinking on this subject, doing what we have been doing for the past half a century. Or we can rethink, revise, and courageously reform our method of appointments to certain critical public posts, which by EU standards are outdated. Public service should serve to improve lives. One way of achieving this is by having persons chairing key public bodies who possess the qualities of good leaders, are objective, competent, accountable, honest, and above all have loads of integrity. They are the ones who are ultimately responsible to guarantee delivery of the objectives of the authorities established by Parliament.

Evarist Bartolo is Minister of Education and Employment

More in Blogs