Another brick in the wall

This is just another brick in the wall of some castle that is continually being expanded

The current dispute between the Government and the Malta Union of Teachers (MUT) regarding the centralisation of printing for schools has intrigued me.

How come this business-friendly government is insisting that so many little jobs made for different schools should become the responsibility of the government printing press when this is, absolutely, a non-starter. Apart from other considerations, small jobs made in the state printing press – with its unavoidable overheads – would undoubtedly turn out to be more expensive than having a small private enterprise doing them.

Many cannot understand how the justification of this move is a 1995 circular stating that all printing by government departments must be done by the State printing press.

I do not accept this ‘justification’ either.

In 1995, when the circular was issued, I was the Minister for Education and Human resources. It also was the time when I pushed for the decentralisation of services to schools.

Before my time, if a school needed toilet paper, this had to be delivered from the central stores of the Education department. The system was utterly inefficient, provoking heads of schools to ask for an oversupply of such items just in case the department does not deliver on time – or actually because the department never delivered on time.

Headmasters unnecessarily hoarded all sorts of items from fullscaps to chalk, so as to make sure that they would not fail their students. Changing a broken glass pane in a classroom entailed making a requisition order to the Department’s maintenance section and waiting three days for some bloke to refrain from skiving work and change the ruddy pane. Meanwhile the broken pane was covered with brownpaper and pupils felt the cold (and the rain) in their classroom. The local ironmonger could do the job within half a day – at a quarter of the cost.

There was a similar waste in cost of milk provided to pupils. I did not want to be associated with Margaret Thatcher who, as Minister of Education, stopped the supply of milk to schools and was dubbed a ‘milk snatcher’; even though the truth was that most milk was going to waste because parents preferred to give their children fruit juices and such like. Most of the milk was going to feed the caretakers’ families, including their cats and dogs. The waste that this inefficient system generated was incredible.

The solution to this problem was decentralisation with schools being responsible for their small needs. The Department calculated how much each school was costing in maintenance, supplies and milk and that sum became the school’s budget – with the proviso that the use of the funds was to be handled by the Headmaster.

Suddenly schools dropped their demand for milk, as the money saved could be used for other needs. Today no milk is distributed to pupils and no minister was ever dubbed ‘milk snatcher’!

At first the MUT was doubtful, more so as this added responsibility to the heads and their assistants. They were given a part-time clerk – after many arguments and hassles with Castille, always afraid of increasing state workers.

Heads were instructed in school management. School management and teaching are quite different. Yet teachers became Heads and Assistant Heads through a selection process that ignored this basic fact.

I will never forget a teacher coming to me some three years before his retirement age, asking me to be promoted to the post of Head of School so as not to face the classroom any more. At his age, he needed some rest, he argued. In Malta, unbelievably, burnt out teachers were considered good candidates for school management!

The MUT, it must be said, quickly came over and supported the idea – asking for some compensation, of course.

The new system worked. Heads were no longer hoarders of school supplies. No unwanted milk was bought. The freedom of headmasters to use the funds independently of the central set-up of the Education Department proved to be a success.

The infamous 1995 circular was never meant to cover small school supplies. I would have raised hell if it did. For 23 years – almost a quarter of a century – under different ministers of different political parties, it was understood that the circular did not apply to a headmaster printing worksheets for students.

Why was the 1995 circular issued in the first place? Certainly not to increase the workload of the government press. Anything printed there had to pass through Castille where grey eminences ensured that Ministry or Department publications were in line with government policies. Apparently, someone had published something not to the liking of their eminences. It had to be made certain that such breaches do not occur.

Asking ministers to submit drafts of publications for Castille’s approval of whatever they intended to issue would look like treating ministers like little children. The imposition of the use of the government printing press provided an unseen control that served the same purpose.

As no one in Castille wanted to control student worksheets, the circular was ignored for such printed material.

Now, almost a quarter of a century later, someone thought it would be a good idea if the government press were to increase its workload, thus increasing its machinery and maintenance expenses and its paper purchases.

Quoting the 1995 circular is an excuse – a bizarre one at that.

This is just another brick in the wall of some castle that is continually being expanded.

Enough said.

Hole in one

The US government paid more than $77,000 to President Trump’s Scottish golf resort ahead of his stay there last weekend, according to federal spending records, indicating that Trump’s official visit to Europe likely generated revenue for his business empire.

Spending records seen by Reuters show that the US State Department, that normally organises presidential travel outside the US, paid $77,345.35 since April to a Trump company – SLC Turnberry Ltd – that owns the resort, for “hotel rooms for VIP visit.”

The payments were first reported by ‘The Scotsman’.

Trump stayed at the resort playing golf in the interval between a NATO meeting and his ‘summit’ with Putin – hardly money well spent!

Payments were probably made to cover the expenses for Trump’s visit, although the US State Department declined to comment about them.

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