Gifts to Labour supporters made mockery of meritocracy pledge

Our current economic wellbeing lures everybody to gloss over these problems, some of which have been with us for a long time with no substantial progress being registered

This is the sort of throwback to the Labour of old – as compared with Joseph Muscat’s so-called ‘movement’ that promised that meritocracy would be one of the merits of his administration – a promise that he failed to deliver
This is the sort of throwback to the Labour of old – as compared with Joseph Muscat’s so-called ‘movement’ that promised that meritocracy would be one of the merits of his administration – a promise that he failed to deliver

I do not intend to write about the recent Xemxija phenomenon where fish out of water were abundant following the extremely frightful storm last weekend.

The idiomatic expression, of course, refers to somebody who feels – or should feel – uncomfortable in some specific situation.

It fits well in the case of several members of the selection board that recommended several controversial promotions in the Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) in September 2013. This results from the recently published Ombudsman’s report on these promotions, a report that took over five years in the making because of a legal issue: the then responsible Minister – Manuel Mallia – argued that the Ombudsman lacked jurisdiction to hear complaints by army officers who did not first resort to the ordinary remedy granted by law.

Eventually, Mr Justice Lawrence Mintoff ruled that the Ombudsman had authority to investigate complaints by army officers. He ordered the ministry to provide the Ombudsman with all the documentation he required to continue his investigation.

The most telling revelations in the Ombudsman’s report was that two people, who occupied positions of trust in the Home Affairs Ministry at the time, had been appointed to the selection advisory board in spite of the fact that they “were not cognisant of public service protocol, let alone specific regulation of the armed forces”.

The Ombudsman expounded this situation by explaining: “In other words, these two individuals were political appointees and not public officers inured to the civil service tradition and aware of the rules and regulations pertinent to the selection processes, especially military ones”.

In addition, four of the five members of the committee did not have any military knowledge.

The Ombudsman concluded that “the selection process was conducted in an unprofessional manner and did not achieve the necessary rigour”.

The investigation “did not give this office the comfort that the selection was done properly”, he said, adding there seemed to have been more promotions than the vacancies warranted.

The Ombudsman pointed out that, as a rule, no person of trust should be appointed on panels intended to select people for the service of the government in public or military offices.

In this case, the selection of those who were appointed on the selection board had been intended to achieve the ‘desired outcome’ – as the Ombudsman put it.

The idea that an administration can put on an army promotion selection board two persons who are not civil servants or army officers – actual or retired – but political appointees hiding under the generic guise of ‘persons of trust’ is completely abusive.

Before they were picked from the available pool of Labour party employees or close supporters, they had no experience in Government procedures or in the organisation and running of the army. As such there was no imaginable logical and justified reason why they were appointed members on the selection board. They should have felt like a fish out of water – but probably this perception was beyond them.

No self-respecting administration would put such people on selection boards. Indeed such a practice should be outlawed.

This made a mockery of the 2013 electoral slogan ‘Malta taghna lkoll’ – Malta belongs to us all – unless by ‘us’ they meant Labour supporters and not the whole population!

This is the sort of throwback to the Labour of old – as compared with Joseph Muscat’s so-called ‘movement’ that promised that meritocracy would be one of the merits of his administration – a promise that he failed to deliver. The appointment of the army selection board a few months after Labour was elected to power in 2013 and the way it did its work showed that Muscat never intended to keep his promise on meritocracy.

Instead he acted as some Father Christmas showering gifts on those who were party supporters while meritocracy was quickly dumped and sent to the dogs.

Malta’s economic progress

Last week the European Commission published its annual assessment of the economic and social performance of its member states. In the case of Malta, it identified our key challenges: tackling reputational problems regarding corruption and money-laundering; shortfall in skills, labour and education attainment levels and the need for increased investments in infrastructure and the environment.

It also noted the need for Malta to strengthen its governance framework and to tackle healthcare spending and pension reform. According to this report, although some steps have been taken to strengthen financial supervision and anti-money laundering enforcement, shortcomings in this area still persist.

The report also refers to Malta’s sudden – and unplanned – increase in its population that has led to an increase in pressure on basic services such as health and education; apart from pressures on the property market, especially the rental market.

As the report put it: “Risks to Malta’s future growth and attractiveness to potential investors include infrastructural bottlenecks, constraints on natural resources, low skill levels, an aging population and vulnerabilities in the governance framework.”

Unfortunately, our current economic wellbeing lures everybody to gloss over these problems, some of which have been with us for a long time with no substantial progress being registered.

I particularly refer to our education set-up whereby those who are left behind by the system end up leaving school quasi-illiterate and without any technical training. Early school-leavers are increasing – rather than decreasing – and something must be done urgently on this front.

On a personal note

Last Wednesday morning I took the shock of my life when I heard about the incident that happened in Msida: a terrible incident that took the life of Joe Dimech and injured his wife and son that were in their flat which caught fire.

I knew Joe for a long time – he was my driver for most of the time I was minister, way back between 1987 and 1996. But he was much more than that. His loyalty and respect were without limits. His love for his family was impeccable.

His good nature ensured that conflicts with others were practically impossible. If all human beings were like Joe, the world would be a much better place.

God rest his soul.

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