Catalyst for change

It is time to consider the introduction of public parliamentary hearings whereby possibilities of conflicts of interest are discussed openly.

Cartoon for MaltaToday Midweek by Mark Scicluna
Cartoon for MaltaToday Midweek by Mark Scicluna

Recent revelations of alleged corruption and wrongdoing in various sectors have served as a catalyst for change in the way we do politics in our country.

Such revelations have had an indelible effect of political mood in the country: forcing all political parties to finally take stock and commit to a public stand - in favour of anti-corruption legislation, greater accountability, transparency and so on.

In this respect the country is fast maturing, and starting to appreciate the importance of introducing European norms into our system.

It may perhaps be unfair to say that, were it not for these and other revelations, our political parties would most likely have simply continued ignoring public demands for more checks and balances throughout the system. Unfortunately, however, that is precisely the impression the same parties themselves project, by refusing to take action for so very long, only to suddenly acknowledge the existence of a problem only now, when so many previously unknown situations were suddenly catapulted into the cold light of day.

Still, better late than never: and even if the reaction was long overdue, it remains a fact that the parties are now committing themselves to introducing new legislation, which will widen accountability transparency and a sense of fairness. This is all very welcome.

The Enemata scandal raises serious issues relating to good governance of public utility corporations. It is clear that there is not enough knowledge or openness regarding how these government companies are run and just how accountable they really are.

It is heartening to know that there is finally the political will to do something about these shortcomings. What is now required - beyond the institution of legal proceedings - is a general strengthening of checks and balances in the mechanics of these institutions.

This entails starting to question the manner in which directors and top management are appointed to begin with. We need to ask whether it is enough to leave the choice of directors in the exclusive hands of ministers. These have all too often proven to be guided more by party interest and loyalties rather than by a culture of meritocracy which creates a level playing field, allowing people of worth, knowledge and experience to contribute to the workings of the country.

Perhaps it is time to consider the introduction of public parliamentary hearings whereby possibilities of conflicts of interest are discussed openly... and not brought into the public domain only after some person slips up. It is also high time we considered taking steps to reveal more information relating to public tenders: for instance, allowing the press an opportunity to ask questions prior and not after the awarding of a tender.

Elsewhere, the MFCC revelations and the recent interview given by former Labour deputy leader Anglu Farrugia raise serious issues concerning the need for a law regulating financial donations to political parties by big business.

To date any business can donate any sum to a political party without any need of disclosure at all. The lack of disclosure inevitably raises legitimate questions relating to the motives behind these funding of the parties. Could they be tied to the success of future bids for public tenders? May there be a connection with appointments to public office, or concessions over government property? Even if it turns that the donations is entirely bona fide, the fact that it takes place behind the scenes inevitably leaves room for suspicion. Add to this the fact that there is international pressure by EU agencies such as GRECO, the urgent need to pass a law to regulate party financing should really be a no-brainer. Yet it has proved beyond the capabilities of the present administration, or any other before it.

Also firmly on the agenda for change is the execrable state of public broadcasting. Public broadcasting should be the voice of the people, and not of the parties which have hijacked the machinery of the state. Their omnipresence and dominance of the airwaves is ever more obvious and is deeply offensive to people of good will, who have a sense of fairplay and would like to have an informed opinion after following a programme... rather than having party propaganda forced down their throats. Presenters must see themselves as guardians of the public interest rather than extensions of the parties to which they align themselves so utterly. This also calls into play the continuance of the political stations which only manage to increase polarisation and divisions.

Lastly, the financial state of government and the sustainability of political parties themselves is also a matter of concern. People expect to know the cost of promises being made, the cost of campaigns being run, together with the origin of the funds. 

Radical changes could also include extending the powers of magistrates to probe irregularities as they are exposed. Admittedly limited powers to this end already exist; but in the light of the recent scandals, both main parties would perhaps be wise to each an agreement - aimed for after the election - to get together and discuss how such powers may best be strengthened or consolidated.

At stake is nothing less that the public trust in the political class and in politics in general.

 

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Luke Camilleri
The "changing" faces of GonziPN! And coming from Gonzi & Co. , The SERIAL (political) KILLER with victims like JPO, Franco Debono, Jesmond Mugliette, John Dalli, Louis Gales, Tonio Borg.....it takes some believing! All these Political MURDER VICTIMS are just IRRELEVANT to PBS where WE? RULE OK!
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Many people now feel comfortable to generilise, may I remind that the caretaker government has benn there for 23 out of the last 25 years. It was the labour party that first mentioned measure regarding accountability, and now just for an interpretation ; of a surely biased nationalist media, it being made seen as if both parties have been aided in the same way by contractors. The PN has been there all these years getting help from magnantes like Polidano and now Vassallo and giving obvious paybacks like controversial permits and the such, with the government ever hint a decent party financing law, so please let us make sense of this and give Ceasar what is rightfully his instead of generalising.