Regaining public trust

It’s time to go back to basics with a serious and high level battle of ideas and allow the electorate freely to make up his mind in whose hands he or she wants to hand over the reins of government.

Cartoon by Mark Scicluna
Cartoon by Mark Scicluna

The oil scandal, drug abuse allegations and rumours of possible police interference over a brawl at a Labour Party clubs have hijacked the electoral campaign agenda.

With people now talking more about these cases, than about the proposals in the parties' respective electoral manifestos - and bearing in mind that people will ultimately make their choice, it is apt to draw some conclusions.

Firstly, the moral dimension has become a major issue of this election. It is clearly no longer deemed acceptable (as it was for so long) that politicians and public appointees are simply not accountable for their actions, decisions or even misdemeanours. The behaviour of public officials - all the way down to people employed in party clubs - is now fair game for public scrutiny. As a consequence, it is important that all persons contesting an election - or accepting a government appointment - understand a priori that their private actions (at least insofar as these actions influence their public office - are public domain issues, and that they will be held responsible for breaching pblic trust..

All politicians, once elected to parliament, are asked to declare their interests. In the past this obligation was often ignored, or not taken seriously enough by elected representatives (last year one MP facetiously listed an aviary with 500 birds as a private asset). This is clearly no longer acceptable, given the seriousness of the public interest in such matters.

Moreover, this rule should not be limited only to members of parliament, but should be extended to also include politically appointed chairpersons or directors of public boards.

Not only should their interests be declared, but they should also make known if they have a direct or indirect interest in any matter falling under their competency.

The best way to implement this rule would be to take a leaf out of the American mode of government, whereby potential candidates for public posts are subjected to a public hearing in parliament, so that any clarifications or explanations can be made and given in an open hearing.

Such procedures would save government from any possible embarrassment as questions relating to potential conflict of interest matters can be freely raised before they have a chance to become a problem.

The chairpersons and directors must also start appreciating the serious legal responsibilities their positions carry at law. As public officials they are technically administrators in a public company - as such, they can be held personally liable in certain financial circumstances.

It would be interesting to discover if, prior to their appointment, these people were informed and advised about the responsibilities their position entail.

Another concern is the criteria applied in the appointment of such persons. Such appointments are naturally decided by the government of the day; but that is no excuse to limit the criteria for eligibility only on the basis of party allegiance or affiliation. On the contrary, such appointments must be made on the basis of meritocracy.

It is for this reason among others that it is best practice for appointees to be grilled in parliament: where certain affiliations can be exposed and serious lack of competency highlighted. It is also worth considering giving a time limit to appointments, with no automatic right to be reappointed.

Equally important is that no one person should be appointed to a multitude of directorships; on the contrary, such appointments should be spread out as far as possible to benefit from the greatest possible spectrum of competence and talent.

Our institutions have to carry public trust and of course allowed to operate freely and away from political influences. Accordingly it is salutary that the police authorities are carrying out their duty and arraigning persons within a reasonable time frame.

It is now imperative that justice is allowed to run its course, so that the focus of these last 14 days of the campaign can shift back to the party programmes... and not just on the oil scandal, or on the drug cases in party clubs.

These latter two events are of importance, certainly; but at the end of the day electing a government is done on the basis of the pledges promises and commitments made in the electoral manifestos.

Mud-slinging and exchanges of corruption allegations are no substitute for serious analysis and debate. Elections are essentially a battle of ideas, an exchange of different visions for society over the coming five years. It's time to compare programmes dispassionately, ideally through a forum anchored by a serious presenter who allows both sides to make their opinions known, and above all who can correct participants immediately when they express untruths, without resorting to the culture of interruptions that is fast becoming the order of the day so as not to allow one's opponents to get an alternative view across.

It's time to go back to basics with a serious and high level battle of ideas and allow the electorate freely to make up his mind in whose hands he or she wants to hand over the reins of government.

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Fine, Mr Editor, however bear in mind that proposals have been dissected and talked about for a long time. OK! Fine! BUT, now it is time to talk about the beef!! What is the point of having a million proposals if whoever you appoint is incapable of actioning them! And more important to the taxpayer, at a reasonable, UP FRONT cost! What is the more obscene matter to decide on? Is it the systematic occurrence and acceptance of rampant corruption embroidered in the system of Government these past 15 years, when we were promised complete change in 1987 from the way the Labour Government was acting in the last 5 years prior to 1987? Or shouting inanities about the exact meaning of some small time proposal?