Family matters

It remains surprising that a political party so critical of the ‘friends of friends’ mentality would so quickly succumb to almost the exact same habit now that the shoe is on the other foot.

Cartoon by Mark Scicluna
Cartoon by Mark Scicluna

Electoral slogans have a notoriously consistent habit of returning to haunt the political party that first excogitated them. This was poignantly true of the slogan 'GonziPN' (not to mention 'finanzi fis-sod' and 'a safe pair of hands'), which - for reasons that are perfectly visible with hindsight - ultimately backfired so badly that the Nationalist Party has spent the last five years trying to pretend it never came up with them at all.

But recent developments also show that this trait is hardly restricted to the PN alone. Labour's successful electoral slogan 'Malta taghna lkoll' is also proving to be something of an albatross around the present administration's neck - with revelations coming thick and fast that Labour Party apparatchiks are being appointed directly to public office, in clear defiance of the spirit of this same slogan.

At a certain level, this was perhaps inevitable. It is after all common practice (for entirely understandable reasons) that an incoming administration - any administration - will seek to install its own trusted appointees to a number of sensitive positions. This makes sense because any government needs to be able to trust the people responsible for enacting its own policies, especially in sensitive areas such as (to cite the source of the latest controversy) foreign investment. But there are limits to how far any government can abuse the custom of appointing its own faithful supporters to public office, especially when the same party in government has made so much capital out of the former government's habit of doing the same thing.

But the latest in a series of revelations since the change in government last March has also raised questions which go beyond the mere propriety or otherwise of such acts of cronyism. It has been revealed that Energy Minister Konrad Mizzi's wife - a naturalised Maltese citizen of Chinese origin - has been appointed as a 'special envoy' to (in the government's own words) "promote Asian investment in Malta and Maltese exports" to Asia, targeting China, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore.

One could almost stop there, as - in any modern democracy - news that the wife of a Cabinet minister was appointed to public office, without any public announcement whatsoever, would be greeted with a storm of entirely justified controversy.

Admittedly this may be a little unfair on the individual concerned. Certainly there is no reason to doubt Mrs Mizzi Liang's actual qualifications for this post - and indeed it would appear that she is in fact a highly suitable candidate. Nonetheless there are two fundamental pillars of democracy at stake in this issue: transparency, which decrees that all such appointments must be open to public scrutiny and meritocracy, according to which all public appointments are made available on the basis of one's qualifications and suitability for the role.

Applied to the present scenario, this observation poses an immediate problem for the present government. Both 'transparency' and (even more emphatically) 'meritocracy' formed an intrinsic part of the Labour Party's successful campaign strategy at the last election.

Both are subliminally implied in that same slogan 'Malta taghna lkoll' - which, with its inference of shared ownership, gives the impression that everyone is entitled not only to a fair chance at availing of public positions, but also to information regarding how and to whom such positions are dished out.

Sadly, the Labour government failed to meet both these basic democratic requirements when it came to this particular appointment... And it must be said that this was not a unique, one-off mishap either. In fact it represents but the latest in a series of similar questionable appointments, all of which came very soon after the Labour Party had won an election precisely on the strength of a slogan implying the opposite 'way of doing politics'.

And this is questionable on another level also: for apart from raising popular expectations of a more meritocratic system, the Labour government also committed itself to a very clear commitment that all public appointments would be subject to a call for applications - a promise that was simply not kept on this occasion.

Under normal circumstances this would translate into, at most, a little embarrassment for the government, just as the unfolding drama of the PN's financial situation must be embarrassing to a party which once styled itself as a safe pair of hands when it came to financial management.

But in this instance the appointment also raises a few awkward questions. Coming so soon after the surprise announcement that government will sell an as-yet-unquantified stake in Malta's only energy provider (which could be as much as 35%, according to one junior minister) to a Chinese company, the appointment of the energy minister's wife to a post in China can only add to the aura of mystery that now surrounds this same deal.

Even without this consideration, it remains surprising that a political party which was so critical of the 'friends of friends' mentality exhibited by the previous government would so quickly succumb to almost the exact same habit now that the shoe is on the other foot.

This does not bode well for the future of the government's promise to return a previously hijacked country to its rightful owners once and for all.

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Let her and other appointees, which you claim were appointed primarily for their political opinion, (as was done practically always with GonziPN) carry out their duties. If they will not perform, as you seem to indicate, then Muscat will take the necessary measures. If not, then the voters will take the necessary measures when the time comes. Remember the citizens which swung the vote are not diehard PL members.
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Put your money where your mouth is and suggest a replacement to Ms Mizzi Liang. Bla bla bla ....... as long as you keep filling the lines.
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Luke Camilleri
MALTA TAGHNA WKOLL. . . . u mhux taghhom biss kif kienet qabel! Qalek ghandhom il-hruq ta' stonku! ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Ta' teamPN Saru BLU (feeling BLUE :() bid-dwejjaq, HOMOR bir- rabja (Red with anger) , HODOR(green with envy)u Sofor bix-xokkijiet u sorprizi( make one feel yellow)! ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ They will be going BROWN at this rate . .. shitting in their pants if more surprises come up !