A position of trust


Government has just announced that it has appointed 14 Permanent Secretaries. Three of the appointees have already served under the previous administration. The others are new to the post.

Within twenty four hours from Labour’s election to office, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat announced the appointment of a designate Head of the Civil Service. In line with Lawrence Gonzi’s appointments the said designate Head of the Civil Service was also appointed simultaneously as Principle Permanent Secretary at the Office of the Prime Minister and Secretary to the Cabinet.

Within hours rumours announced that all Permanent Secretaries had been requested to submit their resignations which, it was stated, were necessary and in line with normal practice in a democratic society.

It  was not however stated that the real issue with the post of Permanent Secretary is that it is a position of trust. All those appointed were so appointed because the previous administration considered that they could be trusted. Knowing some if not most of the appointees I can say that the trust demonstrated by the previous administration in the appointment of its Permanent Secretaries was most probably based on a cocktail of considerations.  Their administrative abilities undoubtedly featured prominently on the list. There were undoubtedly other issues. Given the sensitivity of the posts I have no doubt that political loyalty was given some weight in the appointments made. In some cases more than others.

The posts of Permanent Secretaries are not the only posts which the Gonzi administration considered as positions of trust.  I remember clearly the reports drawn up by former MEPA Audit Officer on the appointment of the Director for Environment Protection at MEPA and MEPA’s  CEO without issuing a call for applications. The MEPA Audit Officer had then argued that there was no need to consider such posts as positions of trust meriting direct appointment. Subjecting them to a public competition through an open call for applications would have been fair and proper.

A number of public corporations and authorities have appointed their senior management, primarily CEOs, through either an open call or else through a direct appointment. In view of the fact that the Public Administration Act has not been brought into force there is no enforceable rule to ensure a clear demarcation line as to which posts in the wider civil service are to be deemed as positions of trust and which not.

It is logical for persons appointed to positions of trust to make way when those who appointed them are no longer in authority. But then in a micro-state as Malta, where each and every one of us is known to one and all, it is in my view essential that the positions in the wider civil service which are deemed to be “positions of trust” are to be the minimum possible number.  It does not make sense to have a large number of such posts.

Unfortunately this matter has never been discussed. What is government’s position on the matter?

It is about time that all the cards are on the table.