Without transparency, accountability is hampered

Earlier this week I was called by the Auditor General to his office in order to discuss the request for an investigation which I had submitted to his office some 15 days ago on behalf of ADPD. My request for an investigation was relative to the contract of service entered into between the Institute for Tourism Studies (ITS) and the Honourable Rosianne Cutajar, then a Labour member of parliament, now turned independent after being squeezed out of Labour.

As pointed out earlier in this column (The role of members of Parliament: TMIS 2 April), the issue is not an investigation of Rosianne Cutajar. It is rather an investigation into the operation of the Institute for Tourism Studies (ITS): whether it has engaged a consultant to its CEO to carry out responsibilities in respect of which the said consultant had no knowledge or competence, as is public knowledge.

An examination of the contract entered into between the Honourable Cutajar and ITS lists the areas of responsibilities which she was expected to shoulder: primarily issues of financial management. These responsibilities fall substantially outside the competences of a qualified Italian secondary school teacher. The contract in question is one which was hidden from public view until it was released by Shift News on the 23 March after it had obtained a copy as a result of a Freedom of Information request.

The inquisitive and investigative free press is shining a light on secretive acts carried out by the public sector: this is what transparency is about. Without transparency there is no way that we can ensure a shred of accountability.

The Auditor General informed me that he had called this meeting to hear my views, prior to his taking a decision on whether to proceed with the investigation and subsequently inform the Speaker of the House of Representatives of his findings.

Good governance does not stand a chance of ever taking root if this is how decisions are taken in the wider public sector. It is about time that all decision-takers start shouldering responsibility for the decisions they take. This ITS contract is one small example of abusive behaviour which needs acting upon immediately. It is not only politicians who must be accountable.

The management of public funds is tied with a duty to act in a responsible manner. All those who manage public funds must be in a position to account minutely for their actions. At the end of the day, it is the Auditor General who is entrusted by Parliament to monitor and report on the matter. Hopefully in the not-too-distant future we will be informed exactly what happened and who is actually responsible.

Transparency and accountability work in tandem. A lack of transparency is normally the first step to try and ensure that accountability is avoided.

Transparency is the indispensable foundation of good governance. In contrast, bad governance is generally wrapped in secrecy through the withholding of information which should be in the public domain. Without transparency, accountability is a dead letter; devoid of any meaning. A lack of transparency transforms our democracy into a defective process, as basic and essential information required to form an opinion on what’s going on is missing. After all, accountability is about responsibility: it signifies the acknowledgement and assumption of responsibility for our actions. This cannot be achieved unless and until transparency reigns supreme.

Whenever government, or public bodies, are secretive about information which they hold, and refuse or oppose without valid reason requests to release information under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act they give ample proof of their governance credentials.

Transparency is a journey, not a destination. We have to work hard at ensuring transparency continuously. It is a long journey, one which never ends.

Rules and laws will not bring about transparency. It will only result whenever each one of us opts to do what is right and not what is expedient. Our actions speak much louder than words.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 16 April 2023

Incinerating trust, fairness and common sense

A public consultation is currently under way until the 21 October relative to an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) which examines Wasteserve’s proposal:  the development of a Waste to Energy Facility, to operate in conjunction with other management operations within the so-called Magħtab Environmental Complex.

It is a duty of Wasteserve defined in terms of the EU environmental acquis applicable within Maltese territory to examine the environmental impacts of its proposal within the framework of agreed terms of reference approved by the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA). The detailed reports together with the supporting technical information are then subject to public consultation.

The EIA in respect of the Magħtab incinerator is commissioned by Wasteserve, however it serves to inform the whole decision-taking process. Contrary to the disclaimer by the EIA’s coordinator in the first few pages, the reports forming the EIA are not “for the exclusive use of Wasteserve Malta Limited”. I fail to understand how ERA has accepted to include this disclaimer when it is clear, even from a cursory look at the Environment Impact Assessment Regulations that the EIA is an important document which informs the environmental and land use planning decision-taking process. It is in particular used to inform the public and on its basis a public hearing is organised to take feedback from all interested parties.

The EIA is certainly a public document in respect of which its coordinator has to shoulder responsibility as to its accuracy and reasonableness. Having a disclaimer as that indicated above is certainly not acceptable. ERA should pull up its socks and ensure the deletion of the said disclaimer forthwith.

A cursory look at the Magħtab incinerator EIA, including the technical studies attached reveals the names of a number of experts who have given their input in the formulation of the studies required which studies are then distilled in an appropriate assessment report.

One of these experts is a certain professor Alan Deidun who concurrently with participating in this specific EIA is also a member of the ERA Board, the environmental regulator. He sits on the ERA Board after being nominated by the environmental NGOs as established by legislation.

Professor Alan Deidun is conveniently with one foot on each side of the fence: forming part of the regulatory structure and simultaneously advising the developer, in this case Wasteserve Malta Limited, a government entity. In my book this is the type of conflict of interest which instils a deep sense of distrust of the regulatory authorities. Alan Deidun is running with the hares and hunting with the hounds.

Can we ever trust “regulators” who, whenever they feel like it, offer their services to those they “regulate”?

Interestingly, one of the documents available for public scrutiny contains a declaration by twenty-one expert contributors to the EIA, each of whom declares that s/he has no conflict of interest: the conflict however being narrowly defined in terms of an interest in the development itself.  The EIA Regulations do not limit “conflict of interest” to an interest in the development but speak of “no conflict of interests”. No wonder even Professor Alan  Deidun signed this declaration!

Regulation 17 of the EIA Regulations of 2017 lays down that those carrying out the EIA must be “professional, independent and impartial”. How can the regulator be “professional, independent and impartial” when he starts advising those s/he regulates?

It is about time that the environmental NGOs recall Professor Alan Deidun from his role as a member of the ERA Board representing them, as such behaviour is unacceptable in this day and age.

It may be pertinent to point out that very recently, a development permit, in respect of the development of Manoel Island, was withdrawn by the Environment and Planning Tribunal due to the fact that one of the contributors to the EIA had a conflict of interest.

It is about time that regulators understand that their acceptance to sit on decision-taking structures puts limits on their permissible professional activities. Until such time that this basic point is acted upon our authorities cannot be fully trusted. Their behaviour is incinerating trust, fairness and common sense.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 11 October 2020

Lejn normal differenti

L-imxija tal-coronavirus għadha fl-istadji bikrija tagħha. In-numri ta’ dawk identifikati bħala infettati, s’issa, s-servizzi tas-saħħa qed ilaħħqu magħhom. Nittamaw li l-affarijiet jibqgħu hekk, anke jekk in-numri inevitabilment ser jiżdiedu. Dan ser ikun jiddependi fuq diversi fatturi, ewlieni fosthom li lkoll kemm aħna qed nosservaw dak li jgħidulna l-awtoritajiet tas-saħħa biex b’hekk tonqos il-possibilità li l-virus ikun trasmess fuq skala kbira.

Bla dubju, l-mistoqsija fuq fomm kulħadd hi: kemm ser jgħaddi żmien biex il-pajjiż jirkupra minn dan kollu?

F’waħda mill-intervisti li tiegħu, l-Prim Ministru Robert Abela indika li l-kriżi tal-coronavirus tista’ twassal sal-bidu tas-sajf. Jista’ jkun, iżda, li din iddum ferm iktar: possibilment anke sa tnax-il xahar ieħor! Il-medja internazzjonali qed tispekula dwar jekk il-firxa tal-coronavirus tonqosx fis-sajf biex imbagħad tirritorna iktar tard bħall-influwenza “normali” li tkun magħna kull sena. Il-possibilità tat-tieni mewġa tal-coronavirus m’għandiex tkun injorata, għax, jekk dan iseħħ jista’ jkollha impatti konsiderevoli fuq dak li jkun baqa’!

Meta ser niġu lura għan-normal? Il-ħajja f’Malta ser tirritorna għal dak li mdorrijin bih jew ser nieħdu l-opportunità biex nibnu normal ġdid u differenti?

Il-pajjiż jeħtieġlu ż-żmien biex jerġa’ jiġi fuq saqajh, ħafna iktar minn kemm hu meħtieġ biex ikun eliminat il-coronavirus minn fostna. Iż-żmien ta’ stennija nistgħu nagħmlu użu tajjeb minnu billi nibdew nippjanaw bis-serjetà dwar kif ser nibnu mill-ġdid ir-reputazzjoni tal-pajjiż. Huwa iktar diffiċli li nibnu r-reputazzjoni tal-pajjiż milli nsewwu l-ħsara kkawżata mill-firxa tal-coronavirus.

Reċentement ġew ippubblikati żewġ dokumenti bi proposti li jistgħu jkunu ta’ għajnuna kbira f’din il-ħidma li hi tant meħtieġa. L-ewwel dokument ippubblikat huwa dokument konsultattiv li ippubblika xi ġimgħat ilu l-Kummissarju għall-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika. Dan hu intitolat: Towards the Regulation of Lobbying in Malta. It-tieni dokument huwa intitolat Review of the Ethical Framework guiding public employees u kien pubblikat mill-Uffiċċju Nazzjonali tal-Verifika iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa. Hi ħasra li, safejn naf jiena, ma teżisti l-ebda verżjoni bil-Malti ta’ dawn id-dokumenti. Dan ukoll hu nuqqas amministrattiv li għandu jkun rimedjat. Il-Malti hu lsienna u proposti ta’ din ix-xorta jeħtieġ li jkunu ppubblikati bil-Malti ukoll.

Fid-dokument konsultattiv tiegħu l-Kummissarju għall-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika jargumenta favur it-trasparenza permezz tar-regolamentazzjoni tal-lobbying, materja li s’issa hi nieqsa mill-liġijiet tagħna. Hu biss permezz ta’ transparenza rigoruża tal-proċess politiku li nistgħu nassiguraw il-kontabilità u allura l-iskrutinju pubbliku tal-formazzjoni ta’ proposti politiċi kif ukoll tal-proċess tat-teħid ta’ deċiżjonijiet. Ilkoll konxji li sakemm il-lobbying ma’ jkunx regolat, dan ser jibqa’ sors ewlieni tal-kontaminazzjoni tal-proċess politiku. Meta nirregolaw il-lobbying, min-naħa l-oħra, nistgħu jkollna proċess politiku infurmat u allura nkunu qed nikkontribwixxu b’mod effettiv għall-kontabilità.

Fit-tieni dokument, l-Awditur Ġenerali jeżamina r-regoli dwar l-imġieba etika li huma mifruxa fl-Att dwar l- Amministrazzjoni Publika, fil-Kodiċi tal-Etika u fil-Kodiċi dwar it-Tmexxija tas-Servizz Pubbliku li flimkien jirregolaw il-mod kif jopera is-servizz pubbliku. L-Awditur Ġenerali ġustament josserva, illi, meta tqis il-kontenut ta’ dawn it-tlett dokumenti flimkien jirriżulta li hemm nuqqas ta’ ċarezza, liema nuqqas joħloq l-inċertezza, u b’hekk tkun imnaqqsa l-effettività tagħhom. Huwa jemfasizza illi r-regoli huma ultimament effettivi skond kemm huma kapaċi jwasslu għal azzjoni konkreta. Jiġifieri r-regoli għandu jkollhom il-kapaċita li jittraduċu l-prinċipji f’azzjoni reali.

Permezz tal-proposti tagħhom il-Kummissarju għall-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika u l-Awditur Ġenerali qed iwasslu messaġġ għat-tisħieħ tal-pedamenti tal-amministrazzjoni pubblika. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan, jista’ jkun possibli li nibnu “normal ġdid” u differenti minn dak li drajna bih sal-lum. Normal fejn il-governanza tajba ma tkunx iktar eċċezzjoni imma tkun l-imġieba normali li nistennew mingħand dawk fil-ħajja pubblika u fl-amministrazzjoni pubblika għas-servizz tal-pajjiż.

Il-waqfien tal-pajjiż ħtija tal-mixja tal-coronavirus hi ukoll opportunità għal riflessjoni tant meħtieġa. Huwa l-waqt li l-paroli kollu dwar governanza tajba nittrasformawh f’azzjoni konkreta. Il-pajjiż għandu bżonn ta’ normal ġdid, ta’ normal differenti minn dak imdorrijin bih.


Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 5 t’April 2020

Towards a new normal

The Coronavirus outbreak is still in its initial stages. The numbers of those testing positive are, so far, manageable. We all hope that this will remain manageable even though the numbers are on the increase. This is however dependent on many factors, primarily on our observing the instructions issued by the health authorities in order to reduce the possibilities of transmission of the virus.

How long will it take for the country to recover?

In one of his interviews Prime Minister Robert Abela has indicated that the current Coronavirus crises may last till the beginning of summer. Recovery, could, however, last longer, even as much as twelve months. The international media is speculating on whether the Coronavirus outbreak will reduce its spread during the summer months as well as whether it will return later in the year just like the “common” flu. The possibility of a second outbreak is not to be overlooked, as if this were to happen, it could have a devastating effect on what’s left.

When will life get back to normal? Will life in Malta be back to what we were used to or will we avail ourselves of the opportunity to seek a new normal?

It will take time for the country to start functioning again, much more than is required to eliminate the Coronavirus from our midst. We can put to good use the available time on our hands to start planning in earnest the rebuilding of our reputation as a country. Reconstructing our reputation is more difficult to achieve successfully than making good the extensive damage caused by the Coronavirus outbreak.

In this respect, lately, two different sets of proposals have been published for our consideration. The first is the document for public consultation published by the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life some weeks ago, entitled: Towards the Regulation of Lobbying in Malta. The second is the Review of the Ethical Framework guiding public employees published this week by the National Audit Office. As far as I am aware no Maltese version of these documents has been published. This is a recurring administrative deficiency which should be remedied at the earliest. Maltese is our national language and proposals of this fundamental nature should be available for consideration in the Maltese language too.

In his consultation paper, the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life argues in favour of transparency through the regulation of lobbying which matter is still missing from our laws. It is only through rigorous transparency of the political process that we can ensure accountability and consequently public scrutiny of the policy formation and decision-taking process. We are all aware that as long as lobbying is unregulated it will remain a primary source of the toxification of the political process. Regulated lobbying, on the other hand, can inform the political process thereby contributing to more effective accountability.

In his review, the Auditor General examines existing ethical rules spread in the Public Administration Act, the Code of Ethics and the Public Service Management Code which together regulate the operation of the civil service. He observes that at times, when one considers these three instruments together, there is a lack of clarity which creates uncertainty, as a result reducing their effectiveness. He emphasises that ultimately effectiveness of the rules is also dependent on follow-up action and an enforcement which is capable of translating principles into tangible action.

Through their proposals the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life and the Auditor General seek to strengthen the foundations of public administration. As a result, it may be possible to construct a new normal where good governance is no longer an exception but the normal behaviour which we expect from people in public office as well as from the public administration serving the country.

The Coronavirus outbreak is thus also an opportunity for a long overdue reflection. The grinding to a halt of the whole country is also the right moment to substitute lip-service to good governance with some concrete action. The country desperately needs a new normal.


Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday 5 April 2020

Il-Lobbying u l-eżerċizzju tal-poter

Meta niddiskutu l-politika dwar ir-regolamentazzjoni tal-lobbying bosta drabi jqum l-argument dwar dawk il-politiċi li hekk kif jispiċċaw mill-politika attiva jingħataw responsabbiltajiet f’azjendi kbar. Din nirreferu għaliha bħala politika tar-“revolving door”, imsemmija għall-dawk il-bibien tal-lukandi li jduru u li hekk kif tidħol fiċ-ċirku tagħhom, malajr tispiċċa ġewwa.

L-eżempju klassiku li jissemma hu l-ingaġġ ta’ Josè Manuel Barroso li sa ħames snin ilu kien President tal-Kummissjoni Ewropea mill-bank multinazzjonali Goldman Sachs. Il-kumitat tal-etika tal-Unjoni Ewropea kien iddeskriva l-imġieba ta’ Barroso bħala waħda li kienet etikament ħażina avolja kien konkluż li ma kien hemm l-ebda ksur tal-Kodiċi tal-Etika.

Imġiba bħal din hi meqjusa bħala parti integrali mill-proċess tal-lobbying li jeħtieġ li jkun regolat b’mod adegwat.

F’Malta dawn l-affarijiet nagħmluhom “aħjar” minn hekk għax l-anqas regoli dwar imġieba ta’ din ix-xorta ma għandna! Fost oħrajn, dan huwa riżultat tal-fatt li ma kienx hemm qbil bejn Gvern u Opposizzjoni fil-Parlament dwar ir-regolamentazzjoni tal-lobbying meta kienet qed tkun diskussa il-liġi dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika. Allura ipposponew id-diskussjoni billi tefgħuha f’ħoġor il-Kummissarju dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika George Hyzler, bl-inkarigu li jkun hu li jabbozza r-regoli proposti dwar il-lobbying f’Malta.

F’Malta dan fil-fatt seħħ ukoll fil-passat riċenti mhux biss meta John Dalli kien ingaġġat mal-Grupp tal-Marsovin imma ukoll meta l-Grupp Corinthia, fi żminijiet differenti, ingaġġa kemm lis-Sur Dalli kif ukoll lill-Karmenu Vella, li għadu kif temm perjodu ta’ ħames snin bħala Kummissarju tal-Unjoni Ewropea. Ma nkisrux regoli minħabba li l-imġiba etika f’dan il-pajjiż hi ġeneralment injorata. Ir-reazzjoni lokali għal dan l-ingaġġ ta’ politiċi ġeneralment kienet: għala le?

Hu loġiku li nikkonkludu li jekk f’Malta niġu naqgħu u nqumu milli nirregolaw kif fid-dinja tan-negozju u l-industrija jingaġġaw malajr politiċi li jkunu għadhom kif spiċċaw mill-ħatra, aħseb u ara kemm ser nagħtu kaz meta nies tan-negozju jiġu ngaġġati huma stess f’posizzjonijiet viċin il-politiċi biex b’hekk jinfluwenzaw u jirregolaw l-aġenda pubblika.

Wara skiet twil, f’wieħed mill-messaġġ qosra, qishom it-talba ta’ filgħodu, li qed jippubblika fuq facebook, Varist Bartolo, qalilna kemm hu perikoluż li nies tan-negożju jkunu viċin iżżejjed tal-poter. Probabbilment li qed jitkellem mill-esperjenza, wara li hu u sħabu fil-Kabinett kienu qed jiffaċċjaw lill-Keith Schembri għal kważi seba’ snin sħaħ fl-Uffiċċju tal-Prim Ministru. U dan mhux l-uniku kaz.

Meta l-Kummissarju dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika ikollu l-ħin biex ifassal regoli dwar il-lobbying, dan kollu, bla dubju, jkun wieħed mill-punti fundamentali li jkunu meħtieġa illi jkunu indirizzati. In konformità ma dak li jiġri band’oħra, probabbilment li jikkonsidra regolament li ma jippermettix li l-qabża mis-settur politiku għal dak kummerċjali jseħħ immedjatament. Dan ikun ifisser li ħatriet ta’ din ix-xorta jkollhom jistennew bejn sena u nofs u sentejn minn meta tkun ġiet fi tmiemha l-ħidma fis-settur li fiha l-persuna tkun ħadmet l-aħħar. Dan isir bl-intenzjoni li jkun imnaqqas l-impatt negattiv tal-lobbying li inevitabilment jirriżulta u li jkun intrinsikament assoċjat ma dawn it-tip ta’ ħatriet.

Qegħdin tard ukoll biex ikun regolat il-lobbying b’mod ġenerali. Ir-rimedju bażiku kontra l-impatti negattivi tal-lobbying hi t-trasparenza.

Il-lobbying, kemm-il darba jsir sewwa u b’mod etiku m’għandux iwassal għal governanza ħażina. Għax huwa perfettament leġittimu li ċittadin, gruppi ta’ ċittadini, kumpaniji u anke għaqdiet mhux governattivi jfittxu li jinfluwenzaw it-teħid tad-deċiżjonijiet. Dan isir il-ħin kollu u jinvolvi l-komunikazzjoni ta’ informazzjoni u opinjonijiet jew veduti lill-leġislaturi u lil dawk li jamministraw minn kull min għandu kwalunkwè xorta ta’ interess.

Dan hu perfettament leġittimu għax iżomm lil min jieħu d-deċiżjonijiet infurmat bl-impatti ta’ dak li jkun qiegħed ikun ikkunsidrat. Imma huwa importanti li dan il-lobbying ma jkunx trasformat fi proċess li bħala riżultat tiegħu il-politiku jagħmel il-wisa’ u d-deċiżjonijiet fil-fatt jeħodhom ħaddieħor mid-dinja tal-business.

Il-lobbying jirrikjedi ammont konsiderevoli ta’ transpareza: hu essenzjali li jkun sganċjat mis-segretezza jew kunfidenzjalità artifiċjali. Fejn il-lobbying hu regolat dan isir billi l-laqgħat jew attivitajiet oħra li jservu għall-lobbying jingħataw pubbliċità biex b’hekk ikun possibli li jsir skrutinju mill-opinjoni pubblika. Il-minuti ta’ dan it-tip ta’ laqgħat ikunu pubbliċi kif għandu jkun ukoll kull dokument u studju assoċjat. Għandna d-dritt li nkunu nafu min u kif qed ifittex li jinfluwenza l-proċess tad-deċiżjonijiet. Dan jassigura li l-lobbying ma jkunx użat bħala għodda sigrieta biex iħarbat il-proċess demokratiku li bih jittieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet politiċi.

Din hi waħda mill-problemi ewlenin li tat kontribut biex tixxettel il-kriżi politika preżenti f’Malta: in-nuqqas ta’ apprezzament tal-ħtieġa ta’ mġiba etika korretta f’kull ħin fil-ħajja pubblika. Problema li jeħtieġilna li niffaċċjawha immedjatament.


Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd ta’ Diċembru 2019

Lobbying and the levers of power

When discussing the politics of lobbying regulation, what is known as the “revolving door” policy is frequently discussed. This is normally understood to mean the accelerated passage of a politician, generally from a senior political role, to a leading role in the corporate world.

The classic example of this was the recruitment by multinational investment bank Goldman Sachs of Josè Manuel Barroso, former President of the European Commission. An EU ethics panel had described Mr Barroso’s behaviour as morally reprehensible, even though it concluded that he was not in breach of the EU Integrity code.

Such behaviour is considered to be an integral part of the lobbying process which requires adequate regulation.

In Malta we do it even better than that, because no rules governing such behaviour exist! This is the result of no agreement on lobbying regulation being reached when the Standards in Public Life legislation was discussed by Parliament. As a result, they postponed the discussion and conveniently added the requirement of formulating lobbying rules to the duties of the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life, George Hyzler.

In Malta it has already happened in the recent past, not just in John Dalli’s recruitment by the Marsovin Group but also when the Corinthia Group recruited, at different times, both John Dalli and outgoing EU Commissioner Karmenu Vella. No rules were infringed, bypassed or ignored here as, to put it mildly, regulating ethical behaviour has never been Malta’s strong point. Rather, the local reaction was: why not?

It stands to reason that some would think that if Malta does not regulate the use of “revolving doors” to catapult politicians into the corporate world, why on earth should we regulate it for businessmen intending to do away with the lobbying middlemen and take the levers of power directly into their very hands?

After a long silence, it was very “thoughtful” of Minister of Education Evarist Bartolo to warn us of the perils we face in one of his recent early morning thoughts for the day posted on facebook. Together with his Cabinet colleagues he has had to face Keith Schembri for almost seven years at the Office of the Prime Minister, to name just one such appointment.

When the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life finds time to draft rules regulating lobbying, the issue of “revolving doors” should undoubtedly be high on his list of must dos. In line with lobbying regulations in other jurisdictions he will, hopefully, be proposing a cooling off period as a brake on such appointments. This would mean high-level appointments from the corporate world to the political world (and vice-versa) would need to wait until 18 to 24 months have elapsed between ceasing activity in one sector and entering the other. This is normally intended to dampen the negative lobbying impacts which such appointments lead to. It is inevitable and is intrinsically linked with these types of appointments.

It is also about time for the regulation of lobbying in general. Applying transparency to lobbying is the basic antidote needed.

Lobbying, if done properly and above board, should not lead to bad governance. It is perfectly legitimate for any citizen, group of citizens, corporations or even NGOs to seek to influence decision-taking. It is done continuously and involves the communication of views and information to legislators and administrators by those who have an interest in informing them of the impacts of the decisions under consideration.

It is perfectly legitimate that individuals, acting on their own behalf or else acting on behalf of third parties, should seek to ensure that decision-takers are well informed before taking the required decisions. However, lobbying should not be the process through which the decision-takers make way for the representatives of corporations to take their place.

Lobbying requires a considerable dose of transparency: it needs to be unchained from the shackles of secrecy. In other jurisdictions this is done through actively disclosing information on lobbying activities, thereby placing them under the spotlight of public opinion. The timely publication of minutes, as well as documents and studies relative to meetings held by holders of political office, is essential. The public has a right to know who is seeking to influence the decision-taking process. This helps ensure that lobbying is not used as a tool to secretly derail or deflect the democratic process leading to political decisions.

This is one of the major issues resulting from the political crisis currently engulfing the Maltese islands: essentially an absence of ethics in the public sphere which should be addressed forthwith.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 15 December 2019

For sale : access to the decision-taking process



The Lowenbrau saga has raised another issue as to the extent that revolving door recruitment should be regulated. By revolving door recruitment I am referring to the movement from government service to private sector lobbying and vice-versa of holders of political office as well as of senior civil servants. As a result of such recruitment, an investment is being made in the access to the decision-taking process which is purchased or offered for sale.

Last Sunday, The Malta Independent on Sunday understandably raised the issue with reference to former Minister John Dalli in the article Revolving doors: John Dalli denies conflict of interest in Lowenbrau deal  (TMIS 22 January). However, the issue is much wider. It is a matter which is of concern in respect of the manner of operation of lobbying which in this country is largely unregulated. It has already happened not just in Mr Dalli’s recruitment with the Marsovin Group but also when the Corinthia Group recruited both Mr Dalli as well as current EU Commissioner Karmenu Vella.

It concerns both holders of political office as well as senior civil servants, including senior officers of authorities exercising executive authority.

There is much to learn from foreign jurisdictions as to the manner in which such recruitment should be regulated. A recent example which made the international headlines was the recruitment by Goldman Sachs of Josè Manuel Barroso, former President of the European Commission.  An ethics panel had described Mr Barroso’s behaviour as morally reprehensible even though it concluded that he was not in breach of the EU Integrity code.

Corporate Europe Observatory had then commented that the Barroso recruitment had “catapulted the EU’s revolving door problem onto the political agenda, causing widespread jaw-dropping and reactions of disbelief, making it a symbol of excessive corporate influence at the highest levels of the EU.”  Corporate Europe Observatory had also referred to the recruitment of other former European Commissioners by various corporations and emphasised that it is hard to avoid the conclusion that as a result of this behaviour European politicians are seen to be acting for private interests over the public interest.

This is the real significance of revolving door recruitment:  it needs to be ascertained that the potential abuse by holders of political office of milking public office for private gain is regulated. It is not just another layer of regulation or unnecessary bureaucracy.

The issue is however more complex than the recruitment of holders of political office at the end of their political appointment. It is also of relevance even when such holders of political office are appointed to such office from the private sector as can be ascertained through the current hearings by the US Senate of the Trump administration nominees. It is also applicable to senior civil servants from the wider public sector.

Parliament is currently debating a Standards in Public Life Bill, which at this point in time is pending examination at Committee stage. Unfortunately, revolving door recruitment as well as lobbying have not been considered by the legislator!   Revolving door recruitment is an exercise in selling and purchasing access to the decision-taking process. It is high time that it is placed under a continuous spotlight.

published in The Malta Independent: Wednesday 25 January 2017