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