Dad, political sociologist, local councillor, drummer from Malta

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Governance Deficit


The Times 14 December 2015 
One of the most disappointing aspects of the current Labour government is its deficit in good governance. From Café Premier to Australia Hall, from Triq iż-Żekka to Żonqor and from the public transport invisible contract to the publicly-funded bank guarantees on private energy investment, hardly a day passes without new examples of bad governance. This also includes lack of enforcement in so many areas that impact people’s quality of life.
The recent tiger incident at Montekristo was the cherry on the cake. The site is a monument of illegality and failed State enforcement, and there seems to be no will by government and Mepa to take action against it.
To make matters worse, the site has been used for activities paid by the taxpayer. Yet, citizens have a precious tool which they can use in the absence of state action – boycotting the venue.
Given the current situation, it is no surprise that the Nationalist Party has issued proposals for good governance. The gist of such proposals was actually proposed by others before the PN, and these include the Green Party, and paradoxically, Labour itself in the 2013 electoral campaign.
PN’s proposals include having two-thirds parliamentary majority for important appointments; having proper professional duties by members of Parliament; publishing of all government agreements and contracts; distinguishing between State and party in public events; enhancing the democratic process through the right for propositive referenda; and the enhancing of equity and sustainability through social and environmental impact assessments.
In a democracy characterised by dialogue and fruitful exchange of ideas, each of the PN’s proposals would be constructively debated within Parliament and civil society. Goodwill from both parliamentary sides would lead to consensus and introduction of such legislation and procedures.
In reality, what happened so far in party politics was quite the opposite. Whether by coincidence or not, the issue surrounding fuel consumption by Simon Busuttil’s driver was thrown in the public sphere just after the PN’s governance proposals were published.
Busuttil did the right thing by immediately suspending his driver, though the latter was then reinstated by the Speaker of the House in what seemed to be a damage-control exercise in the politics of backfiring tactics. As things stand, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat appears to be increasingly weak and on the defensive: a victim of his own populist success.
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat appears to be increasingly weak and on the defensive: a victim of his own populist success
Indeed, Labour seems to be more interested in cynical political spin rather than outdoing the PN by taking up the latter’s proposals or improving them.
The PL basically has rounds of ammunition which it is using whenever it is criticised, and thus frequently reminds the public of examples of bad governance under the previous PN administration.
The truth of the matter, however, is that the PN already paid dearly for its errors, through the electoral defeat in 2013. The Labour Party, on the other hand, was elected to give us better governance, and not to nag as if it is still in opposition mode.
Labour’s strategy might earn the applause from diehard voters and from those who are directly benefitting from Labour’s decisions. But I sense much disillusionment from many others, including some who believed that Muscat would bring about a new style of politics.
I would imagine that in the run-up to the next general election, Labour is planning to provide goodies through revenue generated from the discriminatory cash-for-citizenship scheme.
But here one can take note that EU funding did not prevent the Nationalists from losing the 2013 election and from winning the 2008 one only by a whisker. Indeed, the power of incumbency has its limits, particularly when the electorate is increasingly reflexive.
General elections are decided not by immovable diehards, but by more reflexive groups and individuals, including floaters and new voters. And these include many voters who give value to meritocracy, transparency, equity and accountability. Given current trends, good governance is likely to be a key electoral issue in 2018.

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