Dad, political sociologist, local councillor, drummer from Malta

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Politics of Decency

According to public perception, the biggest political issue in Malta right now is corruption. Recent scandals such as Panamagate, the Gaffarena controversy, Sadeen’s institution, Australia Hall, CafĂ© Premier, as well as government’s non-publication of public contracts and lack of meritocratic governance, have become the order of the day.
One interpretation of this phenomenon is that people have the ‘luxury’ to give importance to such issues given that Malta’s economic base is relatively stable. Others, however, would say that the economy cannot be detached from other issues and factors such as governance, environment and democratisation.
Thus, Labour’s lack of good governance can have negative economic, social and environmental impacts.
For example, if government keeps showing that certain business interests are preferred over others, this could bring about resentment among businesses who would like to bid for public contracts in a fair way. And if public perception on corruption extends beyond Malta’s shores, certain businesses may be dissuaded from investing in Malta.
The social impacts of bad governance could likewise be varied. For example, if decision makers do not practise what they preach and resort to shady deals and dubious decisions, this malaise could be socially contagious. Alternatively, it could result in increased resentment, skepticism and disillusionment from people who expect good governance.
Environmental impacts of bad governance could mean that short-sighted interests in areas such as development of land and usage of scarce resources be given priority over the common good, sustainability and longer-term concerns.
In such a context, it is important to point out basic factors of good governance which are supposed to be universally applicable in liberal democracies.
Labour’s lack of good governance can have negative economic, social and environmental impacts
Political responsibility is one such factor. One would expect that those in power have the decency to take responsibility for their decisions and choices. This also includes the honourable decision to resign when this is due. In the past, ministers and politicians such as Charles Mangion and Chris Said decided accordingly, and history eventually proved them right.
In the present, however, Energy Minister Konrad Mizzi and the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri remain steadfastly attached to their positions and show no signs of humility in this regard. To make matters worse, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat is giving them his support.

Good governance should also mean that one respects one’s political adversaries and refuses to treat the public as if they are brainless individuals. Official communication should be based on clear information and not on distortion or misinformation.
Another basic precondition of good governance is character. Government should not be seen as a faceless machine, devoid of principle. An ‘anything-goes’ government can be an invitation to corruption.
I am not suggesting that government should be run by fundamentalist mullahs who assume that they hold a monopoly on truth.
What I am suggesting is that basic values and norms of democracy should be respected by all governments, irrespective of their ideological and party make-up. Such values include rule of law, meritocracy, transparency and accountability. It is sad indeed that some of these basic values are being eroded in Malta today.
Amid this negative situation, there are positive signs for hope. For example, the public domain Bill and the good governance proposals which have been proposed by the Nationalist Opposition are in themselves tools for good governance. Of course, they have to be approved and implemented to be effective.
Similarly, the current Labour administration, notwithstanding its governance deficit, did approve important legislation related to governance – for example on whistleblowing – though the implementation of this seems to be another matter altogether.
The Green Party as well as different voices from civil society have been putting forward valuable proposals for the past years, along the lines of normal governance in liberal democracies.
In Malta’s current political crisis, forces and persons who are pro-EU, non-xenophobic and pro-good governance should share a common discourse for decent politics. The common good should be prioritised before the corroding effects of corruption extend further.

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