Governance has become a main feature of political discourse in Malta. Power of incumbency, Panama Papers, rule of law and government reforms frequently feature in political commentary. Social scientific analyses of governance are less publicly visible, even though a good number of academics and students in our country are researching this.
Journalists have a wealth of data and analysis that can be obtained from the University of Malta, both online and physically from the Melitensia section. These can enrich the quality of journalistic reports on governance.
Malta’s governance is also periodically reviewed by international think-tanks, including the German Bertelsmann Stiftung. It has just released the sixth edition of its ‘Sustainable governance indicator’ (SGI 2017). This is a cross-national survey of 41 OECD and EU countries that analyses each country’s future viability based on 136 quantitative and qualitative indicators.
Over 100 experts are involved in this study, which is available online. SGI proceeds to publish a global classification of the 41 countries in question. The classification is divided in three parts, based on each country’s policy performance, democracy and governance capacities.
On a global level, SGI refers to major concerns of governments. These include social inequality, climate change, migration, terrorism and the consequences of the economic and financial crisis.
The rise of nationalistic populism and threats to democracy and rule of law are also highlighted.
But let us look at each classification.
The policy performance index is based on economic, social and environmental policies. Sweden, Norway and Switzerland occupy the first three places respectively. Greece is ranked last, just below Turkey and Mexico. Malta stands 25th out of 41 countries.
The democracy index is based on the thorough analysis of each country’s democratic order and the rule of law on which it is based. Sweden, Finland and Norway top the list while Turkey, Hungary and Mexico come last, with Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey hitting rock bottom.
Malta is in a low 36th position. Only South Korea and Romania divide Malta from the bottom three places. This is worrying indeed and only confirms the need to have strong political pressure on matters such as corruption, appointment of the judiciary and efficiency of the law courts.
The governance index assesses a government’s capacity to steer and implement policies as well as its capacity for institutional learning. Sweden tops the list, followed by Denmark and Norway. Malta occupies a low 29th position. Cyprus comes last, preceded by Romania and Croatia.
SGI states that Malta is making steady but slow progress towards good governance and it highlights positives and negatives in this regard. For example, it refers to the increased scrutiny of the government, the positive role played by the National Audit Office and to social reforms, such as childcare and LGBTIQ rights. It also refers to low unemployment and a decrease in the national debt-to-GDP ratio, as well as Enemalta’s improved financial situation.
On a negative note, SGI refers to challenges in the implementation of good governance such as the Panama Papers scandal and electoral patronage.
It also highlights rampant tax evasion, the financial sustainability of the healthcare system, threats to environmental sustainability and higher rents caused by an increase in the number of foreign workers and passport buyers.
The document also highlights key challenges facing our country. Among others, these include reforming an electoral system that encourages patronage and clientelism, lack of adequate representation of small parties, the need for a strong anti-corruption body and the need to accelerate the country’s integration policy, and the need to professionalise a part-time Parliament that lacks expertise.
The latter challenge is of particular interest. I believe it is high time that Parliament is professionalised. To begin with, parliamentary sessions are held at hours that are not family friendly.
It also does not equip parliamentarians with the necessary professional assistance to research policies and it encourages them to remain dependent on income obtained elsewhere.
A more professional political system can ensure that parliamentarians are equipped to engage better with evidence that benefits policymaking. Perhaps this is an issue that can win cross-party support and which can be fine-tuned to the realities and challenges of Malta as a small-island EU member state.