Civil service weakened by low wages, minister claims

The civil service was being weakened as a result of the wide gap between the salaries of senior civil servants and the much higher wages of senior officials in public entities and authorities falling outside of the civil service, Local Government Minister José Herrera said this evening.

Herrera was speaking during debate on the Devolution of Certain Ministerial Powers Bill, which would amend 38 laws to devolve various ministerial powers to the authorities, entities and senior officials falling under their remit.

The minister noted that since the 1990s, a number of public regulatory authorities falling outside the civil service have been established, and as such, they were not bound to government salary scales. As a result, he said, their CEOs were being paid much more than permanent secretaries, who are effectively their equivalent within government ministries.

As a result, Herrera said, the civil service was being weakened as it struggled to attract top talent.

At present, most permanent secretaries are on Scale 2, representing an annual income of €42,827. The only two exceptions are the Principal Permanent Secretary and the permanent secretary in the Finance Ministry, who are on Scale 1 (€42,238 annual salary).

Fewer decisions will need minister’s signature

As he presented the bill, Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis noted that at present, ministers had to sign off on many decisions which should not require their intervention, and that an exercise was carried out to go through Maltese laws to address this. He observed that when it came to decisions on individual cases, the need for a minister’s signature would give the impression that politicians would have undue influence on the process.

Among other things, the bill would remove the need for the minister responsible to issue or withdraw warrants to accountants, engineers and numerous other professions.

In his address, Herrera noted that Malta’s political system often saw excessive interference, acknowledging that this was due to a system “based on clientelism, a single transferable vote, and a small population where everyone knows each other.”

He said that the civil service needed to resist such interference, but also warned that civil servants should not interfere in the policies set by politicians, who were ultimately accountable to the public.