Outright refusal or extreme reluctance to disclose information can be said to have become the style of government that is seriously denting the openness and transparency of public administration. In his assessment on the functioning of democracy in his Annual Report for 2017, the Ombudsman said that ‘The situation is fast getting out of control and the people’s right to an accountable public administration is being seriously prejudiced’ warned the Ombudsman.
He said that proposing reforms, achieving consensus on content and translating these into laws are positive signs of a healthy democracy, but this is not enough. He said that it is his duty to ‘alert society to areas of concern’ which hinder his ability to investigate complaints. These, said the Ombudsman, ‘…could also undermine and even endanger the vitality of the democratic texture of the country’ and cast doubt on ‘…the right of society to enjoy good governance’. The Ombudsman writes in a pained tone, that these doubts could have been dispelled had the principles of good administration and ethical behaviour been observed.
Unless laws and regulations are correctly, fairly and justly applied, the citizen will not feel secure that he is being fairly and justly treated and not being subjected to improper discrimination and abuse of power said the Ombudsman.
A prominent failure cited by the Ombudsman was the persistant failure by public authorities to provide correct, prompt and timely information when asked. This failure opens the administration to charges of lack of transparency and while discretion is ofent required, ‘…a systemic refusal or stubborn reticence to disclose information, even after negotiations have been concluded, undermines good governance and the democratic process’.
The Ombudsman notes that administering in what he describes as ‘a shroud of secrecy’ is indicative of a seige mentality which instills a sense of insecurity over how far the public administration can open itself to scrutiny. He raises further concern on what he describes as ‘An even more worrying recent development..an attempt to ensure a total blackout of silence’. As an example, he cites a case where a trade union failed to give information on a concluded industrial agreement ‘because it claims to be bound by government not to provide such information’.
The words of the #Ombudsman – one of the few remaining independent institutions in #Malta – leave no doubt. We deserve better, much better, than the poor governance of @JosephMuscat_JM. https://t.co/KoP88nsEYk
— Simon Busuttil (@SimonBusuttil) July 3, 2018