Uphold the rule of law and communicate effectively says Malta Chamber

Strategic capacity, societal consultation and media and information are three key elements which the Malta Chamber of Commerce listed as issues which need to be tackled in the first order of governance.

The issues were raised in a document, “Ethical Business Calls for Change – a manifesto for Good Governance by the Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry”, compiled by the Chamber through a varied consultation was presented by the Chamber President Perit David Xuereb to PM Robert Abela.

The document described the first order of governance as a level which looks “…at solving problems and undertaking day-to-day management and is something that those governing would generally do. It takes place wherever people and their organisations interact in order to solve societal problems and create new opportunities”.

Under this heading are listed key areas which resonate with much of the criticism which has been variously levelled at the establishment over the past years, such as strategic capacity, media and information, societal consultation, institutional networks and policy implementation and enforcement.

Finding people

Top of the agenda was the issue of strategic capacity. The Malta Chamber felt that the issue of ‘persons of trust’ in governmental private secretariats needs to be addressed urgently. “…team members should be drastically reduced depending on the Minister/Parliamentary Secretariat and minimum qualifications need to be included in the regulations,” insisted the document. In addition, the document referred also to a report compiled by the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life regarding work in public entities for parliamentary backbenchers.

The Malta Chamber expressed its satisfaction that such issues, which tie intimately to aspects such as conflict of interest and subservience to the government will, are being discussed in the public realm.

Communicate, fully and well

Media, information and consultation too were addressed in the document. The Malta Chamber stressed that the country needs to ensure that there were enough safeguards in place to “…preserve and protect the role of a free press.” Echoing long-standing criticism, the document also advocated for a national news broadcaster which is independent and impartial, adding to this the increasing tide of opinion that the political party stations need to be looked into particularly as this impinges directly onto party financing.

Access to information, particularly under the Freedom of Information Act too, need to be beefed up according to the Malta Chamber.

The omnipresence of the government can be felt even at MCESD and the Malta Chamber advocated for the forum to be independent of government so that it can “…become a powerhouse of social dialogue and policy-making and become totally independent from Government”. The document proposes that the MCESD chairman be decided by the social partners and not by the government.

Right arm, left arm…coordinate

In the first order of governance, the manifesto for Good Governance by the Malta Chamber list two aspects which also tie into communication but also involve efficient execution. The Malta Chamber proposed the coordination of the different ministries through a central strategic secretariat “…aimed at ensuring synergies between policies.” To some extent, this has been variously implemented over the years but not in a mandatory manner. In previous administrations, such a portfolio or similar had been held by Minister Joe Mizzi, Minister Lawrence Gonzi and now Minister Carmelo Abela.

The Chamber’s proposal seems to indicate that the portfolio should be constant in all administrations. Observers have however pointed out that the role of permanent secretaries was being overlooked in this regard.

The Malta Chamber sees the Cabinet office as a hub for policy coordination. It also proposed that “…enforcement agencies are free from political interference, adequately resourced and avoid human interaction as much as possible through the deployment of digital tools.”

The Malta Chamber warned that Malta cannot remain forever experiencing the same rapid rate of economic growth as the past years “…without good governance and at the same time business cannot thrive without economic and political stability. The Chamber, as it has consistently done since the Panama Papers revelations, continues to insist on the unequivocal upholding of the three main pillars of good governance, namely Accountability, Transparency and the Rule of Law”.