The Malta Independent 29 May 2016, Sunday

Editorial - Michael Falzon resignation: Good governance nowhere in sight

Friday, 22 January 2016, 09:00 Last update: about 5 months ago

The government may not be saying it officially or in quite so many words, possibly because it knows better, but it appears to be quite happy to give the impression that the resignation of Michael Falzon on Wednesday was a clear-cut case of good governance being put into practice.

Shortly after Dr Falzon’s resignation, the social media networks were flooded with plaudits for the government’s newfound sense of good governance – as supposedly embodied by Dr Falzon’s Wednesday night ‘falling on his sword’ routine.

Most of these came from the usual quarters.  The government’s communications chief took to Twitter to proclaim Dr Falzon’s resignation as “Good governance in practice. What a change in the way politics is done.” The Prime Minister himself posted: “Times have changed. The country has changed”, in an allusion to what his chief communicator had just said.  Such sentiments were echoed by the usual minions across Twitter and Facebook in the resignation’s aftermath.

Just in case anyone has been fooled by this blatant damage limitation campaign, one thing should be made perfectly clear: A minister’s resignation is not always a case of good governance, and in this particular case it most certainly is not.

In fact, Dr Falzon’s resignation is diametrically opposed to the very concept of good governance for two specific reasons.  Firstly, that resignation should have been handed in at least six months ago. And secondly, if there was any good governance in place anywhere near the lands department, this situation would not have transpired in the first place.

In the wake of the Old Mint Street property report tabled in Parliament, which was so damning in his respect, there was absolutely no other route available to the government or to Dr Falzon other than for him to have resigned on the spot.

And to say that his resignation was a case of good governance implies that there was some other route open to the government of Michael Falzon in the wake of the utterly damning conclusions against him.  There was no other route, and to masquerade what has essentially been a failure in good governance as good governance in the flesh is more than a little deceitful.

Good governance, in fact, is about preventing these abuses in the first place.  Perhaps the phrase being sought is ‘political accountability’. 

But the government unfortunately missed that boat too…about six months ago when the Internal Audit and Investigations Department's (IAID) report was published and its contents were made known to the Prime Minister.  Did the Prime Minister really believe that the Auditor General’s report would exonerate Dr Falzon where the IAID had not?

Instead, both the Prime Minister and Dr Falzon chose to bide their time until the very last minute with the publication of the Auditor General’s report six months late.

Dr Falzon, in actual fact, should have stepped down, or at least suspended himself from official duties, when it first emerged that he had, in his capacity as parliamentary secretary responsible for lands, signed off on the Gaffarena-Old Mint Street deal.  Dr Falzon was effectively being accused of defrauding the state to the tune of at least hundreds of thousands of euros and of abuse of power.  These are potential criminal offenses, very serious allegations indeed that no politician should be able to weather as if nothing was amiss – but that is exactly what Dr Falzon, and the government that backed him so assiduously, did in the meantime.

The government’s chosen course of action all along was to play the waiting game and to keep Dr Falzon in office for as long as possible, for reasons best known to the key players in this game.  But while the government played its game, it failed miserably on its pledge of political accountability.

This was and still is unacceptable. 

The Prime Minister has now launched face-saving court proceedings in a bid to reverse the dirty deals. As is reported in today’s issue, the case is expected to be a long one.  And at this juncture one must question how this case differs from the €4 million Café Premier deal.

In this latter case the government said it had decided to settle on the multi-million euro figure, paid out from the public coffers, so as to avoid lengthy court proceedings, but in the current case such considerations appear to have been waived.

This is a clear case of two weights and two measures, and the two different approaches have undoubtedly been dictated by the simple fact that the public only learned of the Café Premier deal after the deed was done, while the Old Mint Street deal has been very much under the public spotlight since practically day one.

All said, the government’s failure to act on Dr Falzon from the outset belies an ingrained arrogance in the country’s governance, which is a far cry from the tenets of good governance, transparency and accountability that it has pledged to introduce.

And its attempt to pass off Dr Falzon’s resignation as a case of good governance further exacerbates this failing and brings it to a whole new level.

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