The Malta Independent 17 August 2019, Saturday

TMID Editorial: A third good governance lesson in as many years from France

Friday, 19 July 2019, 11:10 Last update: about 29 days ago

It seems like every year of Emmanuel Macron’s reign in France, we are treated to an example in political accountability the likes of which this country that we inhabit may only aspire to as matters currently stand.

In many ways, France is setting the bar when it comes to good governance in Europe.  That their politicians err is a given, every country’s does, but when they are accused they invariably do the right thing and step down, or they are properly investigated.

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This has happened now for the third time in as many years, the latest incident being this week’s resignation of French Ecology Minister Francois de Rugy in the wake of media reports that he has been living a lavish lifestyle at taxpayer expense, including meals of giant lobsters and pricey costly wine, expensive home renovations and chauffeur service during his vacations.

And those allegations are just that, allegations, at least for the time being.  This compares with actual revelations, which are bare-faced facts, which many a political and high-ranking public servant in Malta have in the recent past faced, stared down, laughed and walked away from scot-free.

Not so in France.  Those media reports have forced the resignation of the No. 2 official in the French government, who resigned, he said, to defend himself and to protect his family from the allegations, which is his perfect right.

Last year, in 2018 a French anti-corruption association filed a complaint about a potential, potential, conflict of interest between the president’s chief of staff’s role and his family links to Mediterranean Shipping Company, where he had worked as chief financial officer.  The chief of staff, Alexis Kohler, had joined French President Emmanuel Macron's team as chief of staff after the 2017 election. 

But on the slightest hint of possible corruption, French financial prosecutors swooped in, very publically, on macron’s chief of staff and opened an investigation into whether the rules related to conflicts of interests while in a public position had been respected.

Then back in 2017, France’s justice minister, defence minister, European affairs minister and the country’s minister for territorial cohesion all stepped down after news broke that they could be facing investigations – not that they are being investigated, but that they could be investigated.

The allegations were over the misuse of European Parliament funds by having used aides receiving European Parliament salaries to perform work for the party. All three denied wrongdoing.  The fourth minister who resigned had done so because faced investigation over an alleged conflict of interest related to his past business practices.

The backdrop to all this was French President Emmanuel Macron’s leading campaign pledge to put more ethics into politics, as was Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s lead campaign pledge back in 2013.

In September 2017, on national television, Macron had signed into law two measures to put morals into public life four months after taking office, fulfilling a campaign promise. The measures notably ban parliamentarians and members of the government from hiring family members and forces lawmakers to account for their spending, doing away with handsome monthly indemnities to be spent as they wished.

We had similar promises back in 2013 – of accountability, transparency and meritocracy - but what we got instead was failure on every front, plus state gravy train employment for every single government parliamentary backbencher, bar none. The government has shamelessly allowed each and every one of its MPs to live off the fat of the coffers of the Republic, as recently highlighted by the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life in his recent scathing report, and which he described as being ‘fundamentally wrong’.

France, you see, is a modern republic and it has been around the block quite a lot longer than us as a fully-fledged democracy.  Perhaps we should take a page or two out of France’s good governance book, they could make for interesting reading.

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