The Malta Independent 1 March 2021, Monday

Lost cause for meritocracy in Malta?

Peter Agius Wednesday, 17 February 2021, 06:53 Last update: about 12 days ago

The news of a 19-year old sitting on one of the most important executive boards of government’s machinery provoked two contradictory feelings. On the one hand, how good it would be to involve our youths in decision-making, giving them opportunities to experience the workings of the state and bring their energy and fresh perspective to the decision-making table. On the other hand, the choice of such younger crop to bring forward must be made on objective criteria subject to public scrutiny. In default of transparency, the promotion of youths would be, once again, part of the nepotistic malaise that actually prejudices their advancement across the board.


Now we all know why young Carlos was chosen to sit on the board. It was more than the promise he harbours for financial matters or for public administration. His main ‘qualification’ was his close involvement with labour politicians. For us to be convinced that there was any other reason, that choice had to be made following interviews and public calls. There was none of that.

Handpicking unqualified persons to important public roles damages not only the institutions where those roles are to be fulfilled. It pollutes the general fabric of society if this is to be based on a system of meritocracy where commitment and hard work are to be rewarded with an increased chance of a role in the public decision-making structures.

Recent developments make an even stronger case to consider a change of track on the matter. Whereas up to a few years ago, new graduates used to find ample opportunities for job openings even during their last year of study, in the past year they are having to face a more competitive environment where opportunities are shrinking and where the specific job for their specific training is becoming more and more difficult to land.

The last thing we want for the financial services graduates is for them to give up on working in the field to work in an unrelated job, to then see young Carlos landing that government board membership without even having completed his studies.

Handling the topic of meritocracy in any private conversation with anyone close to the labour party will imperatively be met with labour’s automatic response that nationalist administrations have done such things before. ‘Insejtuħ żmienkom?’ (Don’t forget your sins!) is the immediate reply when you touch the topic. Indeed, previous governments under Nationalist Party administration may not have been a role model in the area either. Much more could have been done to promote merit and fair promotion of qualifications. But for how long shall we take past misconduct as a guide for future behaviour in this country

The excuse that those before us have done worse is lame at best. Instead of trying to make two wrongs into one right, the labour government should seriously reflect on the message conveyed to our youths in the promotion of a system where political affiliation can bypass any other qualification.

The way I see it, political activism is a plus on a CV. Whether you support radical or more centrist causes, the fact that you are ready to fight for what you believe is certainly a pointer to character. But zeal alone has never moved mountains, nor dossiers. Qualifications and experiences beyond beliefs are fundamental for anyone to deliver on any task assigned, be it in private or in a public domain.

When it comes to the public domain then, it becomes even more imperative to assure that those entrusted with a public function deliver results on time for the public they serve. A meritocratic system for government employment is hence not only a fundamental concern to promote the advancement of merit, but also to secure the results we expect from a government in office.

Government’s obstinate defence of the appointment of a 19-year-old labour supporter with no experience or qualification to a technical government board goes to the contrary of all of the above. It sends a totally different message expressed as ‘help labour and it will help you’.

The trick for Robert Abela’s government, however, is that there are a few scores of places on government boards while our University produces 3,500 graduates per year. The legitimate expectation of those 3,500 to secure the job they have worked for is a force to be reckoned with. Let these thousands be the silent majority that passes its own message to government: ‘Public employment is not your fiefdom. Stop this now!’

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