The Malta Independent 26 June 2022, Sunday

More on accountability

Alfred Sant MEP Thursday, 19 May 2022, 08:00 Last update: about 2 months ago

Let’s revert to the subject: If an issue urgently needs to be dealt with, this is how to truly introduce acountability in public management. Politicians are usually blamed for its lack, but as was recently demonstrated by the Bank of Valletta over the holding of its annual general meeting, the problem goes much deeper.

It is embedded in the roots of our national management model. To the greatest extent posible, what has been done and decided  should proceed without unnecessary explanations and discussion. Naturally there is the danger that given our culture, if things are done differently, a widespread paralysis could result. All involved could end up afraid they are going to be found liable and responsible for some mistake. But a worse scenario is the one we have walked into – that of a management culture which resembles a dark hole where everything gets ditched.

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Some would want to claim that this state of affairs has been promoted by Labour governments. Come on. It was a right wing government which removed from the statute books the obligation for major state corporations and companies to present every year their financial accounts and estimates to the Parliament where they would be debated in plenary.

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HEAD OF THE CIVIL SERVICE

Mario Cutajar has been an effective head of the civil service and deserves praise for his way of doing things. He introduced more modern and effective administrative systems, kept the decisional balances that needed to be kept in the political context within which the civil service chief operates, and where it appeared that administrative overreaches might have happened, it was obvious that their origins were “political”.

Criticism was raised about the dispute that arose between him and the Ombudsman. Yet Cutajar was justified on most of the points he put forward. Those who expressed scandal were not at all worried when Prime Minister Fenech Adami had frontally attacked in Parliament Joe Sammut, the first Ombudsman (and up to now the best we have had).

The new civil service head Tony Sultana will find he can continue to build on the many enduring structures that Cutajar will have left behind.

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FINANCIAL SLIPPAGES

In today’s economic circumstances, running public finances could become a much more complicated affair than it has been in recent years. These were characterised by sustained and significant growth rates in a framework of almost complete price stability. Substantial increases in public expenditure could easily be compensated for by forecasted increases in revenue which would then be effectively realised.

At present, it is no longer clear that economic growth will maintain the rhythms of  past years. Probably it will not do so. Inflation will up government expenditures, not least because quite a good part of the increase in them has involved recurrent items which will remain on the government’s books. The finance minister has done well to launch an investigation into government expenditure to check where and how it can be rolled back.

It will likely be a time when many financial slippages could emerge on both expenditure and revenue items. So there will be a need for caution and a sense of proportion, not least in order to really focus on the main priorities.

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