The Malta Independent 3 March 2024, Sunday
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TMID Editorial: Musical chairs

Saturday, 10 February 2024, 11:26 Last update: about 21 days ago

A game which has kept many a child occupied during a birthday party, musical chairs also happens to be pretty much what you can call the government's practice of determining who will lead its own agencies and authorities.

This week was one such example of this: with the appointment of a new Health Minister, long-serving Foundation for Medical Services CEO Carmen Ciantar tendered her resignation, which was duly accepted. 

She was replaced by Colonel Mark Mallia - who was already CEO of the agency Identita (the rebranded Identity Malta).  He was in turn replaced by Steve Agius, who for the last four and a half years was the COO at Mater Dei Hospital and also previously had a high position at the national telecoms regulator.

Also recently, Steve Ellul's resignation from the CEO of Project Green heralded the return of Joseph Cuschieri in his stead, who was put on an €86,000 per year contract according to a Freedom of Information request filed by MaltaToday. Cuschieri himself has previously served as the CEO of the Malta Financial Services Authority (MFSA) - from where he resigned after getting caught up in a scandal related to Yorgen Fenech - and also as the Executive Chairman of the Malta Gaming Authority (MGA).

Indeed it is the standard practice for the government - and it has been such for a long time, even prior to 2013 - to hand pick who it would like to lead its government agencies and authorities. The use of public calls for such positions has been extremely rare. In fact only two examples spring to mind.

A public call was opened for Cuschieri's successor at the MFSA, which lead to the appointment of Joseph Gavin - but he only last 13 months in the post until he resigned in August 2022 due to medical issues, and the authority then determined that a public call for his replacement "would not be in the best interests of the Authority at this point in time."

The second example is more recent when the MGA issued a public call for its own CEO position.  Charles Mizzi, who was heading the government's Residency Malta Agency, was selected after the call.  He took over the position officially at the end of January.  The MGA had already issued a public call for the appointment of its CEO back in 2020 as well.

It's been reported that public calls have also been issued for the CEO positions at the Central Business District Foundation and at the Environment & Resources Authority, but no actual news of any appointments made off the back of such calls has come out.

The fact remains though that these are isolated examples in an environment where a government agency exists for pretty much everything under the sun.

It would be in the interest of transparency and accountability for important roles such as being the CEO of a government agency or authority would be opened to everyone in the form of a public call.

This is also not to be taken as a criticism or negative implication of those currently occupying these roles, but a public call could also open the position up to people with more expertise in the field at hand more than handpicking a person would.

If we are to increase accountability in public administration then the use of such public calls, rather than playing musical chairs with the CEOs of different authorities and agencies, is one of the ways forward.



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