19 April 2006

The Web
Business Today

Back to square one

In today’s interview with this newspaper Parliamentary Secretary Edwin Vassallo expresses his frustration with the current system of administration involving various authorities that have added different levels of bureaucracy.
Vassallo says he favours a system of administration whereby the politician is directly responsible for decision taking with a direct link to the people.
Edwin Vassallo’s opinion is not a voice in the wilderness. Many individuals and organisations feel they have been alienated from the politician whom they hold accountable by their vote.
Many feel that the various authorities have become little kingdoms, each with their own customs and cost structures, impersonal and very rigid in interpreting regulations.
And this is not simply a perception. It is a reality that many individuals and businesses have to face on a regular basis.
The rationale behind the creation of these authorities in the early nineties was positive. They were intended to reverse the years of maladministration in the eighties whereby ministers did not only set policy but also took mundane decisions that impinged on the lives of many.
The almighty status ministers enjoyed back then led to a system of patronage and in some cases coercion and violence. It was a system that allowed for abuse, inconsistency and bad planning.
But the solution we are faced with today does little to suggest we have moved away from that corrupt system. Today it is faceless bureaucrats who abuse their position, maltreat customers and are wasteful with public funds. As for inconsistencies and bad planning one has only to look at some of the controversial decisions taken by MEPA.
To top it all, ministers and politicians end up blaming authorities for the failure to get things done rendering themselves powerless. In many ways it seems as if we are back to square one.
Edwin Vassallo may be right in wanting to see politicians taking the driving seat where decision making is concerned. After all, people elect politicians to govern, set policy and decide. It is politicians and not bureaucrats who can be held accountable at election time.
Vassallo’s argument is similar to that often made by the Labour leader, who insists that ministers have to adopt a hands-on approach and if authorities are not functioning well they should be removed.
While the desire to entrust the whole decision-making process in the hands of politicians must be resisted so as not to return back to a system of discriminatory patronage, the country needs to discover a new way of administration that is leaner and faster.
Authorities must have clearly defined remits but at all times they must be subject to government policy of the day. Ministers must still be allowed to exercise discretion within well-defined parameters that are transparent for all to see.
It is time to take a serious look at the way the different authorities are functioning. Some pruning needs to take place and rigorous financial parameters introduced.
But politicians also need to shoulder responsibility. If they are to take on a driving role in decision making they need to come clean. They have to be above suspicion and that can only happen if they declare their commercial and social interests and operate within well-defined ethical standards that are enforceable. As for political parties they need to be open to public scrutiny where financing is concerned.
The country badly needs a law governing the financing of political parties to make it as transparent as possible.
Politicians who want to adopt a hands-on approach when administering the country need to have clean hands. Only then can they sincerely criticise regulatory structures for suffocating the business community with reams of bureaucracy and intransigence. Only then can they talk of radically revisiting the current system of administration, which in some cases is proving to be more inefficient and costly than the system it sought to replace.
Authorities need to be restructured but so does our political system.

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