Editorial | Political accessibility: the good, the bad and the ugly

Malta deserves nothing less in its quest to shed the tainted international reputation it earned over the past few years


Malta’s small size means that politicians here are intrinsically more accessible than their European counterparts to the community they serve.

It is a fact of life that while shopping at your favourite supermarket you could come across the finance minister pushing his trolley, or while taking your children to the public swings in your locality come across your district MP doing likewise. Or while accompanying your school students on an outing in Valletta chance upon the Prime Minister entering Auberge de Castille and subsequently pose for a photograph with him.

This is the reality of a small community where people can very often come across politicians in ordinary circumstances.

Undoubtedly, this makes politicians and ministers very accessible to their constituents and stakeholders. This can be a plus point since it keeps politicians in touch with what people are feeling, their concerns, aspirations and problems.

From a business perspective, political accessibility gives business leaders a direct line with ministers when coming to resolve bureaucratic impasses or tackle issues of concern.

But accessibility also breeds familiarity that can be dangerous unless the rules of the game are clear for all.

When addressing ministers during a meeting for the new Cabinet held at the Chamber of Commerce earlier this week, Marisa Xuereb did not mince her words. “Political accessibility has been abused,” she said in a pitch to ministers to stamp out clientelism.

The most recent examples from high profile cases of alleged corruption and money laundering, it is clear that some businesspeople and people in power colluded for personal financial gain. This is not only intrinsically wrong because it involves abuse of public office and funds, but also because it creates an unfair playing field for commercial operators.

Abuse of political accessibility has created the perception that the few are preferred over the many, giving rise to a sense of helplessness and impunity.

This leader agrees with Xuereb that the culture of clientelism increases inefficiency and fosters lack of transparency.

The willingness to be accessible, which is not wrong in its own right, must not be confused with the willingness to accede to every demand. This is why the rules of engagement must be clear.

Xuereb said one of the solutions to avoid abuse is the systemic use of efficient technologies in government services. She is right. Efficiency, transparency and clarity are necessary ingredients to minimise the need for political intervention or the intervention of ‘higher authorities’ in government processes.

But when one speaks of abuse, it is not a one-sided malaise. It takes two to tango and just as much as some politicians are to blame for projecting themselves as the be-all and end-all, some businesspeople expect by right to have ministers at their back and call. Ethical business must be a mantra pushed by leaders in the community.

Political accessibility is good insofar as it helps solve bureaucratic and administrative problems that hinder people and businesses achieve what is theirs by right. It enables public administration to be nimble by responding to changing circumstances that would otherwise fly below the radar or take time to be resolved.

But in doing so, solutions must not benefit only the individual or the company but everyone.

Anything less will lead to the bad side of political accessibility. Clientelism benefits someone just because of who that person knows. This bad side is a vicious cycle that fosters unfairness and is just a brown envelope away from the evil of corruption and abuse.

Robert Abela’s government has a new, strong mandate and it should be used to set clear and transparent ground rules of engagement between ministers and the business community. And this should not depend on the goodwill or the moral yardstick adopted by the Prime Minister of the day but be enshrined in law.

Malta deserves nothing less in its quest to shed the tainted international reputation it earned over the past few years.

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