When I was carrying out research for the biography of Sir Paul Boffa, which I published recently, I was struck by his approach to politics, which should serve as an example to all Maltese involved in public life today.

In June 1950, Prime Minister Boffa would not give in to pressure exerted by a particular political party for the recruitment of a person as a cook in a state hospital, a clear case of clientelism. In retaliation, when a vote was taken on the General Estimates for 1950-51, this political party, on whose support the government depended for its survival, voted against it and the government fell. Prime Minister Boffa knew beforehand that the fall of his government would be the result of his putting political integrity before political survival but, being the great man he was, he still opted for the former course of action.

What a historical example given the nadir we have reached in public life today in Malta!

Let me make it clear that, even today, there are several people involved in public life who are exemplary in all that they do. Unfortunately, however, not the same can be said for many others. The crux of the argument is that, today, we seem to be losing sight of the concept of public office as a service to the community.

The recent disappointing revelations of questionable courses of action by people in positions of public trust have seriously undermined public confidence in the integrity of those whose primary role should be service to the citizens of the Maltese islands. This is regrettable because, as I mentioned before, there are also several exemplary people holding public office.

It is, therefore, very important that political candidates for public office, both at a national and at a local level, should be closely vetted by their respective political parties. It is not enough that a prospective candidate has never committed any serious legal infringement, one should also take into consideration such things as temperament, assertiveness, reaction under pressure and the maturity of the individual.

It is a known fact that certain individuals are very effective administrators but view public office as an opportunity to make hay while the sun shines. These are the very people who are ruining the image of conscientious and hard-working people holding public office who are a credit to Malta.

Another source of worry, given the present situation in Malta, is the behaviour of certain people holding public office but who are not politicians, such as chairmen of public corporations and senior public officers. Such persons are in duty-bound to follow the policies of the government of the day but this does not mean they should act as lackeys and condone courses of action they know can be harmful to the country’s future and which are clearly not in the best interests of Maltese citizens.

When will many such people find the moral courage to speak out when they know that a certain decision, a certain course of action is not in the public interest?

It is indeed a shame that certain controversial decisions taken at a high level are often publicly supported by technocrats whose only interest is career advancement. The opinion of such lackeys on controversial matters is usually given big media publicity to try and legitimise decisions and courses of action not in the public interest. No wonder such people get one promotion after another! How I admire certain public officers who have the courage to speak out when they disagree with decisions and courses of action that are harmful to the public interest! These are the people we should praise and support if we genuinely want the country to move forward, to make progress.

Finally, if we want to rediscover the concept of public office as public service, the first and most important example has to be set by the leaders of the country. The decisions and actions of all members of the government have to be above reproach. A war has to be waged on clientelism and corruption. We need to dream of the day when confidence in central and local government will be restored. We need to dream of the day when all public officers will seek the public good before their own careers.

What would Sir Paul Boffa have thought of the present shambles in public life? How did we descend to this pathetic level?

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