The Today Public Policy Institute, the only independent, non-partisan and not-for-profit think-tank, has been disbanded 11 years after its foundation. Between 2007 and 2017 it was led by Martin Scicluna who headed a board of 15 members. He handed over to Joseph Tabone, a founder member, in March last year.
Mr Tabone cited two main reasons for the think-tank’s closure. The first was the difficulties he encountered in securing funding for the continued running of the think-tank’s ambitious new programme of work, driven by fears businesses expressed of alienating the government. Secondly, the think-tank had also been hampered by a sense of defeatism over this government’s running roughshod over standards of professionalism, transparency and accountability.
During its lifetime, the Today Public Policy Institute attracted some of the best thinkers around to join its board, including the late Fr Peter Serracino Inglott (in whose memory the board had established an annual award for outstanding contributions to civic thinking and engagement).
It had produced several thought-provoking and influential reports under both the Nationalist administrations, between 2007 and 2013, and, since 2013, under the present Labour government, ensuring it did not suffer any governmental interference or pressure.
On the contrary, the think-tank’s ground-breaking reports on ‘Remarriage after legal separation’, ‘The environmental deficit’ and the critical report on ‘Managing the challenges of immigration’, among many others, were published under Nationalist governments without any political interference being reported. Likewise, the reports on ‘Same sex: same civil entitlement’, ‘The review of the Constitution’ and the hard-hitting ‘National water policy’ document, among others, were all released after 2013 under the present Labour administration, again, without any detrimental repercussions being noticed.
The recent report on ‘The need for a bipartisan approach to policy’ and the proposed setting up of a ‘Governance scorecard’ were worthy initiatives to which no government could, or would, take exception.
One could be justified in concluding that the think-tank’s board – whose charter of values included “to maintain an independent, impartial, non-partisan and non-party political stance in advising on public policy issues” – may have acted precipitately by allowing itself to be swayed unduly by the polarised state of Maltese politics today when they opted to wind up the think-tank.
If ever Malta needed an organisation that was prepared to speak truth to power and, in the words of its charter of values, “to address the major public policy issues confronting Malta today in a constructive, open-minded and tolerant manner” and “to seek solutions which are… workable and for the common good of Maltese society”, it is now.
The lack of financial support from Maltese businesses to meet the ambitious plans of the think-tank’s newly-expanded board and fellows must have been a setback. However, the think-tank had survived for 10 years previously on relatively limited funds but still managed to make its voice heard and its influence felt.
The members of the think-tank board should have been spurred on by the current political climate rather than give in to a sense of defeatism. It must be hoped that there are younger people with the courage and public-spiritedness waiting to take on the mantle of the Today Public Policy Institute.
This is a Times of Malta print editorial