A vibrant political system thrives on effective checks and balances. Sharing of power, segregation of duties between political administrators and regulators, and the integrity and independence of thought of those entrusted to safeguard the interests of ordinary people are some of the essential elements of a true democracy.
For the past few years, the country has experienced various incidents that break the checks and balances that should ensure that the public interest rather than political expediency should be the highest priority of the administration. The latest attempt to break the effectiveness of the checks and balances in public administration has been the failure of the Office of the Prime Minister to appoint the chairpersons of two essential regulatory bodies – the Malta Gaming Authority and the Malta Communications Authority.
It was only after Times of Malta reported on these failures that the OPM resorted to some damage control by appointing, retroactively, temporary chairpersons in both authorities.
These appointments were made before the parliamentary committee entrusted to approve such nominations had a chance to review the suitability of the appointees to these important posts.
Most businesses today adopt a management model that distinguishes between the role of the board of directors and that of executive management. When these roles are combined, the risk of a collapse of accountability becomes more serious.
The enormous stakes involved for regulated entities create an incentive to gain influence over regulators.
When the regulating body becomes partly dysfunctional because of the absence of a board of governors, the effective oversight on the activities of a regulated industry is endangered.
This consideration is of particular interest to an important industry like Igaming which is being promoted by the government but is shunned by international financial institutions because of the risks of money-laundering that are often associated with this industry. How can the government be credible when it says that it is coordinating the efforts of financial regulators, the police, the FIAU and the gaming regulators to ensure that the incidence of money laundering is reduced?
It is reported that Parliamentary Secretary for Financial Services, Digital Economy and Innovation Silvio Schembri took the side of the MGA CEO and now acting chairman in a feud that developed between him and the board, including the outgoing chairperson.
Those familiar with how this administration functions will not be surprised by this alleged attitude. Political expediency often overrides the importance of appointing competent people with an independent mindset to important regulatory posts. The public interest is thus sacrificed for short-term political gain through the manipulation of the governance structure of supposedly autonomous regulatory bodies.
This administration rightly exploited the failure of the previous administration that at times appointed persons to important positions of trust based on political expediency rather than merit and qualifications. However, all the talk about meritocracy, accountability and equal opportunities for everyone sounds hollower as nepotism, cronyism, revolving doors for the trusted few and political patronage dominate the system of appointments to important positions of trust.
The Opposition has declared it will not back the appointments. Unfortunately, it does not speak up as often as it should when the public interest is discarded as a result of broken checks and balances.
It is time to sound a persistent alarm about the prevalence of governance failures.