The clang of broken promises reverberating through the second Gonzi government's first months in office is now being accompanied by discriminatory decisions that know no rhyme or reason. The Sunday newspaper Maltatoday yesterday revealed that the Office of the Prime Minister has triggered a must-choose situation for three teachers in government schools who were also active in politics. Two of them were in the ranks of Azzjoni Nazzjonali. The third had the highest political profile. He is Alternattiva Demokratika's secretary general.
The first two, it was reported, bowed to the position put to them, and opted out of their political position. Alternattiva Demokratika's Victor Galea did not. He replied to the statement made to him that he could not continue to exercise his teaching profession - government teachers are precluded from holding any political post. He queried that position, citing discrimination. Bully for him. Discriminated against he definitely was.
In recent years and to this present day there have been teachers very openly active in either of the two main political parties. One could but should not mention names. The Office of the Prime Minister knows them well enough. I would not be surprised if among the hundreds of local councillors in office there are also several individuals who teach in government schools, and others of equal public service ranking. On top of that, not so long ago, the first Gonzi government finally recognised that public service employees elected to Parliament need not resign their government post, up to a very high level of grading.
One might say that the practice whereby government teachers and civil servants of similar or higher grading take open part in politics crept in by stealth.
Among the regulations governing civil servants there is the Public Service Management Code, which MaltaToday correctly described as being anachronistic.
It was put in place decades ago and bans any government employee up to scale 13 from political involvement.
I remember it well. When, then a clerk with the UK military establishments after some time as an emergency teacher, I started writing articles in the Labour media in the late 1950s, another Lino Spiteri, then a government teacher who had moved on to the Information Office, used to be called up to answer for "his" lapse. We used to have a good laugh about it together and reminded each other of it when we met in Canada many years later. But it was not funny for him at the time, until the mix-up was sorted out.
Over the years, various people with strong political beliefs who wanted to militate openly for their party pressed for the Public Service Code to be relaxed. Teachers would point out to the anomaly whereby University lecturers could take part in politics and even become members of Parliament and retain their University job.
It would be pointed out to the protesters that this was possible because University lecturers were not public officers. On the strength of that distinction there was also the anomaly that consultants working in public health who also held a lecturing position at the University could take an active part in politics and even become an MP, while continuing to work in government hospitals.
All that was yesterday - or so one was led to believe by the proliferation of public officers in active politics. I would like to think that the silly code muzzling public servants was resuscitated through some summer oversight. However, the folly came about, the decision should be reversed without delay. What matters is one's loyalty to one's job, and ability to keep politics strictly out of it.
Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.Support Us