Most politicians are addicted to perpetuating their political life. A few recognise when it is time to move on and to reinvent themselves in a new role. The announcement that Edward Scicluna will be leaving politics to become governor of the Central Bank may not have been a surprise.
Few academics make a career move to politics. Often, this experience ends in disillusionment because the rules that govern political behaviour are quite different from those that prevail in the academic world. Whatever motivated Scicluna to accept a move away from the world of politics may not have been age-related.
In the ongoing public inquiry over the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, Scicluna made a very candid, if politically inept, comment: under Joseph Muscat the country was run by a small kitchen cabinet that rendered the official cabinet almost powerless.
This declaration opened yet another window into the disturbing system of governance in the country over the last seven years, a system functioning in a separate space from the norms of democratic checks and balances. No wonder that more politically astute ministers denied the existence of a kitchen cabinet.
As finance minister, Scicluna has presided over a period of economic boom. By his own assessment, he has achieved a certain degree of economic well-being through growth and the stabilisation of public finances.
However, this was partly achieved by investment in economic activities perceived as high risk from a reputational perspective.
The boom was also fuelled by the sale of European citizenship to tycoons who at times had alleged criminal records.
Scicluna meekly defended this economic strategy, even if some independent economists argued that the long-term costs from Malta’s diminished reputation would be greater than the benefits.
The magisterial inquiry into the shambolic contract granted to Vitals Global Healthcare, for the operation of three hospitals, is still underway.
Scicluna’s role in this saga may have been administratively marginal but his political responsibility as the keeper of the nation’s purse is substantial.
His move to the governorship of the Central Bank has been approved by the European Central Bank. National central banks have lost much of their past powers. Monetary policy in the eurozone is now in the hands of the ECB.
However, this is still a prestigious post putting Scicluna in a position to influence the perception of Malta’s system of governance within EU institutions.
Clyde Caruana, an economist and former long-serving executive chairman of employment agency Jobsplus, has been picked as the new finance minister.
The debate on entrusting political ministerial responsibility to technocrats rages on. Most technocrats suffer from culture shock when they enter the world of politics. Yet, their professional and practical experience often brings a much-needed dose of competence to the government.
Jobsplus was an important player in Muscat’s economic strategy, which relied in part on importing thousands of workers from overseas.
Prime Minister Robert Abela has not acknowledged the need to rethink that strategy because he continues to promote more high-risk activities and the selling of EU citizenship that is shunned by most member states. Abela is ploughing on with more-of-the-same economic policies. The next election is too near for a rethink on how to inject more sustainability in Malta’s economic model.
Scicluna’s legacy will be that, under his watch, public finances saw substantial improvement. But the way this was achieved paints a somewhat different assessment of his contribution in a collective system of governance.
More than ever, the country needs politicians to voice their dissent when the decline in governance standards becomes apparent.
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