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Holding government to account

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has his own way of dealing with major concerns in the country – he ignores them. In doing so, he may unwisely think these can be easily swept under the carpet or, at least, stopped from rising to the top of the national agenda.

Like other leaders, he prefers setting his own agenda and he is now also indulging in using superlatives to describe the economic advances made.

There has recently been a flood of reports lauding the country’s economic growth, with the government expressing satisfaction at their nod of approval. But, unsurprisingly, the government generally ignores the ugly, or unfavourable, parts of the reports. Take, for example, the latest EU country-specific report, which, like the credit rating agencies, goes into the rapid and marked improvement in the island’s economy.

Part of it deals with how corruption is looked upon and how it is officially dealt with. Yet, to all intents and purposes, the government ignores it, thinking perhaps that, like other problems, it will go away and be forgotten with the passage of time. But there have been so many corruption allegations over the past five years of the Muscat administration that it is most unlikely the issue will disappear from the radar screens of foreign organisations monitoring what is happening in the country.

The EU country-specific report highlights the fact that there is a fragmented landscape of agencies dealing with corruption allegations. It remarks that the absence of established procedures to ensure independent treatment of cases in responding to corruption allegations may result in inconsistencies in handling such allegations. While the government tries to give the impression that corruption allegations are only a figment of the imagination of its political opponents, the EU report shows that corruption and favouritism are perceived as a problematic factor for doing business.

As it happens, this comes hot on the heels of several newspaper reports about what appears to be a bonanza of direct orders. In a number of cases, these are given to friends, or to friends of friends, for political favours.

Political patronage under the Muscat administration has grown to such an extent that, according to a flash Eurobarometer survey, a majority of business representatives feel that favouritism and corruption hamper business competition in Malta – 85 per cent, up from 78 per cent in 2015, with the EU average being 74 per cent.

A similar share of respondents thinks corruption is widespread in Malta. Over half the number of managers surveyed identified corruption as a problem when doing business and disagreed that measures against corruption are applied impartially and without ulterior motives.

This is no light matter. Yet, while people express concern about it when responding to surveys, there does not seem to be enough national willpower or appetite to check the trend, as shown by the result of the last general election.

With the government hell-bent on downplaying corruption and sleaze allegations and, at the same time, pathetically accusing those who dare raise such issues as working against the country’s interests, the possibility of seeing a change in attitude is narrowing.

Yet, it is clearly in the country’s interest that independent institutions and constituted bodies speak up and start seriously holding the government to account.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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