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Skiving at taxpayers’ expense

The often-repeated mantra that no government like the present one has been able to generate so much work hides some unpleasant realities that public policymakers need to address. One such fact is that thousands of workers in the public service are underemployed while others get away with skiving at the taxpayers’ expense.

In 2015, the government agency Jobsplus awarded a contract to the General Workers’ Union to administer a scheme aimed at employing people who had been jobless for some years. The objective is faultless; its execution is indeed not. Through the scheme, 600 people were struck off the unemployment register and the government forked out millions of euros to give participants the minimum wage.

Local councillors from four localities and also representatives of a number of parish churches confirmed to this newspaper what many have long suspected.

The government is susceptible to voters’ electoral clout and is prepared to condone work practices that are wasteful and entirely financed by taxpayers’ money. Political patronage in the granting of jobs and other favours is an endemic vice that undermines the foundation of a true democracy. It has been used as an electoral tactic by most administrations since independence. It is worrying that most people accept in a fatalistic way the ‘jobs for votes’ strategy as a political reality that we have to live with under different administrations.

One is justified in asking whether the GWU was indeed the best administrator for such a scheme. If participants in the scheme happen to be members of the same union, then the conflict of interest that arises in such circumstances must be difficult to manage.

The Education Department, which ultimately carries the political responsibility for this scheme, tries to mitigate the collapse of discipline in the administration of this project by claiming that inspectors follow up reports of those who complain that participants were skiving or not doing their duty. A spokesman said that two workers had already received a second warning for skiving.

While there is no doubt that employment and jobless statistics are healthy, the government cannot be seen to be hiding disturbing realities that do not augur well for the future of our society. The European Union’s Social Justice Index Report for 2017 confirms that almost 20 per cent of Maltese students are leaving the free educational system without the skills needed to find decent employment and earn a living wage.

It is encouraging that those who fail to achieve much educationally after 10 years of compulsory education are given a second chance. But if well-intentioned adult training schemes financed by public funds are poorly administered, a lot more bad than good will be done.

Underemployment is being financed by the taxes of local and foreign workers mainly in the private sector who pay up as and when due. Lack of management competence or, even worse, lack of political will to make unemployed workers employable through effective on-the-job training schemes is a wasteful way of administering public funds.

The Auditor General will do well to investigate the Jobsplus scheme for the unemployed to determine the causes of the alleged failures of this scheme aimed at helping local councils carry out their duties to the communities they serve.

However well the economy is performing, waste of taxpayers’ money is unjustified.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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