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Think tank calls it a day amid sense of 'defeatism'

Running roughshod over standards of professionalism, transparency...

Many did not want to alienate government in any way because business interests would suffer. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

Many did not want to alienate government in any way because business interests would suffer. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

The Today Public Policy Institute (TPPI), the only independent non-partisan think-tank in Malta, has shut up shop due to a lack of funding, driven according to its director, by businesses’ fear of government.

Joseph Tabone, who has headed the institute since March 2017, told The Sunday Times of Malta that efforts to secure funding had been largely unsuccessful, with businesses responding with “caution” to the think-tank’s approaches.

“With a few exceptions, they had concern that their business may suffer by association if we did anything to alienate the government,” he said.

Citing a combination of factors behind the institute’s dissolution, Mr Tabone said it had also been hampered by a “sense of defeatism over the government running roughshod over standards of professionalism, transparency and accountability”.

The TPPI, which over the years has produced reports with proposals for public policy in areas ranging from health and the environment to immigration and the Constitution, underwent a restructuring last year with the addition of 20 to 30 ‘fellows’ to its board of 15 members, broadening its base of expertise.

Lack of funding was driven by businesses’ fear of government

Its latest plans included the introduction of a new ‘Governance Scorecard’ alongside the regular policy programme, as a means of periodically assessing government performance.

Mr Tabone said he did not believe the scorecard was directly responsible for businesses’ reluctance to associate themselves with the institute, describing it instead as part of a wider trend.

“We have a government that is a reflection of our society, including our business, which is not particularly ethical,” he said. “This concern about not wanting to alienate government in any way because business interests would suffer is a very alarming thing.”

Although there are no plans for the TPPI’s work to continue in any other form, Mr Tabone insisted there was a pressing need for such efforts. He said the institute would support any initiatives to develop something similar, including by making available the intellectual property it has generated over the years.

Since its founding in 2007, the institute has produced several reports which have been successful in prompting change, including its first on reforming Mepa, largely taken on board by the Gonzi administration, and its report on remarriage, which led to the divorce debate.

Others have had less impact, with Mr Tabone admitting a lack of follow-up had limited the effect.

Its latest report in May 2017 calledfor political parties to collaborate towards signing up to a fundamental set of principles on governance and institution building, advocating a bipartisan approach to address the shortcomings in the Constitution and governance deficiencies.

The board boasted of well-known names such as former Central Bank governor Michael Bonello, former BOV chairmen John Cassar White and Joseph F. X. Zahra, former Speaker of Parliament Michael Frendo, former Mepa director for environment protection Petra Caruana Dingli and former CEO of the Foundation for Social Welfare Services Sina Bugeja.

The fellows included University of Malta pro-Rector Godfrey Baldacchino, former Alternattiva Demokratika chairman Michael Briguglio and former CEO of Playmobil Malta Helga Ellul. 

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