Basic norms thrown to the wind

Basic norms thrown to the wind

As if the long list of cases in which the government has shown an absolute lack of transparency and accountability were not enough to make it blush with shame, two fresh instances of such shortcomings confirm the growing belief that this administration has thrown these two basic democratic norms to the wind.

Two sweeping electoral wins seem to have given Labour the impression the electorate has given it carte blanche to do what it likes.

It is a common mistake made by governments enjoying sound majorities in parliaments. Right now, many seem to have been desensitised to such serious shortcomings but what the government fails to realise perhaps is that many more are getting increasingly worried over its arrogance and disregard to standard democratic principles.

Over the past few weeks, two Cabinet ministers have fallen foul of the accountability test but, to the government, both cases appear to be of no particular importance. Castille continues to behave as if it can do no wrong.

Take the first case, that of Transport Minister Ian Borg, who has held back from giving Parliament the planning documentation relating to the Mellieħa Bypass project because, he said, it is humanly impossible to do so.

The project is mired in controversy but what stands out is that the authorities had, at first, been prepared to sacrifice a lane in the bypass to enable the building of a road servicing a massive block of 152 apartments. Following public outrage, it was decided to reconstruct the bypass to retain the four-lane configuration.

True, at €2 million, the cost of the road reconstruction is nowhere near that of other mega projects. Even so, considering there had to be a partial review of the planning policy governing the area, it goes without saying that the government owed the taxpayer full transparency and accountability.

However, the Transport Minister felt that submitting the documentation he was asked for would require a large amount of human resources and time and, therefore, it was considered humanly impossible to lay the documents on the table of the House of Representatives.

The argument is, of course, unconvincing and, therefore, unacceptable. The minister did not even offer to table at least the most important of the lot.

The second case of unaccountability, that of Economy Minister Chris Cardona’s solo trips abroad “on official government business”, is even more glaring and anomalous. One reason given for the inability “to establish the nature of a number of expenses” was, believe it or not, that receipts and other important documents had gone missing or were misplaced.

If this were really the case, it amounts to gross negligence on the part of the ministry. For a weekend trip to Monaco alone, the minister claimed €2,003 just on his hotel stay. The National Audit Office found that on another solo trip, this time to the Ukraine, some personal purchases made by the minister were paid out of the money given for official use. The minister has yet to answer for this.

A Cabinet minister who says it is humanly impossible to be transparent and accountable exposes himself to flak. One who spends public money and, for whatever reason, is unable – worse, unwilling –  to justify it cannot be trusted in such high office.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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