Life After Politics: Deborah Schembri

Manuel Zarb - 5th November 2017

In this series of interviews, former politicians from the Labour and the Nationalist Parties share their experiences in politics and how they’ve readjusted to day-to-day life as private citizens.

Former Parliamentary Secretary for Planning, Deborah Schembri, says she is nostalgic about her time in politics. “My ambition was to bring about change in people’s lives by making improvements through the legislative process, and I took my responsibilities very much to heart. I burned the midnight oil at my office in Castille on a daily basis to try and keep up with the massive demands of the job, and the two mega reforms that I was tasked with – building the structure of the Planning Authority following the MEPA demerger and the formation of the Lands Authority. I did not have the luxury of a long tenure, but one would be forgiven for thinking otherwise given what was achieved in such a short period of time.”

Asked about her readjustment to being a private citizen, Dr Schembri – a lawyer by profession and legal counsel to the Planning Authority and Lands Authority – says she’s been able to adjust quickly. “I take things in my stride and never look back, except to learn from my mistakes. Readjusting is never a completely smooth process, but I took it as an opportunity to modernise my work systems, to take stock of new technologies and use them to give a better service. I do love my profession, always have, so it is not a matter of going back to it with a heavy heart. As for going back to being a private citizen, I don’t think I’ll ever know what that means again unless I have a bout of amnesia!”

On the subject of MPs’ pay, Dr Schembri argues that we will never know whether ‘good’ people have been prevented from entering politics due to wage issues. “To be in politics one has to be either extremely dedicated to serving others, or utterly crazy. Both types of politicians are rarely discouraged by the fact that financially they could fare much better in the private sector. The fact that they are willing to make the sacrifice does not justify them earning an unbecoming wage. Sacrificing family time and privacy, being constantly in the limelight and in a politically polarised country like ours, constantly under attack for no rhyme or reason should be enough to ask of anyone.”

As the MP who proposed changes to the time Parliament convenes, the issue is clearly one which is very close to her heart. “The proposal was gladly seconded by the Prime Minister, but unfortunately we were greatly outnumbered when I put the idea on the table and also when I discussed it with members of the Opposition. If one has children, one never gets to see them on days when Parliament convenes unless one leaves work early, and it does take a toll on the family. Work-life balance benefits the whole family, and that cannot be achieved if one does not have enough time left to enjoy ‘life’ after work.”

Asked about the possibility of introducing a full-time status for members of Parliament, Dr Schembri says this should be open to MPs as an option rather than an obligation. “There are pros and cons in both instances, and I believe potential candidates could be lost by imposing one system over another. Members of Parliament are required to work hard. One has to be prepared to engage in debates and discussions in plenary and committees, besides representing Government and the Opposition at international gatherings and conferences. So rather than emphasising a strictly full-time Parliament, I would rather opt for more ancillary help in the form of research analysts and secretaries for example, to aid Members of Parliament who currently have to balance between their parliamentary duties and an increasingly demanding constituency.”

This interview was originally published as part of a feature on the Commercial Courier

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Life After Politics: Deborah Schembri