The troubling political revelations of the last few months that uncovered corruption at the highest echelons of Maltese Government left a nation paralysed, angry and unsure of what lies ahead across all aspects of Maltese society – including the real consequences such revelations have had and will have on citizens’ well-being, business and the economy at large. In the context of such a sensitive climate, the issue of good governance has never been more pertinent and pressing.
With this in mind, the Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry published a policy document in January 2020 on good governance, ethical standards and practices for the country.
Titled Ethical Business Calls for Change – A manifesto for Good Governance by the Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry, the document aims to offer valuable guidance to incoming Prime Minister Robert Abela, “in his efforts to tackle, at the earliest, the need to implement the necessary reforms.”
The manifesto’s framework and recommendations tackle three main orders of governance, ranging from the day-to-day management of Government, the design and maintenance of institutions, and the principles and values that guide them.
It proposes, among others, that enforcement agencies are free from political interference and adequately resourced; to reform the role of the President of Malta – who should be given more executive powers – which calls for Constitutional reforms; and reassigning the appointment of key roles, namely the Attorney General, members of the judiciary, the Police Commissioner and Electoral Commissioner, from the Prime Minister to a two-thirds majority in Parliament.
Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry
The manifesto, compiled with the input of Chamber members including its President, David Xuereb, also recommends that companies and their Ultimate Beneficial Owners (UBOs) that are found guilty of abusing the system are blacklisted.
At grassroots level, it also suggests starting a national discussion, spearheaded by Malta’s President and involving stakeholders from all sections of society, on “the values that make us Maltese”. Prime Minister Robert Abela, members of the Chamber and contributors of the manifesto share their views on the policy, as well as the status of Malta today and tomorrow.
Robert Abela Prime Minister
“Stability and serenity are key to sustain and strengthen Malta’s living success. My priorities since taking office have focused on enhancing national unity and rejecting political divisions,” says Prime Minister Robert Abela, who also asserts that, “with the strongest ever electoral mandate, Government is duty bound to keep instilling optimism by striving for further improvement in areas of prosperity and delivering change wherever needed.”
Dr Abela draws on the results of the European Commission’s January survey on business and consumer confidence in member states, which “shows that, in just one month, the economic sentiment indicator for Malta improved by 10 per cent, the largest rise seen in more than 10 years.”
“Undoubtedly, I acknowledge that some of last year’s events did worry retailers and operators, especially in the catering and hospitality industry. I have made it clear that I am open to dialogue and ready to listen and address justified concerns. I am here to govern in the interest of all.”
On the topic of good governance, the Prime Minister says both Government and the Chamber “speak the same language and share the same values. We might not agree on every point, but we both stand for good governance, integrity and ethics.
The Chamber’s Good Governance manifesto rightly emphasises the rule of law, which this administration cherishes,” he asserts. “In seven years, we introduced and put into practice an unprecedented set of measures which bolster accountability and transparency.
“The protection of prescription on politicians who commit acts of corruption has been removed, and we have given protection to whistle-blowers who reveal acts of corruption,” he asserts.
“Political parties are regulated with a financing law, and we have also appointed for the first time a Commissioner of Standards in Public Life.
“Prime Ministers can no longer appoint judges and magistrates at their own discretion but can only choose off a list compiled by an independent committee, which includes the Ombudsman, the Auditor General, the Attorney General and the President of the Chamber of Advocates.”
He adds, “yet, I know that much more can be, and will be, done. The Chamber’s manifesto, among other documents and proposals, provides the basis of a healthy debate about the best practices for our country.”
A proposed change to the way the Police Commissioner is appointed has already been put in motion. “Instead of a direct choice by the Prime Minister as has been for many years, there will now be a selection based on a public call, an evaluation by the Public Service Commission and a scrutiny process by Parliament’s Public Appointments Committee,” says Dr Abela.
“We have also announced a thorough analysis of the hospitals agreements to consider the best way forward, and Government has already started working with the Chamber and other stakeholders to strengthen the Individual Investor Programme.”
As for maintaining economic momentum, Dr Abela says that businesses, particularly foreign investors, want economic policy continuity.
“This is why I stressed the message of continuity in my leadership campaign. Continuity does not mean that nothing will change. On the contrary, the movement I lead is characterised by dynamism with the aim of optimising the welfare of our society.”
A major change he is implementing is broadening Malta’s economic philosophy from being pro-business to pro-market, a move he believes is a natural evolution from the policies adopted in the first part of Government’s economic transformation project.
“After creating an environment where firms managed to more than double their profits and the number of jobs grew at an unprecedented rate, we will now focus more on ensuring that wages rise commensurately and businesses invest more in enhancing the quality of life in our society, for instance by helping them adopt greener technologies and helping us create more green spaces.
“This approach will create new opportunities for investors – in boosting the green economy, in investing more in our human capital and in enhancing services for our families.”
This interview featured in the February/March edition of the Commercial Courier. In next Saturday's piece, Chamber members also weigh in on the way forward to bring change in Malta.