Mario Cutajar, Joseph Muscat’s pick as chief civil servant, has been appointed by Robert Abela on the cabinet committee on governance. That’s when Mario Cutajar is as terrible an example of good governance as anyone could possibly be.
He is principal permanent secretary which makes him the boss of bosses in the civil service. He reports directly to the prime minister as the prime minister is conventionally the minister for public administration. He reports directly to the cabinet of ministers as its secretary. Though all permanent secretaries report to their ministers on policy, they all report to Mario Cutajar on administrative matters.
Now in spite of all these broad responsibilities Mario Cutajar has time for a hobby. He’s apparently passionate about national heritage which is fine if he indulges that by taking his grand-children to museums on open days and bore them silly. But that’s not good enough for him, is it?
He has placed himself on the board of directors of Heritage Malta. Now as a board director he falls under the authority of the board’s chairman that falls under the permanent secretary of the ministry where Heritage Malta is assigned. That permanent secretary, perversely, reports to him, his subordinate. An administrative short-circuit if ever there was one.
But that’s not enough. Although he’s merely a director, he made himself “executive director” that allows him to collect an extra salary on top of the highest salary in the public service and to push around the senior executives and even the government appointed board of Heritage Malta.
In other words, a complete mess and a guaranteed way of governing a public institution in the most chaotic and rotten way imaginable.
It’s all a factor of who Mario Cutajar is and why he got the position he’s in. He’s a former General Workers’ Union secretary. The move from union man to the most senior manager in government meandered through a stint at Heritage Malta where he carried a chip on his shoulder larger than the cabinet table. Before becoming the very big boss of tens of thousands of employees he had close to no experience in managing people or organisations of any size.
Mario Cutajar was Joseph Muscat’s choice. Being prime minister was Joseph Muscat’s first job. He brought no industry experience to the table. He ought to have relied on a career civil servant who would have cautioned restraint and would have guaranteed a loyal and efficient service by his team of experts and experienced professionals. There’s a term for that: good governance. But Joseph Muscat would rather have Mario Cutajar.
And Mario Cutajar is supposed to make us hope things can ever get better.