The ‘state of the nation’ was debated last week at a meeting hosted by the president. I’m just going to pick out this snippet. Freshly retired former civil service chief Mario Cutajar was reacting to remarks by other panellists about how a survey published at the conference found that 1 in 3 voters admitted visiting a politician to ask for at least one favour.
Mario Cutajar said he was angry at people who think it’s a bad thing for politicians to help their constituents. Which of course is not the issue at all. When individuals feel they suffered an injustice or have been treated unfairly they should be able to speak to their MP who is to speak on their behalf or to help them find ways to get their due. Because it’s their due.
If that is what Mario Cutajar has in mind he would have a lot to answer for. Because if a third of our voting population (the ones that have admitted this) has suffered some injustice or has been treated unfairly, at least some of those people have suffered the consequences of failures of his leadership of the public administration.
We have 80 MPs and 70 Mayors in Malta who between them field requests from a third of the voting population. And we have some 30,000 salaried civil servants on the public payroll whose job it is to provide services and render justice to citizens each according to their entitlement, obviating the need to complain to an MP or a Mayor.
If Mario Cutajar is right, if clientilism is fine and we should not complain about it because it’s part of our Mediterranean identity, it should be cheaper to treble the number of MPs to 240, and treble the number of Mayors to 210, and fire all those 30,000 civil servants. Because 500 elected officials would be reached by all citizens so badly served by the 30,000.
This, of course, is ridiculous. Malta’s public administration is much better than even Mario Cutajar, its former head, gives it credit for. Though wrongful administration happens, though unfairness is sometimes inherent in poorly thought through procedures, though injustices exist, the vast majority of transactions conducted by our public administration work reasonably properly.
If it were true that all those meetings in politicians’ offices where a third of the electorate at some point goes to ask something from an MP (typically a Minister) were the consequence of a malfunction in the administration, the disaster on our hands would be even greater than we imagined. And we can imagine a lot.
Mario Cutajar is using the function of MPs to provide clinics for their constituents to justify unmitigated corruption. The former is a part of democracy, Mediterranean, Baltic, Anglosaxon, Teutonic: if it’s a democracy MPs and Mayors and councillors and elected officials should be available to the public to help secure redress when things don’t work. The latter, getting your minister to bend the rules for you, help you jump the queue, get permits for things you’re not entitled to, seek treats, bypass official procurement or recruitment processes to get an unfair advantage, that’s the sabotage of democracy.
It’s truly amazing to watch the former head of the civil service take this line. Until you remember this is Mario Cutajar and it’s not so amazing anymore.