Tuesday 31 March 2020

A new mandate and a fresh start

This article first appeared on Malta Today 

Three weeks after the election, the country seems to have seamlessly slipped back into ‘business as usual’ mode very quickly. However, such complacency is never a good idea, and our focus must now swivel towards the new Labour administration and a Prime Minister who has been re-elected for a second term with an extraordinary majority, at least in Maltese terms. We all thought 2013 was a fluke which could not possibly be repeated, but we were wrong.

Bolstered by such a vote of confidence from the electorate, it can be very easy for Muscat to feel he can do anything, and of course this is where the danger lies. I had already felt unease last time with a nine seat majority because that is a lot of power to be placed in one person’s hands. A second term, this time with a seven seat majority, needs to be equally handled with two feet planted firmly on the ground, and hopefully a team of advisors who keep giving him a reality check. The first thing I would suggest he does is to get word out to the many supporters whose retort to any criticism by the opposing side is to constantly remind them of how badly they were “thrashed”. There is a dignity in losing gracefully, but isn’t it even more dignified to be able to celebrate a victory with good grace? What felt like three days of non-stop celebrations and blaring of horns should have been enough to get the triumphalism out of the way, but the continued gloating is now completely unnecessary. Sure, everyone loves being the “winner”, but rubbing your opponent’s face in the fact that they lost is just petty and childish.

The next issue concerns what has been termed, alternatively as ‘the power of incumbency’ or ‘trading in influence’. Reports of promotions and jobs being given with government departments in the few days prior to the election cannot be ignored. Are we actually going to do anything about this or are we simply going to shrug and put it down to yet another aspect of life on this island which has “always happened” so it cannot be changed? Our electoral system with its long list of candidates all vying for the same seat within their district means that being able to offer something to voters to give you that extra edge and secure their vote is a tale as old as time. But unless actual, enforced restrictions are put into place which prevent this from happening, we will simply see this practice being repeated again and again. Like so many other aspects of electoral reform, it is just a matter of biting the bullet, so who will be the politician to actually draft this law and propose it in Parliament? I’m no lawyer, but I would think that making any contract which is signed during an election campaign null and void, should be enough.

I know that you probably read the word ‘enforced’ and burst out laughing. Because we all know that if there is one thing we seem unable to enforce, is enforcement itself. This is the malaise which eats away at the very core of our quality of life, and which no electoral landslide will fix unless there is political will from the top to do so. So I address Joseph Muscat directly: you have been given a clear mandate not once, but twice, with a resounding majority which will make it impossible for anyone to defy you or threaten to topple your government, so please, this time, can you use this clout to do something for us, common mortals, rather than powerful lobbies? Can you use your strong position, where you hold all the cards, to make our lives better by ensuring that environmental regulations are adhered to (you know like no construction work during summer?) and that the Planning Authority does not keep granting obscene permits to gobble away even more of our scarce land? Is it so difficult to convince the construction lobby that it needs to diversify and concentrate its efforts on renovating dilapidated buildings which are such an eyesore, rather than always greedily eyeing undeveloped areas?

We want to see a fresh start where all the problems, allegations of corruption and breach of political ethics in your last administration are never repeated again. Frankly, with the kind of power you now wield Mr Prime Minister, I would make it clear to members of the Cabinet that they will be given one chance, and if they are found to have done something not quite “right” then I would expect their resignation on my desk the first thing in the morning. In this second administration, by giving you a fresh mandate against all odds, I believe that the people have the right to demand the highest standard of behaviour, and that everyone in this new administration needs to take the responsibility of their role seriously out of respect for the office they hold, and as a demonstration of loyalty to the voters who put them there. I think we saw and heard enough in the last four years to last us a lifetime – we, the people, deserve much better. We deserve an administration which aims to be the best it can, to show true leadership not only by winning an election campaign, but true leadership when it comes to running the country.

In short: A good economy is great, now we expect good governance.

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