Sunday, 25 July 2010

Cynical Me

The Malta Independent on Sunday - 25 07 2010

Do we have a shadow government?   In posing this question, I use ‘shadow’ not in the sense of shadow cabinet or shadow minister to explain the role of the Opposition in keeping tabs on the government’s work. I use it in the sense that company law gives to shadow directors, people not formally appointed as directors on the board of a commercial company who have a strong influence on the directors, who simply act as agents of the shadow directors.

Try as I can to believe in the goodwill of fellow citizens, I cannot help growing ever more suspicious, to the point of turning cynical, that, apart from the official government, we have a more powerful shadow government. Nothing else explains the reluctance, indeed resistance, to launch a new package of rules and regulations concerning funding for the operation and capital investments of our political parties.

This issue has been discussed for years on end, through parliamentary select committees or independent commissions, but nothing ever changes. The status quo seems to be serving powerful interests well. On the maxim that he who pays the piper calls the tune, any judicious observer has a duty to suspect that political parties have a serious conflict of interest between their general duty to discharge their democratic functions in the interests of the general electorate and their obligations to the narrow segment that makes a disproportionate share of contributions towards party funding.

This conflict of interest then starts producing strange occurrences that defy logic and seriously prejudice basic standards of responsible governance. How else can one explain suspicious contract awards either on a direct basis or through grossly faulty competitive bidding` The Delimara power station extension contract is merely the most recent in a trend of similar contentious awards, which include the direct sale of Mid-Med Bank and the privatisation of Freeport operations as prime examples.

Yet these are only instances that make it to the surface because they stand out like a sore thumb. Beneath the surface, by merely adopting the logical use of averages, there must be innumerable cases of smaller governance infringements that cumulatively pay rich dividends to those who finance political parties. Appointments of the same few talking heads to posts with strong executive power on the fringes of extended government operations bear witness of interests that need protection by friendly faces.

A game of musical chairs has been going on for too long, as if the country produces no new blood to carry it to higher levels rather than just perpetuate the scratching of backs silent affair. Why do we suffer such democratic deficit more than other countries?

I can think of two reasons. Firstly, our two-party system – where the winner takes all and the loser merely observes and criticises, but without having effective tools to supervise – gives government absolute power. And if power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. The political systems of other countries apportion power more fractionally, forcing power sharing through coalitions.

Secondly, alternation of political power has not worked properly since 1987 and that’s a generation ago. The 1996 alternation of power never took root. History will pass judgment on why this happened, but to my mind it is clear that the wide power network, in which the PN is merely a political cell, worked hard to erase the democratic mandate and restore political power to their own.

I remain equally doubtful about the effectiveness of political power alternation for which the electorate may in future vote. Shadows all over, or just cynical me?   

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