• Team Owen Bonnici

107



Last Sunday's edition of the Malta Independent on Sunday carried a table of all Ministers with the total number of consultants/persons or positions of trust next to each and every name.

With a global amount of 107 people, I happened to top the list of Ministers with number of consultants/persons/positions of trust. The number gives absolutely a wrong and unfair impression. Let me give an explanation to set the record straight.

My Ministry is made up of a Minister (myself) and two Parliamentary Secretaries – Dr Deo Debattista and Mr Silvio Parnis. Dr Debattista is in charge of Valletta 2018 and consumer protection while Mr Parnis is in charge of Local Government and communities. I, as Minister, am directly responsible for Justice, Culture and Broadcasting and, of course, shoulder the ultimate political responsibility in Parliament for whatever happens in the Ministry.

Each Minister and Parliamentary Secretary is entitled to a staff complement which assists the political officer holder in the daily tasks. Members of staff range from the Chief of Staff or the Head of Secretariat to drivers and messengers. All have, in varying degrees, important functions without which a political office cannot operate. Be it a Labour Government or a Nationalist Government, a secretariat staff is crucial for the well-functioning of a Ministry or Parliamentary Secretariat and I cannot imagine any future Minister or Parliamentary Secretary operating without a staff complement assisting him or her.

The staff complement of a Minister is larger than that of a Parliamentary Secretary. As happens elsewhere in other democracies, each member of the staff of a political office is there on a contract of trust. There are written policies for the filling up of the respective complements and the number of staff making up the compliment of Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries has been unchanged from that obtaining under the Lawrence Gonzi administration.

Since I have two Parliamentary Secretaries in my Ministry, the total amount of secretarial staff will, of course, be larger than that of Ministries which have one Parliamentary Secretary or no Parliamentary Secretary at all.

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What about the rest?

One of the decisions which we immediately undertook once we were elected to Government was to assign much needed human resources to the Judiciary. We cannot expect the members of the Judiciary to be efficient and expedite in their work if we do not give them assistance and staff to help them in their duties.

A reform which we have undertaken and which has been described as a success story by all stakeholders is the creation of the role of Court Attorneys tasked with assisting Judges in their research and preparation. This role derives from a suggestion found in the Bonello report and has been mentioned positively in the European Commission report issued last Wednesday.

Following consultation with the Members of the Judiciary we realised that this role should be based on a trust so that if a Court Attorney does not deliver, or for some other reason loses the trust of some member of the Judiciary, the contract can be terminated without delay and another Court Attorney would step in. Court Attorneys are assigned to each and every Judge in the civil sphere and we intend to increase the number to cover even the criminal sphere. These lawyers are chosen by the members of the Judiciary, not by the Minister, through a formalised process.

The benefits of this system are for everyone to see.

At the same time we have also solved another recurrent problem which used to cause unnecessary hardship to the members of the Judiciary, that of an acute shortage of judiciary drivers. The drivers have recently also been trained in basic security measures.

In effect these persons form an important and essential part of the staff complement which every member of the Judiciary needs to function and they have immensely assisted the members of the Judiciary who have seen a strong improvement in their mark.

This means that out of the total amount of 107, if one had to subtract the secretariat staff of the three political offices and that relating to the Judiciary, the real and concrete number of persons/positions of trust is 19 throughout the whole Ministry.

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Who are those 19?

In effect those remaining 19 persons perform important functions in their respective and diverse areas ranging from the Cleansing Directorate, to Heritage Malta, the Arts and consumer protection. The reasons why in certain instances – I repeat 19 covering the whole Ministry – people are engaged on a position of trust as opposed to normal engagement procedures are both various and legitimate. As any person with some experience in public administration would tell you, in some cases, resortion to a position/person of trust would be the only way how to solve a pressing logistical issue.

In other instance, this route helps us tap on important talent and expertise. For instance, one of the 19 persons is a brilliant artist who is doing important work for Arts Council Malta in New York. Through her work she is forging important networks for the local artistic community in this important continent. My wish is that we have more accomplished people elsewhere in the world to help us in this internationalisation effort. Should we, as a country, lose on the brilliant expertise of such persons simply for not having a person with a contract based on trust?

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I did not engage in an exercise of comparing what used to happen under a PN Government and what is happening now in terms of persons/positions of trust or consultancies, although I am sure very interesting results would come out. In our Ministry's case - and I am sure this applies to all my colleagues - all the work and the reforms we undertake are implemented by our staff and government employees and consultancies are used only when absolutely needed. The private sector also plays a role and there are examples of successful PPPs which stand out.

The economy is booming and we are achieving targets after targets, success after success. All this happens because there is a team of dedicated people who are giving their all to this country, in order to make Malta a better place.

I thank wholeheartedly all the people who are contributing to the extraordinary positive results we are achieving together.


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