Editorial | Sunday, 09 August 2009
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The little things that matter most

The growing feeling of a sense of lack of political leadership seems to be permeating the country. At least, we know the Prime Minister’s grip on public matters is being called into question, as appears his reluctance to take charge. With many decisions taken and later reversed or worse still not implemented, a sense of commitment to the political programme on which he singlehandedly idly won the last election, seems absent. Except perhaps, on MEPA reform.
But in short, Lawrence Gonzi is no longer riding on a high wave as he was back in 2008 after re-election. His star is on the wane.
The difficulties have been caused by a number of misplaced strategic moves, which need to be reversed and fast. His Cabinet is far too small with the limited number of ministers having large portfolios, which only one or two can cope with. This difficulty is further magnified by the all too obvious tendencies of members of the Cabinet to micro-manage rather than fulfil their function of policy-makers, and to ensure civil servants execute the Cabinet’s policy. It would seem that the mantra ‘government decides, the civil service implements’ is being undermined.
The Prime Minister’s challenges are further compounded by his own large portfolio, rather than him ruthlessly overseeing his ministers’ implementation of Cabinet policy. It is all too clear that periodical meetings between the Prime Minister and his ministers, in which departmental progress is analysed, are few and far between.
The Prime Minister’s decision to delay changes within his Cabinet is ill judged and risks boxing him into a corner occupied by George Borg Olivier in his last years in government. The disillusionment on the backbench needs addressing not only by possibly appointing a backbencher or two in Cabinet, but specifically with the Prime Minister having the political guts to put his own authourity to the test with ‘a back me or sack me’ motion to his MPs.
Equally noticeably is a feeling of exclusion felt by some ministers who consider Cabinet as a rubber-stamping exercise, with political decisions being taken in a restricted kitchen cabinet.
The lack of a dynamic think-tank that generates ideas at Castille is glaringly visible. Instead, action is easily influenced and swayed by spin-doctors. Government action needs to be concentrated on implementing its electoral manifesto rather than dreaming of big projects which people have little appetite for, and which the nation’s coffers can ill-afford. Thinking big is a positive approach. But losing sight of the little things that are of concern to the ordinary man and woman, can carry dire consequences.
Government must address peoples’ concerns, amongst which is an ever growing difficulty for persons to keep up with the cost of living, caused amongst other things by government-induced costs; growing unemployment and precarity; the horrendous state of the roads; the general untidiness in the environment; long waiting lists in hospital; the delays in the courts. These are the daily frustrations being experienced, leaving a lasting negative impression on people who seem far removed from daily life, and instead only interested in grand projects.
But while fully appreciating the possibilities of projects that can revive the economy and the commitment to preserve jobs, there is need for more focus on the small things.
This week the National Statistics Office revealed data of how more people are depending on part-time employment, an indicator that quality of life might be tenuously underpinned by temporary or short-term employment for a part of the population. That is a cause of concern. Likewise, the hike in the price of gas. Businesses are gasping at the costs which they are finding insurmountable, having to pass them on to consumers. Government has not even got round to solve its conundrum on medicines, by going directly to the international market to fetch lowest possible prices. Millions of euros have been squandered in direct orders which have not delivered consumers a better deal.
These matters may seem secondary, yet they could go a far way to improving citizen’s quality of life. After all, such decisions are only motivated by the government’s own policy when it comes to managing its day-to-day affairs. Much as Lawrence Gonzi advertises his government’s success in dreaming up grand projects, the perception of his success will be moulded at street-level. That’s where the small things start to matter.

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