Without transparency, accountability is hampered

Earlier this week I was called by the Auditor General to his office in order to discuss the request for an investigation which I had submitted to his office some 15 days ago on behalf of ADPD. My request for an investigation was relative to the contract of service entered into between the Institute for Tourism Studies (ITS) and the Honourable Rosianne Cutajar, then a Labour member of parliament, now turned independent after being squeezed out of Labour.

As pointed out earlier in this column (The role of members of Parliament: TMIS 2 April), the issue is not an investigation of Rosianne Cutajar. It is rather an investigation into the operation of the Institute for Tourism Studies (ITS): whether it has engaged a consultant to its CEO to carry out responsibilities in respect of which the said consultant had no knowledge or competence, as is public knowledge.

An examination of the contract entered into between the Honourable Cutajar and ITS lists the areas of responsibilities which she was expected to shoulder: primarily issues of financial management. These responsibilities fall substantially outside the competences of a qualified Italian secondary school teacher. The contract in question is one which was hidden from public view until it was released by Shift News on the 23 March after it had obtained a copy as a result of a Freedom of Information request.

The inquisitive and investigative free press is shining a light on secretive acts carried out by the public sector: this is what transparency is about. Without transparency there is no way that we can ensure a shred of accountability.

The Auditor General informed me that he had called this meeting to hear my views, prior to his taking a decision on whether to proceed with the investigation and subsequently inform the Speaker of the House of Representatives of his findings.

Good governance does not stand a chance of ever taking root if this is how decisions are taken in the wider public sector. It is about time that all decision-takers start shouldering responsibility for the decisions they take. This ITS contract is one small example of abusive behaviour which needs acting upon immediately. It is not only politicians who must be accountable.

The management of public funds is tied with a duty to act in a responsible manner. All those who manage public funds must be in a position to account minutely for their actions. At the end of the day, it is the Auditor General who is entrusted by Parliament to monitor and report on the matter. Hopefully in the not-too-distant future we will be informed exactly what happened and who is actually responsible.

Transparency and accountability work in tandem. A lack of transparency is normally the first step to try and ensure that accountability is avoided.

Transparency is the indispensable foundation of good governance. In contrast, bad governance is generally wrapped in secrecy through the withholding of information which should be in the public domain. Without transparency, accountability is a dead letter; devoid of any meaning. A lack of transparency transforms our democracy into a defective process, as basic and essential information required to form an opinion on what’s going on is missing. After all, accountability is about responsibility: it signifies the acknowledgement and assumption of responsibility for our actions. This cannot be achieved unless and until transparency reigns supreme.

Whenever government, or public bodies, are secretive about information which they hold, and refuse or oppose without valid reason requests to release information under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act they give ample proof of their governance credentials.

Transparency is a journey, not a destination. We have to work hard at ensuring transparency continuously. It is a long journey, one which never ends.

Rules and laws will not bring about transparency. It will only result whenever each one of us opts to do what is right and not what is expedient. Our actions speak much louder than words.

Carmel Cacopardo
ADPD Chairperson
Published in The Malta independent – Sunday 16 April 2023