Political Responsibility – When is the politician responsible?

Yesterday morning Evarist Bartolo’s chief canvasser Edward Caruana was arraigned in court and charged with corruption and fraud. This was on the back of a report from 15 months ago and after the presentation of a 200-page dossier to the police by the former FTS CEO Philip Rizzo – another person of trust of Mr Bartolo’s.

The question that most people are asking is a very simple one, however the answer to it might not be that straightforward.

Should the minister in question, in this case Evarist Bartolo, assumes political responsibility?

In order to be able to answer this question we need to understand the connection between the accused and the minister. The accused, Edward Caruana, wasn’t just someone that Evarist Bartolo knows personally, he was the one person that organised his electoral campaigns. An individual of trust of Minister Bartolo and someone that immediately after being elected, was given important roles on the back of the bond that he had with the minister.

“The strength of collective decision making and political responsibility is not only a question of recognizing other people’s ability. It is also recognizing one’s own limitations.” – Aruna Roy

I observed the conversations on the social media over the last few months on this subject and there were conflicting opinions. Some said that the “minister isn’t directly involved”, “he didn’t know what was happening”, “he didn’t do anything illegal”; thus he shouldn’t resign. Others used the argument that how come Evarist Bartolo needs to assume responsibility when others, over the last 30 years, never assumed responsibility for their subordinates?

In all fairness they are valid arguments, however there is another side of this argument. We need to understand what political responsibility actually means.

Political responsibility is different from legal responsibility. Something, whatever it is, doesn’t have to be illegal to be immoral and we expect the highest of standards from our leaders. Apart from that political responsibility is exactly that; assuming responsibility for the actions of your subordinates. In other countries it’s very common that a political assumes political responsibility when something goes wrong in one of the departments they’re responsible for, yet in Malta this is still a foreign concept.

If we lacked political responsibility over the years, it doesn’t mean that we should keep lacking it today. The sooner we understand that elected politicians must shoulder the responsibility of the actions of those that they’re responsible for, the sooner we’ll start seeing things getting done faster and better.

Political responsibility might be an alien concept in Malta but we owe it to our country to start seeing it more in action!