Patronage alert: Government ministers should not look for jobs for people

Published: November 24, 2016 at 5:44pm

Actavis, the pharmaceuticals manufacturer which is, incidentally, run by Astrid Vella’s husband (not even remotely relevant to the story, but it’s always nice to know who’s who on this island), has announced that it will lay off 200 employees over the next two years.

The Economy Minister, Chris Cardona, and the Education Minister, Evarist Bartolo (who is for some strange reason responsible for the organisation JobsPlus), then called in the press to make an announcement of their own. The government will find other jobs for all those 200 people, they said.

There are so many things wrong with this statement, that I don’t know where to begin. First off, the intimation here is these 200 people will be added to the state payroll too – like the thousands who have been put on the state payroll already since March 2013, increasing the state payroll bill by €35 million (read here and here).

Secondly, it is not the business of cabinet ministers to personally announce that they will be hunting around for jobs for those who are made redundant by the private sector. This stinks of patronage, constitutes intolerable interference in the market (what are they going to do – ring up business operators and try to bully them into taking people on?) and communicates the message that they have no proper priorities in running the country. Instead of saying that he’s going to look for jobs for people, Evarist Bartolo should make sure that JobsPlus functions properly, while Chris Cardona should yank himself off his bar-stool and get some real work done.

Third – this is not just patronage in the Sicilian-politics meaning of the word. It is also patronising. Those people work for Actavis, so the likelihood is that they’re pretty good at what they do. So rather than being consoled by Bartolo’s and Cardona’s inane reassurances, they are likely to be insulted. As in: “I don’t need your patronising charity jobs because I’m better qualified at doing what I do than you are at doing what you do.” Because face it, when have either of those two done a proper day’s work in their life? Bartolo is practically inert: I get the impression that if his wife doesn’t put in his batteries in the morning and shove him towards the front door, he’ll be on the sofa for the rest of the day. And Cardona’s always in some bar or Hugo-Chetcuti gig.

Those people will almost certainly find jobs without any help from the government, but I’m pretty sure it won’t stop the government trying to put them on the state payroll. Look what they did with Enemalta Corporation’s employees, when the company was sold down the river to the Chinese government. Most of those people were highly trained and skilled technicians, electricians and mechanics. They could have found work easily in the private sector – but the government simply moved them straight to the state payroll, distributing them among different departments, and so they didn’t even bother trying.