The Office of the Prime Minister
In easily understandable everyday language the average citizen perceives an office as a room or other area in which some activity of a business, clerical, or professional nature is conducted. However an ‘office’ can also be a multi-roomed building where a wide range of responsibilities are assumed by a complex administrative structure. The Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), better known in colloquial language as “Kastilja”, neatly fits such definition of ‘office’.
“Kastilja” was built back in 1574 to serve as the official residence of the Grand Chancellor of the Order of St. John. Since 1972 “Kastilja” has housed the office of the Prime Minister of Malta who is supported in providing leadership and overall direction for a stable and effective government by over 300 staff employed in the various departments and units making up the OPM. The PM heads the OPM in his capacity of head of Government and he is also a minister in his own right with portfolio responsibilities for strategic matters such as the Public Service and European Union-related matters.
The Public Service is considered to be the core of the permanent administrative machinery of the Government of Malta and in the first quarter of the year 2008 the Public Service workforce stood at 32,126. On their part local public officers have given ample proof of their capabilities by their overall level of success in coping with the unique and exacting pressures placed on them by Malta’s EU membership bid.
Despite the great hostility to the EU and fierce opposition to EU membership openly manifested by the Labour Party, Maltese public officers have showed their high sense of duty by their willingness to implement the Government’s EU policy. More than that, these officers have managed to meet the huge demands that this onus has placed on their respective Ministries and Departments thus proving that they can hold their own with public officers of any other European state.
The Principal Permanent Secretary at the OPM is responsible for the overall organisation and management of the Public Service. He acts on behalf of the PM in setting targets for and assessing the performance of Permanent Secretaries at the various ministries, including two who are allocated to the OPM. On their part Permanent Secretaries have the responsibility to support the general policies and priorities of the Government and to operate within the context of the management practices and procedures established for the Government as a whole. Each of them is expected to provide support and advice to his respective Minister and to manage and motivate Directors General and Directors through delegation and progress reporting.
As regards to the PM’s ministerial portfolio responsibilities for the nation’s security and defense, this is shared with the Cabinet of Ministers that is entrusted by the Constitution with the general direction and control of the Government. Defense roles are set for the 1,500 personnel-strong Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) which is the military organisation responsible for defending the security and integrity of Malta.
The Maritime Squadron of the AFM has a hard job conducting anti-illegal immigrant operations. The squadron’s boats carry out round the clock patrols in Malta’s territorial waters and in the process its seamen are frequently involved in search and rescue operations. Year after year they pick up and bring ashore thousands of illegal immigrants encountering difficulties at sea with great dedication, courage and determination. From a negative aspect this has resulted in a substantial upsurge in illegal immigration that has put quite a heavy impact on Malta not only from an economic aspect but also from a population density aspect. Indeed at present in Malta there is an estimated population of approximately 405,000 persons living in the very limited inhabitable land available.
Within the OPM there are also two parliamentary secretaries assisting the PM in shouldering his vast responsibilities. They have respective portfolio responsibilities for Tourism and for Public Dialogue and Information.
Tourism contributes some 25% of GDP and thus remains the major contributor to Malta’s economy. The Intelligent Community Forum has recently listed the country among the 2008 ‘Smart21 Communities’ which confirms the success that Malta has achieved as a tourist destination. Such choice may have come as a surprise to a number of larger countries with well established traditional tourism destinations, particularly when considering that Malta is the smallest EU country. If anything, it confirms that the government has been adopting a wise tourism strategy all along.
On its part the Public Dialogue and Information portfolio supports the Malta-EU Steering Action Committee in its role of ensuring wide consultation with civil society on EU legislative proposals. The Malta Council for Economic and Social Development (MCESD) also falls within the area of responsibility of this portfolio. During the years that it has been functioning the MCESD has succeeded in bringing about consensus amongst the Social Partners and members of Civil Society, on a number of national economic and social issues related to Malta’s development.
Thanks to the OPM’s co-ordinated and concentrated efforts under the leadership of the Prime Minister of Malta a quantum leap forward has been taken in the good governance of the country. Today, more than 400 years after it was constructed, “Kastilja” continues to play a vital role in Maltese contemporary life.