Economists often describe a ‘trickle-down’ effect when they analyse a prevailing situation in search of its source. They usually manage to trace it to some government policy decision or ministerial attitude towards manner of governance. It ‘trickles’, rather than ‘gushes’, down - consequently not easy for most people to discern the flow.
I now borrow such a phrase because, in several aspects of general administration, more or less the same phenomenon is noticeable to those who show civic interest. Sadly, it is often deleterious in its effects on the citizenry. Arrogance is probably the classical illustration. A few examples help.
Recently, magistrate Peralta was driven by police arrogance to order an investigation as to why a prison van needed ninety minutes to get from Attard to Valletta. He described the situation as ‘intolerable’ and ordered that disciplinary action be taken against the officers escorting the prisoner. The magistrate didn’t stop there: he lamented that such avoidable long delays had become ‘the order of the day’, adding that the officers’ behaviour was ‘irresponsible’.
Another magistrate, in condemning a relapsed convict to imprisonment for stealing expensive equipment, ordered the police to interrogate him in order to discover where he could have hidden the stolen non-durable goods so that possibly the owners would prevent deterioration. That was three months ago. The police inspector maintains that he is too busy to bother with the magistrate’s order. Period.
Such arrogance is evidently a trickle-down from the top echelons of the administration. And it certainly is not restricted to the police department. One notices it frequently in government offices, even at the level of clerks attending to the needs of the public, some of whom are forced to go there in person when they could easily have been served over the telephone.
Perhaps the best illustration of such a trickle-down arrogance is the law courts themselves. Try to protest that you were summoned as witness for 9am, and made to wait until 1pm, only to be informed that the case was adjourned for several weeks/months when exactly the same scenario is likely to recur. You might even be charged with contempt of court if you persist in your justified protestations.
Here is an example of arrogance at a ministerial level where the trickle-down process originates. Almost two years ago a court tribunal, in existence for sixteen years, needed to be expanded. One lay member was retained, the other discharged without being given a reason. The aggrieved member wrote to the Prime Minister, who had appointed him, for an explanation. No answer for a whole year, despite several reminders. Not even an acknowledgement. Finally, last January, during the time that new cabinet ministers were appointed, he was informed that the request letter was being referred to one of the new ministers who would soon reply. Up to now, not a word despite further reminders.
The dismissed member still waits, probably till after the general election. Unless, of course, the Minister’s secretariat recognizes that he might be a ‘disillusioned’ Nationalist!