Policy Performance


Economic Policies

Showing significant gains in recent years, Malta falls into the upper-middle ranks (rank 13) with regard to economic policies. Its overall score in this area has improved by 1.0 point relative to 2014.

Growth rates have been exceptionally strong, and unemployment rates have fallen to low levels of around 4%. Public and private domestic consumption has been the major driver of growth, but significant health, technology and telecommunications projects are expected to drive a recovery in investment in 2019.

Overall labor-market activity rates are the EU’s highest among 25- to 54-year-olds. Policies have helped improve employment rates among women, but absolute levels remain low. Fully 30% of private-sector workers are foreigners, a relatively transient population. Corporations are increasingly taking advantage of advantageous tax breaks, and the government is currently transposing EU anti-tax-avoidance rules.

The budget has posted small surpluses for several years. Debt levels are moderately high. However, health care costs and state-owned-enterprises may pose risks to future deficit targets. Weak financial-sector enforcement has led to money-laundering concerns.

Social Policies

With a number of reform needs evident despite ongoing improvements, Malta falls into the lower-middle ranks (rank 29) with respect to social policies. Its score for this measure has improved by 0.5 points relative to 2014.

School drop-out rates are worrisomely high. Tertiary-level attainment levels are comparatively low, but education access generally is quite equitable, and PISA scores are rising. A number of education reforms aimed at encouraging students to stay in school are underway.

Poverty and social exclusion risks are declining, but remain significant for the elderly and the unemployed, and particularly migrants from outside the EU. Employment rates are low among women, though less so among young people. Workplace policies including free child care and financial incentives for mothers returning to work have led to recent gains. Rising house prices are seen as a concern.

Pension spending is worryingly high as a share of GDP. A new program promotes increased voluntary saving. While the high-quality free basic health care system has some gaps, wait times for operations can be long. Integration policies remain weak, and the law-enforcement system shows serious flaws, particularly in the areas of human trafficking and organized crime.

Environmental Policies

With challenges defined by its island geography, Malta scores relatively poorly (rank 32) in the area of environmental policies. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.4 points relative to 2014.

The renewable-energy share remains very small, at just 6%. The country has had difficulties meeting renewable energy, energy efficiency and emissions targets, in part because of the high dependence on cars, the growing dependence on air conditioning, and reductions in forest and parkland cover. The country is buying Bulgaria’s extra emissions allowances.

Solar-power projects, an electrical interconnection line with Sicily and a planned gas-fired power station may ease this dependence in the future. A new waste-management plant is also in the works. The country suffers from scarce water resources, but a flood-relief plan aimed at collecting more water has helped systematize a previously spotty strategy.

Biodiversity is threatened by development, invasive species and climate change. A policy on this issue aims to halt biodiversity loss by 2020. However, the recent increase in building-permit grants and new policies for hunters will make this goal harder to reach.



Quality of Democracy

Despite effective and impartial electoral laws, Malta scores relatively poorly in international comparison (rank 34) with regard to the quality of democracy. Its score in this area has improved by 0.4 points relative to 2014.

A recently passed law governs political-party donations, but the electoral commission’s oversight role has been questioned by the courts. Complaints of pro-government bias at the state broadcaster have diminished. Political parties own broadcast and print media. A prominent journalist investigating corruption was killed by a car bomb.

Civil rights and political liberties are generally respected. Discrimination on the basis of political affiliation remains a problem, and women are underrepresented in many social areas. Sub-Saharan migrants in particular face broad levels of discrimination.

Though anti-corruption measures have been strengthened, conflicts of interest remain common. There is little transparency in allocating public contracts. A new judicial-appointments process is being developed, which will take decisions away from the executive and give them to an external committee.



Executive Capacity

Despite growing core-government steering capabilities, Malta falls into the lower-middle ranks (rank 26) with regard to executive capacity. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.8 points relative to 2014.

Strategic-planning capacities have improved in recent years, with more experts supporting the process. Spurred by recent policy failures, the Prime Minister’s Office has expanded its coordination and monitoring of line ministries. A greater share of policy proposals must now be approved by the cabinet.

The RIA process is evolving, with assessment quality varying. Review of sustainability issues remains spotty, but is improving. Ex post evaluations are carried out for most significant policies. Consultation with civil society has steadily improved, but critics say NGO views have little influence in key policy and planning areas.

Government efficiency has continued to improve, with audits noting serious failings under the previous administration. Competition between ministries sometimes hinders monitoring despite recent improvements. Task funding remains contentions, with municipal bodies pressured to carry out tasks beyond their official remits. Regulatory enforcement is sometimes biased toward powerful lobbies.

Executive Accountability

Reflecting several notable weaknesses, Malta’s overall score for executive accountability falls into the middle ranks internationally (rank 24). Its score on this measure has improved by 0.1 point relative to 2014.

The part-time parliament has few resources and comparatively weak executive-oversight powers, though a new act gives it greater control over budget decisions, and funding has recently been increased. The audit office is independent and active, while the ombudsman is highly esteemed but has limited powers. The data-protection authority is effective and independent.

While media competition has improved public access to information, the primary media outlets are dominated by the country’s two political parties. Infotainment programming remains widespread. Public trust in the local media is very low.

Political parties take different approaches to choosing leadership, but are increasingly looking to civil society for agenda ideas. Economic-interest groups are usually capable of formulating relevant policies, but rarely act proactively. Non-economic groups too are typically reactive, but have played a key government-advisory role on issues such as migration.
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