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Me first, Malta last

The Prime Minister has taken it upon himself to appoint inquiries when there are more answers to be sought than questions to be asked. I wonder why he has not done the same for the Evarist Bartolo FTS scandal. What is he waiting for?

saviour_balzan
Saviour Balzan
23 January 2017, 7:30am
We are living in a surreal world, where journalists are asked to report non-news. It is bad enough that we are slaves to the two parties and fake news
We are living in a surreal world, where journalists are asked to report non-news. It is bad enough that we are slaves to the two parties and fake news
Obviously the inauguration of US President Donald Trump has moved the limelight away from the squabbles between the two local political parties. But beyond the fear of Trump, most Maltese know that whatever happens in Washington has little or no impact on their way of life.

America first or America last does little to affect the lives of inward-looking Maltese. And I think they have a point here.

People are more interested in what a newcomer and populist like Salvu Mallia has to say than in the ramifications of Donald Trump’s doings. More interested to understand how someone who is more of a clown and a repository of expletives spends his day, than the reality of populism in the US.

And if you just consider yesterday morning it does not take very long to realise that we are truly living in our little insular world, which is all about protagonists and not the issues.

It is Saturday and at 10am three simultaneous press conferences are being addressed, one of them by the PN presenting their take on the environment, after, let us face it, neglecting it for 25 years and leaving this generation with bad planning policies that allowed Labour to make a meal of them.

At the same time, probably unknown to the Labour Party inner circle, Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando and Evarist Bartolo were busy wasting the time of journalists to say their bit on divergent subjects. JPO, of course, on his bête noir, PN leader Simon Busuttil, and his former compatriot in arms, Evarist Bartolo, who praised the Church and Pope Francis, instead of spending some useful time clearing his own name on the Foundation for Tomorrow’s Schools scandal.

To tell the truth, I think the two gentlemen are not entirely useless political animals, but I would have expected much more from them than such a silly press conference. Which, by the way, was covered by all the local newsrooms apart from ONE TV.

And at 10am Justice minister Owen Bonnici also held a press conference, this time presenting documents that continue to put Jason Azzopardi (a Nationalist MP with a panache for sounding like Maria Goretti) in a highly questionable situation over the Lowenbrau land deal with business entrepreneur Zaren Vassallo.

Bonnici and Azzopardi are not exactly the best of buddies, but I think Azzopardi had it coming. He is fighting hard to erase the perception of unscrupulous behaviour that this land skulduggery has heaped on him, and portray himself as the guy who did everything right. 

He even incredibly shifted the blame on to his party colleague, former finance minister Tonio Fenech, who is himself embattled elsewhere in another weighty matter, and of course on to the civil servants who were involved in the deal, for the final estimation of the Zaren Vassallo land in Qormi.

What is more incredible is that I am told that his version of the facts were reproduced verbatim in the bile blogger’s blog. Who of course found good enough reason to turn her guns on John Dalli to blame it on her favourite hate figure.

Needless to say she only repeated this after Jason Azzopardi talked directly with her. Continuing to confirm most people’s belief that many in the PN still see her as a beacon for their marketing war.

The facts are very simple, when you hit out at someone, expect to be pelted back with all your misfortunes. Owen Bonnici is doing just that.

Azzopardi seems to forget that he was responsible for the Lands Department as minister and parliamentary secretary and that the Lands Department was no less crooked and corrupt than it is today. The only difference is that the Nationalist Party was in government for far longer and had more time to cook stews. In so many years no administration had the gumption to reform the department and the only real attempt happened after the Gaffarena debacle. 

Not even the Café Premier news story that was revealed by this newspaper shook the authorities to introduce some reform. The Café Premier buy-out at the time advantaged two Nationalist-leaning families who had fallen in some serious debt with the Lands Department and who in normal circumstances would have declared bankruptcy.

At the same time Gaffarena and others in his league must have been feasting over the very malleable civil servants at the department, sifting through valuable information and playing perfectly matching tunes with bids and expressions of interest.

Many, and not Gaffarena alone, soared high over the Lands Department waiting for a kill and taking advantage of the very accommodating officials.

Now, we are told there will be a reform, and that that this reform will pull the plug on phoney arrangements, and estimations. A department that controls one of the biggest, and rarest assets in the country – land. That most precious commodity, which is in such short supply, and which gains a value appreciation far outstripping any local investment portfolio. 

Jason Azzopardi has one big problem when he screams of being only an innocent protagonist. He sounds phoney. He is worried that his political career is under threat. He should be, he appears to be the only one of the veteran ex-ministers who has not been trimmed to size in Busuttil’s purge-of-sorts. 

Before 2013 the Labour opposition in parliament had quizzed Azzopardi about the deal. It was only then that Azzopardi set up a committee to review the original estimation, whose workings were based not on the market prices of the time but on those of 19 years previously. Everyone knows what happened to the prices and value of land in those 19 years. But not Azzopardi it seems.

Zaren Vassallo has always been a good chess player and a PN benefactor and when it comes to business deals, legend and court litigation transcripts can confirm his ruthless approach to making deals.

Somehow he has always turned out to be the victor.

***

The Prime Minister has taken it upon himself to appoint inquiries when there are more answers to be sought than questions to be asked. He did this for the Bogdanovic occurrence and the Beppe Fenech Adami saga. I wonder why he has not done the same for the Evarist Bartolo FTS scandal. What is he waiting for?

***

The leader of the opposition thinks that his constant reference to Panama will raise concerns from probing European parliamentarians. He is obviously not realising that most of the MEPs visiting Malta next month in relation to the Panama papers will not be asking questions only about Panama. They are in fact primarily interested in Malta’s legal tax avoidance system. A system that sustains thousands of local jobs. Panama is just the tip of the iceberg, the real concern for these MEPs is why Malta’s advantageous tax regime is tolerated.

Busuttil cannot simply stand up and say Panama is wrong but Malta’s tax system is fine. To most Europeans there is no difference between the two. They both are ensconced in legal frameworks, but it is harmonisation that they are after.

This may well turn out to be a boomerang. And if he is not seeing it coming, then someone in his think tank should trip the nervous system and let him know.

saviour_balzan
Saviour Balzan is the founder and co-owner of MaltaToday. He has reported on Maltese poli...
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