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We are heretics

Everything is politicised in Malta: 'If you do not worship at the altar of the Labour party or the Nationalist party, you are considered to be a heretic'

saviour_balzan
Saviour Balzan
27 February 2017, 11:54am
Former German Catholic friar Martin Luther was famously excommunicated as a heretic by Pope Leo X by Papal bull in 1520
Former German Catholic friar Martin Luther was famously excommunicated as a heretic by Pope Leo X by Papal bull in 1520
Let us for a second imagine that yours truly was insane enough to suggest that the leader of the opposition, Simon Busuttil, is a philanderer and a fraudster. You can imagine the kind of commotion such a claim would create. To defend my atrocious assertion I would claim that I heard this through the grapevine and it was being talked about among members of the public. I have no proof to produce, and I wanted simply to make it known to everyone that there was this unfounded bit of news doing the rounds. You see, I just like to share the gossip.

My statement about Busuttil is of course not only hypothetical. It is based on a lie, an invention. However this is a reality that traditionally does not exist in genuine journalism. A journalist can never be a vehicle for rumours and gossip but one who sniffs out a story, verifies the facts and then goes to town with the story.

Well, that I guess is clear to most level-headed people.

But there are many exceptions and one of them is David Thake. He is – just in case it’s not known to my readers – a radio presenter on Radio 101, an election candidate and St Paul’s Bay local councillor, and plans to have a go to make it into parliament as a representative of the people.  

The businessman-turned-propagandist and then listed as a PN candidate made it known and clear to everyone that Carmen Ciantar could have made it to the top as chief executive of the Foundation for Medical Services because she had an affair with Chris Fearne, the health minister.

This kind of chit-chat is believed because people with a medium-sized brain – and let us be clear, there are quite a few of them – argue that if someone is saying it and publicising it, it has to be true.

After the expected denial from Ciantar and Fearne, Thake went on to state: “I have taken note of the statement issued by Minister Chris Fearne and Ms Carmen Ciantar wherein they affirm that the relationship between them is strictly professional. I welcome this statement and will read it out in full during today’s edition of Taghna Lkoll.”

Regardless of what other people may think, Ciantar and Fearne could have sued for defamation. Not simply because it was in their interest, but also because Thake is bad news for anyone in the business of making news. And this piece of unverified gossip was simply malicious.

Thake is undoubtedly an extension of his icon, a person who relishes in destroying people’s lives. Thake believes that his politics is the only right one and anyone else on the other side of the border should be taken to bits and demolished. And this is only realised by reinventing the news, spinning a story or making lurid insinuations.

Years back, we all took a stand against Manwel Cuschieri and his likes, but really Cuschieri is an amateur next to the drivel and odium that gets dished out by Thake.

Thake is definitely more refined than Norman Vella, who has the ability to deride adversaries and laugh it off. Like Salvu Mallia, Vella would want to be in the House of Representatives on the premise that they can make this country a better place. 

I am still having problems understanding where their added value is.

But the real problem with the new brand of candidates, and I am referring to David Thake, Norman Vella and Salvu Mallia, is that they are not only forthright and brash, but that they bring a new narrative. One that is very Trump-like.  

Thake has created his own kind of radio banter, a condescending ‘apartheid’ model of me and you – you being ‘ugly, deformed Labourite’ – and is very good at manipulating the truth. Salvu Mallia, on the other hand, paints a grotesque picture and delivers his thoughts as if he were a representative of The Official Monster Raving Loony Party. 

And yet this is only the tip of the iceberg. The real issue is that neither party is talking about real solutions or offering a blue print for this country.

***

So this was also the week of the PANA committee and, of course, the car bomb. It has been established that no matter what they say, and it was precisely a year ago, the revelations about the Panama companies should have led to Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri offering their resignations. 

I am sure that there was little doubt in their mind and that of Joseph Muscat that their actions left an indelible mark on the administration.

Muscat could have asked them to leave but he thought otherwise, giving the media and the opposition a trump card that has served them rather well for the last 12 months.

The revelations did not cough up proof of corruption but opened the two men to rampant speculation. Perhaps the most rational question is why did these two individuals not use the Maltese financial set-up for their investments? The truth is that the inclination is for people to believe that the companies were set up to siphon off undeclared funds.

To go against the grain, one may also have to see what happened to the setting up of Trusts in Malta, which are no longer tolerated by the major banking institutions here. This, of course, will be rubbished by those who want to believe that Mizzi and Schembri were not setting up a vehicle for personal funds, but for potential kickbacks.

Those who are on the side of the government will argue that the two men are the heart and soul of the Muscat administration and without them the administration would suffer. The administration is suffering with them still there, but it would suffer more without them, the thinking goes.

We will have to decide whom to believe.  

I, for one, would like to give them the benefit of the doubt. It’s a risky statement, but one which I will make like I have made with other people in the past. Also, because I think that they were both naïve and silly in doing this. Their actions to open an account (irrespective of its legality) in such a jurisdiction, as public officers, was wrong. But I will not be part of a kangaroo court that condemns when there is no proof of wrongdoing.

The thing is that most people have already made up their mind.

The other truth is that many auditors and financial service providers, and not only Nexia BT, have a retinue of Maltese clients who do exactly this. The only difference is that they do not run government business or get themselves elected.

So that is why the PANA committee also took a look at the other protagonists who orbited around the setting up of vehicles for legal tax avoidance. In doing so, they also looked at Beppe Fenech Adami.  

He was a director of a fiduciary, and as a director he was legally responsible - whether he knew or did not know what was going on – for the affairs of his clients. The company he was a director of, was the nominee of a company linked to the transfer of money from individuals investigated on drug trafficking.

Not a happy story for a politician who at the time of his directorship was parliamentary assistant at the home affairs ministry. It is not an accepted ground of defence for anyone to claim ignorance of the law, but is it legitimate defence that a director was not aware of what was going on in his fiduciary’s client?

While Fenech Adami was delivering his pre-prepared missal to the PANA committee, declaring that this was a very corrupt government, he may not have realised that he was not being taken very seriously at all. To the committee, it was really a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

If there were a registry of virginal characters, I am sure that Fenech Adami would not be listed there, and the same applies to a whole load of MPs from both sides of the House who have dabbled with fiduciaries here and there.

Everyone, it seems, is also mentioning the FIAU, the agency that investigates money laundering and suspicious transaction reports from financial services practitioners.

No one appears to accept the fact that the FIAU is legally bound not to disclose whether or not it is carrying out an investigation. But in fact, everyone who matters knows this, so it is incomprehensible that we still read statements by senior politicians calling on the FIAU to tell us what they are doing. 

The issue was eloquently illustrated by Matthew Vella, executive editor of MaltaToday, who told the PANA committee on Monday, in very sincere terms, that both parties expected the media to simply dance to their tune.

He explained that everything was politicised and that the parties expected the media to follow their agenda and nothing else.

He said: “In Malta if you do not worship at the altar of the Labour party or the Nationalist party, you are considered to be a heretic.”

No one, it seems, apart from MaltaToday, is following the financial services in our country and the concerns this privileged and important sector of our economy raises by providing unfair tax avoidance advantages to foreign companies. And more importantly, the attraction of these services in siphoning funds from illicit activities.

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