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frank_psaila
Frank Psaila

We must defend what defines us

There are rumblings of growing discontent within the electorate with the government

frank_psaila
Frank Psaila
1 March 2017, 7:33am
The government’s message to journalists seems to be: ‘there will be consequences if you cross me’. This is not progressive politics and it is certainly not democratic
The government’s message to journalists seems to be: ‘there will be consequences if you cross me’. This is not progressive politics and it is certainly not democratic
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Labour won with a landslide in 2013. Forward that to today. It’s a government mired in political scandals. The economy, many would argue, and rightly so, is doing well. The ratings agency Fitch, which under the Gonzi administration was credited with being an agency of repute, and whose upbeat economic forecasts were downplayed by then opposition leader Joseph Muscat, predicted strong economic growth for the coming months.

Admittedly, many, and that is an understatement, are not reaping the rewards of Malta’s buoyant economy. Those living on a pension and minimum wage earners are struggling, as ever, to make ends meet. However, others, mainly those working within the gaming and financial services industry, are reaping the fruits of long term investment in these areas. In the catering and hotel industry, key stakeholders complain that, faced with booming trade, they are short on staff – which in itself is a welcoming challenge. The government is confident that a growing economy is a guarantee for a sure win in 2018 (or is it late 2017?). Who knows – only time will tell.

However, one thing is certain, there are rumblings of growing discontent within the electorate with the government – across the political divide. And I’m not referring to the usual government apologists who spend their day locked up in government offices, paid for by our taxes, tearing to shreds people who dare criticise the government. (If you’re reading this on the MaltaToday news portal, scroll down to the comments section, and see for yourself).

I’m referring to middle-of-the-road voters; well-meaning Labour voters; and traditional PN voters who at the last general election voted Labour. They voted for change – not, necessarily, a change in their economic situation. Most of the people who in 2013, for the first time in their lives, voted Labour were financially sound pre-2013. Back then, the economy, despite the worst economic depression in decades, was doing relatively well. But they wanted the PN out – after more than two decades in government. Faced with what looked like a radically changed Labour party, led by a promising young man well tuned to peoples’ needs and aspirations, many were comfortable voting the Nationalists out and Labour in.

In the first year two years in government, Labour cruised, securing another convincing win at the European Parliament elections. By then, the Nationalist Party was trying to reinvent itself, now led by the young, but successful former MEP Simon Busuttil. A year later, Labour suffered defeats in its electoral strongholds at the local elections. But many brushed it aside as the cause of mid-term blues. Then came one political blunder after another, starting with the fatal shootout by the driver of the then Interior Minister Manuel Mallia all the way to the political scandal of 2015 which rocked the Muscat administration: the Panama Papers scandal. The rest is history.

***

Since then, and despite an economy which continues to do well, the talk of the town is Sai Mizzi Lang and her extraordinary pay package. Overspending by government ministries; undeserved key positions to government cronies; corruption allegations levelled at key cabinet ministers and their persons of trust and alleged visits by a senior government minister to a brothel in Germany whilst on government business – which allegations the minister vehemently denies – and which were followed by the extreme measure of garnishee orders against the journalist who wrote the story of his alleged whereabouts and the flak government got for this uncalled for action. What’s more, the government plans to force the registration of news websites, a move seen as unjustified and undemocratic. International institutions, watchdogs on human rights and media freedom, are eyeing Malta following government attempts to muzzle the independent press. The Economy Minister took to twitter, this week, to lash out at PN media journalists, threatening them with more libel suits. The government’s message seems to be: there will be consequences if you cross me. This is not progressive politics and it is certainly not democratic. Really, it’s never a dull moment. At its most basic, the Prime Minister, once a forceful party leader, seems to lack the ability to put a stop to this rot.

***

The fascinating question is: why is the Prime Minister unable to take control of the situation and sack errant ministers, the likes of Konrad Mizzi, who have embarrassed his government, time and again? Speculation is rife that Konrad Mizzi has an edge over the Prime Minister. The moment evidence emerged that Mizzi, and Keith Schembri, the Prime Minister’s right hand man and power-behind-the-throne had opened secret companies in Panama, the opportunity was handed to the Prime Minister on a platter to sack them both. He did not take it.

Instead, he went into overdrive, defending both men notwithstanding the flak he got from the independent media which, in the run-up to the 2013 election was in awe of him. I get the feeling that some of Muscat’s well-meaning cabinet ministers are desperate to see an end to this charade and for the Prime Minister to put a stop to this rot. Finance Minister Edward Scicluna and Foreign Affairs Minister George Vella come to mind. There are others, within the Cabinet and Labour’s Parliamentary group, who must be disappointed that Labour sold itself short to narrow business interests and allowed the likes of Konrad Mizzi to gobble up the Labour party and its government. It’s horrible to watch.

***

Four years later, many admit that they got it wrong. Whether this shall manifest itself at the polls is anybody’s guess. But through the Prime Minister’s lack of action when faced with the gravest accusations of corruption and wrong doing within this cabinet of ministers, untold harm has been done to his party, and more worryingly to the country. People have lost faith in the country’s highest institutions, surveys carried by this newspaper confirm that peoples’ perception of corruption is shockingly high, organised crime is on the increase – as manifested in a spate of car bombs on Malta’s busiest roads and the police force is unable to bring the perpetrators to justice because it is a sinking force. Whatever happens at the polls, the country changed – and the fallout of that change is likely to be felt for years to come. 

***

Last week, thousands took to the streets of Valletta in protest against the government, and rightly so. However, voting, not just protest, is essential to defend what defines us. Corruption, weak institutions, and attempts to muzzle the free press, violate our values – irrespective of our political allegiances. For the sake of our future, we need to put an end to this downward trend. Now is the time to stand up and be counted.

Frank Psaila, a lawyer by profession, anchors Iswed fuq l-Abjad on Net TV

frank_psaila
Frank Psaila, a lawyer by profession, anchors Iswed fuq l-Abjad on Net TV. He was formerly...
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