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The die is cast

Politics need to change in Malta, and yes they can change but not by simply embracing those who have removed their old coat for a newer one

saviour_balzan
Saviour Balzan
1 May 2017, 9:02am
The attitudes and actions of the past will not go away by being covered up under different glitter
The attitudes and actions of the past will not go away by being covered up under different glitter
There is little doubt in my mind that the elections are imminent. Godfrey Farrugia’s resignation from PL whip seals this impending decision. 

The die is cast. 

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has made it known that he will not allow the economy to stagnate because of the political crisis. It is a worthy goal to aim at. There is good reason to believe that next Tuesday the Prime Minister will announce the election date.

It will be a short campaign and it will be an orgy of mudslinging and denunciations. 

Elections in Malta are always like this. This time more particularly so.

The last two weeks have resurrected the sordid sentiment of last year after Panama and the tensions of elections in Malta. Families argue, friends avoid offering an opinion, and businesses slow down.  

It is a far cry from the debate of ideas and political projects that embody an intelligent discussion, that moves people from one political formation to another.

The Muscat administration was elected after the stuffiness, maladministration and f*** ups of the Nationalists’ quarter of a century in power. There were scandals even though there was a plethora of achievements dominated by bad planning, irrational decisions and a structure that favoured nepotism instead of competence.

People wanted a breath of fresh air and they simply put aside the pluses of the tired PN administration.  

On the way to being elected Muscat offered a chance for the middle ground to believe there could be change. Economically, he certainly delivered. The first grouping that needed reassurance was the business community. The second grouping wanted a better commitment to transparency and governance.

The first category do not need to be coerced to admit that they have had a good time under this administration, but the second grouping are justified in feeling furious and let down.

They expected much more. Things could certainly have been done better, though they sometimes have not been as bad as painted.

The turning point was essentially the Panama Papers, and no matter what is said, as all good politicians know, perception matters, and for Mizzi and Schembri it was that they were planning something not aboveboard with their offshore companies. That stuck in the minds of many. Even though there is no proof that it was so. 

Had Schembri and Mizzi done the honourable thing and resigned last year they would have saved some traumatic times for Muscat and his administration, which has seen its impressive achievements overshadowed by much that is sordid. But it was abundantly clear that resignation was not on the cards and Muscat took the decision to defend them because he believed in them, in spite of their disastrous behaviour.

That was a risk that did not pay him dividends.

When the new allegations resurfaced only ten days ago, the memories of Panama and offshore companies and illicit dealings returned to haunt the Prime Minister. The little that had gone away in spite of the drama overtly orchestrated by the Opposition and its overkill, bled anew.

This time there was a massive difference. The blog posts stuck in people’s minds and there was the assumption that the allegations were well-founded. Forget journalism and the proof, the allegations stuck like glue.

As a journalist and probably someone who would not wish to give a microgramme of credence to the blogger of bile, I said what I always have stated. The allegations needed to be supported by facts. And there were no hard facts. And yes I know how devious this person is. So it is not hard for me not to believe her. But that is me. And I would imagine that most people who know me would understand my position.

But this is not the point. The allegations shocked the country, though for long the Opposition had been hinting. The allegations could not be ignored.

In the Egrant story, the allegations depend on the facts presented, and I cannot see the Prime Minister surviving a magisterial inquiry if the facts prove his wife’s involvement. If untrue, the fate of Busuttil is also not a happy one, for he will be badly damaged, but he will get on with his campaigning. Because that is how things work in politics here.

The second allegation was that Brian Tonna made a €100,000 payment to Keith Schembri’s bank account in the Pilatus bank, the fruit of fees earned through the IIP. Schembri defended himself by saying that Tonna was repaying a loan he had made to him in 2012, before Labour won government.

But the narrative is written in such a way that it appears palatable for the sceptics. Schembri is defending himself but the dark clouds that had settled on him in connection with his Panama company returned with a vengeance. They had never really gone away.

This episode showed to what extent banking and financial transactions, together with offshore banking, could lead to speculation and place senior political figures in the proverbial sh**.

No matter how legal and how above-board this transaction may be, the fact remains that politicians and those close to them need to remain at arm’s length from these situations and be fully conscious of the realities.

All this however does not redraw the basic tenet of journalism, to turn it into one that promotes a story by nurturing a perception with a mix of fact and fiction.  

Of course there was the blogger, who retains her notoriety for the very fact that she regurgitated the Panama Papers thanks to the fact that her son was part of the ICIJ that released the files.

This could have been avoided, if the promise of transparency had been fulfilled and if the Prime Minister had enforced zero tolerance on these issues. His refusal to act at once will not help him. His record in the situation is overshadowing his economic successes and brave policies which no government since Independence has matched.

It has been said that this is the most corrupt government. I have seen many corrupt governments and at 54 I have seen more governments and cronies than many others.  

I am not impressed.  

Politics need to change in Malta, and yes they can change but not by simply embracing those who have removed their old coat for a newer one, which simply covers up the same frame and the same frame of mind. The attitudes and actions of the past will not go away by being covered up under different glitter.

Words are never enough, it is action that is needed. And when memories are still very fresh I am the last one to believe the good intentions of politicians.

***

I would like to thank all those who stood up to be counted after logs of telephone calls made on my mobile telephone were published by Caruana Galizia.  

I am particularly touched by one person who pointed out: “Had this happened to someone else, there would have been a call to protest in the name of liberty and freedom in the country. I do not think people realise how serious this is and what a serious situation we all are in.”

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