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frank_psaila
Frank Psaila

Democracy dying in broad daylight

Two things are certain... Daphne Caruana Galizia was not killed by mistake and she well-known blogger revealed Malta's deepest and darkest secrets. Did she touch a nerve?

frank_psaila
Frank Psaila
8 November 2017, 7:03am
On Friday, Matthew, Paul and Andrew Caruana Galizia buried their mother. Her killers are still at large, and the reasons behind her murder are, as yet, unknown. 

However, two things are certain: Daphne Caruana Galizia wasn’t killed by mistake – whoever killed her attached a powerful explosive device to her tiny car and, cold-bloodedly, chose the time, place and venue to carry his/their aim. 

Secondly, Daphne revealed Malta’s darkest secrets: the too-close for comfort relationships between politicians and the criminal underworld; corruption and money-laundering at the highest levels; shady dealings by politicians, and a flourishing fuel, drug smuggling, and human trafficking international network. 

"It is unheard of that in a democracy in a European country - even more so in an EU member state in 2017, journalists are executed"
The journalist/blogger must have touched a raw nerve, and that’s putting it mildly, which took away her life at a relatively young age, and left three young men, a husband and her extended family in mourning. Her murder shocked the nation, and got wall-to-wall coverage in the international press. Malta, which is usually a mere footnote, if at all, in the international press, was, and still is, all over the likes of CNN; BBC; The Guardian; The New York Times, and The Financial Times. 

 

She stood for what is right

One could have disagreed, at times vociferously, with her style of writing – but that Daphne Caruana Galizia stood for what is right, is beyond dispute. The usual apologists (see comment board below, if reading this from the online portal) will rip this statement to shreds, for they hated Daphne and all that she stood for. But then, quite honestly, who cares what these apologists think. Crass ignorance, and intolerance, which gave the world Donald Trump in the US, is often their strength. Ignorance and intolerance are on the rise, the world over. No wonder the world, and now Malta, is in a mess. 

 

Meltdown

On the other hand, law-abiding citizens, regardless of their political affiliations, or lack of them, are angry. For it is unheard of that in a democracy, in a European country – even more so in an EU member state, in 2017, journalists are executed. 

It is unheard of that, in a modern democracy, the rule of law is under attack, as are the country’s institutions – notably the Police Force. And it’s been a long time coming. Both are to blame. I blame the current administration for allowing an ‘anything-goes’ culture to flourish, as much as I blame it for weakening the country’s institutions – but previous, Nationalists administrations are to blame, too. For the erosion of the values that make a functioning democracy, does not happen over a four year period – there is, always, a build up to what is now breaking point.

 

Unacceptable behaviour

What is alarming though, is the Prime Minister’s attitude when faced with Caruana Galizia’s execution. He should have known better than travelling to Dubai to sell Maltese citizenship; even more so when his visit, coincided, with a special session of the European Parliament, in Strasbourg, which paid its respects to Daphne, and her family, and debated freedom of speech in Malta. 

Sometimes, I wonder whether the Prime Minister actually knows better. Joseph Muscat is a shrewd political strategist, and has proved himself, twice, by securing landslide victories at the polls – mammoth victories, never seen before in Malta’s post-independence era. However, landslides at the polls do not give you the authority to act irrationally or, worse, in the most insensitive of manners. Neither does it give you the licence to ride roughshod over the basic values of a democracy, for riding roughshod is what his government is doing when refusing to take action, and stop the rot, at the helm of the Police Force. 

 

Lawrence Cutajar

I have nothing against Police Commissioner Lawrence Cutajar who, I’m told, is a good man. He comes across as a timid, and shy character – whose communication skills need a brushing (and that’s putting it mildly – the police crime-conference, three days after Daphne murder, was a textbook example of how not to hold a press conference). But it is, screamingly obvious that Cutajar, willingly, or unwillingly – I suspect the latter, failed, spectacularly at his job. 

Admittedly, under his watch, the drugs seized by the police this year have reached record highs. That is a feather in Cutajar’s hat, and a plus for his team of competent male and female investigators. But, unfortunately for him, that is not a good enough reason to hang on to this job. 

An FIAU report, implicating high government officials in money laundering, and the opening of secret companies in tax havens – to avoid the local taxman, was ignored by Cutajar’s Police Force. That was a good enough reason for the average, law-abiding citizen to lose trust in Cutajar and his willingness to investigate the rich, the powerful and the mighty. And then, a string of car bombs, which, admittedly, did not all happen under his watch – but Cutajar, like his predecessors, failed to arraign one-single individual. 

Car bombs, wherever they happen, create uncertainty and fear, especially in a small country as ours. Malta’s size, and its tightly-knit community, make it easier to get to the bottom of what is, admittedly, a complicated, and dangerous criminal underworld. 

A culture of impunity was allowed to flourish which makes it easier for criminals to wreak havoc and call the shots – as did whoever was behind Daphne Caruana Galizia murder. She was executed in broad daylight and, from the little that is being said in the media, it wasn’t the work of amateurs. It explains, and justifies, why people demand resignations – at the top levels of our country’s institutions. 

 

Peter Grech

Calls have also been made for the resignation of Peter Grech, the Attorney General. Dr Grech is a gentleman and a person of good repute. For years, he served his post unfailingly, and with the utmost integrity. He remains, no matter what, a person of integrity. However, unwillingly – I’m sure, he failed to take the bull by the horns, and take action when faced with incriminating reports – the same reports ignored by the Police Commissioner. If Dr Grech is no longer able to carry out his duties, due to undue pressure from politicians, then the honourable way out is to quit his post, and send whoever is, allegedly, clipping his wings, packing. 

 

Bread and butter issues

Many, and by that I suspect the majority of Maltese citizens, take comfort in the undeniable fact that the economy is doing well. 

For it is a known and accepted fact that many a sector of Malta’s economy is flourishing: the construction industry; the rental market; the financial services sector; the hospitality sector; and the gaming industry are doing remarkably well. That, for many, is a good enough reason to ignore the bread and butter issues that are, currently, at stake: institutions that have the necessary backbone to protect citizens’ rights; a police force free from political interference; security and peace of mind. 

These, and not money – important as it obviously is – are the bread and butter issues of a democracy. It might, and probably will (hopefully never) take time for the economy to feel the negative effects of a dying democracy. But when it does, the repercussions are too horrible to contemplate. For no foreign or local investor would want to put his money, and workforce, in a country where the basic ingredients of a functioning democracy are in jeopardy. Government needs to act, and act fast. 

 

Back in order

Let’s put our house back in order, let’s agree that Malta deserves a strong democracy – as we have always had. Today’s economic success, wouldn’t have happened without a functioning democracy – so why, I pray, do we turn a blind eye when, at risk, are the foundations which made Malta and economic success story?

 

Reasonable proposals

The Network for Civil Society, which got together following Daphne murder, has put forward, reasonable, proposals which government would do well to put in place. For they are not simply calling for the resignation of the Police Commissioner and the Attorney General but they also demand a two-thirds majority in appointing them. I fail to understand why this, sensible, proposal has been ignored by the government. 

 

Democracy at stake

We have a Prime Minister who prides himself in being a ‘phenomenal’ salesman, and he probably is. Although his spin that all-is-well in the state of Malta has failed miserably for people, the sensible ones, at least, realize that the situation is anything but normal. However, the Prime Minister fails or refuses to accept that Malta is not his fiefdom, that money is not the be-all-and-end-all and that it is useless having a ‘surplus’ if the basic ingredients which make Malta a functioning democracy, are killed, silently – or loudly, as Daphne Caruana Galizia was – ripped to shreds, in a car bomb on that fateful afternoon of October 16, 2017.

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