Tear down the wall...

Ultimately, Robert Abela can only restore confidence in the system by coming to grips, once and for all, with all its underlying cracks and fissures… in a nutshell, by ‘tearing down the wall’

For a good long time now, I’ve been wondering why Pink Floyd’s 1979 album ‘The Wall’ – and, even more so, Alan Parker’s 1982 movie of the same name – have left such a deep, indelible mark on that particular generation in Malta (myself included).

A couple of summers ago I attended a tribute concert at Ta’ Qali’s National Park, where the entire album was performed live by an assortment of local bands. An overwhelmingly middle-aged audience packed the venue… and most of it proved capable of singing along to every lyric of every single song.

Right: I won’t delve any further into memories of that evening, as I might get all mushy; but I recall there was a distinct atmosphere of emotional connectivity throughout (especially when it got to the guitar solo of Comfortably Numb…)

Clearly, something about that album/film has resonated with Maltese audiences ever since. I suspect a lot of it has to do with Pink Floyd’s brutal portrayal of the education system: as a factory assembly line, in which faceless students are eventually ground into mincemeat by a giant industrial processor (danced over by a cane-wielding, psychopathic teacher).

To many young teenagers in the 1980s, that image must have seemed entirely appropriate: not just of the schooling system itself – bearing in mind that ours was the last generation to experience corporal punishment (literally) first-hand – but also of… well, how can I put it? The system as a whole. The prospect of a dead-end job in the public service, perhaps. The fear of a police regime that couldn’t be trusted. The atmosphere of oppression that many (though admittedly not all) felt closing in around them at the time…

I could fill entire newspapers with why that image seemed to hold such evocative power back then – oh, and there was another one: Gerald Scarfe’s animation of a giant wall, slowly encircling its hapless pink victim until there was no way out…

But like I said: there is simply too much to be discussed in a single article; and in any case, I was going somewhere with all this (trust me).

The point is that, all these years later, I find myself suddenly (and forcefully) reminded of all those same sensations from the distant 1980s. The feeling began when reading about how 30 traffic policemen were arrested for overtime fraud… and it deepened further, as revelations started emerging from the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder enquiry later that same week.

This part, in particular, caught my attention: “[Marvin] Theuma recalled that the police had found some mobile phones after the arrests near the potato shed.”

He testified that: “Yorgen [Fenech] told me that in one of the mobiles they had only found [Chris] Cardona’s number.”

But “it remains unclear whether this information volunteered by Fenech is corroborated by police evidence.”

Later during the sitting, Theuma reconfirmed “that Fenech was getting information about police progress in the murder investigation from the prime minister’s chief-of-staff Keith Schembri.”

Having read all this so soon after news of more than 30 arrests within the police force, I was struck by a disturbing thought. Could the police be overcompensating for – or possibly even diverting attention from – their lack of action elsewhere, by turning the big ones onto lesser crimes committed by its own?

In an instant, I was reminded of that psychopathic teacher from ‘The Wall’ again; but this time, I recalled another scene from the Alan Parker film… in which the same teacher is seen at home, being brutally henpecked by his domineering wife; only to later take out all his frustration on schoolchildren’s backsides with his cane.

There is more than just ‘oppression’ at work there; embedded in that image there is also a sense of deeply ingrained, systemic injustice… whereby, at all levels, the weak and lowly always bear the brunt of the authorities’ impotence against ‘higher powers’.

And suddenly it clicked: that, too, was part of the mysterious allure of Pink Floyd’s The Wall back in the 1980s… and evidently, still is today. It seems to capture something of the helplessness felt by the under-privileged, unconnected individual, in the face of a system that seems geared up only to protect the strong, while crushing the weak to a pulp…

OK, back to reality. I’ll concede my analogy doesn’t entirely hold in the case of the arrested traffic policemen; for it would imply that they are being unfairly victimised… as though ‘overtime fraud’ were a menial crime not even worth investigating or prosecuting.

Naturally, I don’t mean that at all. All the same, however: it still pales to (almost) insignificance, compared to the numerous possible crimes alluded to by Theuma in his testimony this week… which were not, incidentally, limited only to the references to Chris Cardona and Keith Schembri in the above quote.

Put simply, the allegations include the possible involvement of a former Cabinet minister in Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder; as well as an attempted cover-up of the same crime, allegedly involving the prime minister’s chief-of-staff.

Both these claims have been made numerous times before; now, however, they are repeated in the context of sworn testimony by the prime prosecution witness in the case: who has been granted a Presidential Pardon on condition of telling ‘the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth’… and also to substantiate his claims with evidence.

So… what action has been taken? In the case of Keith Schembri, Inspector Keith Arnaud has already testified that there is an ongoing investigation for obstruction of justice and as a person of interest in the assassination; if so, however, it has been ‘ongoing’ for some time now, with no reported developments.

But to the best of my knowledge, there has been no police investigation specifically into the matter concerning Cardona’s phone-number… though the phones themselves had been retrieved soon after the original arrests were made, back in December 2017.

Mind you, here may be perfectly valid reasons for this. Cardona himself has publicly rebutted the allegation; claiming that so far, we only have Yorgen Fenech’s word for it that his number was found on a mobile phone owned (and later discarded) by one of the murder suspects. And even then, the information is second-hand: Fenech allegedly got it from Schembri.

Separately, Cardona has accused both Fenech and Schembri of trying to frame him for the murder… a possibility that cannot be discounted, either.

Or can it? You see, this is precisely the part I don’t get. At any time it likes, the police can very easily clarify whether Cardona’s number was indeed found on that phone or not… after all, the information has been in their possession for three years.

And yet, while the police’s communications department promptly issued a statement in the case of the traffic police arrests this week… at the time of writing, there has been no official statement from the police to confirm or deny Theuma’s testimony before the enquiry.

As far as I can see, this leaves us with only two realistic scenarios… both with worrying implications of their own.

Either the allegation is false: in which case, the police are perfectly justified in not investigating Chris Cardona… (but then, it would imply that Marvin Theuma’s testimony is not credible, either: with weighty implications for the Presidential Pardon); or else, the allegation is true… in which case, the police would have been sitting on evidence of possible collusion by Cardona for three years, without ever taking action.

Whatever the case, a discernible pattern seems to be emerging. On a variety of levels, the police seem quick to respond – be it by investigating, or releasing statements – in some cases, but not others… inevitably, creating the impression of extreme reluctance to proceed with investigations involving (in this case) people close to the Joseph Muscat administration.

Well, this is precisely the sort of complaint that has been directed at our national institutions and agencies over the past few years: it is, in fact, the crux of the entire ‘impunity’ motif that has underscored our good governance credentials ever since the Panama papers scandal broke out in 2016.

Hence that feeling of déjà-vu, linking the present scenario to memories of yesteryear. That sensation of individual helplessness I mentioned earlier? That image of a giant wall slowly closing in… creating an insuperable barrier between those who are persecuted, and those who are protected by the law?

It is clearly still happening today: despite all the promises that accompanied the change in Prime Minister – and not that much else – on January 12.

To be fair, however, that was only four weeks ago. Robert Abela still has all the time in the world to address these glaring imbalances in the system: and he has the perfect opportunity to get started, too… by ensuring the thorough investigation – including arrests and prosecution, where applicable – of all possible leads exposed by the ongoing inquiry.

Ultimately, however, Abela can only restore confidence in the system by coming to grips, once and for all, with all its underlying cracks and fissures… in a nutshell, by ‘tearing down the wall’.

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