Is the Caruana Galizia public inquiry really working?

The public inquiry seems to be a show of naïveté about what has been happening in the political world in Malta, on the powers of our political leaders, and on the great deception the former prime minister and his chief-of-staff managed to put up inside and out of Castille

It is over and out for the Nationalist party. Attempts to shake the party leadership and get it to realise that a change at the top would give it a fighting chance have failed. Adrian Delia has clearly shown that he has only his personal interest at heart.

When the country clearly needs a strong and vibrant Opposition, we have none. None of the contenders have come forward, unwilling to get out of their comfort zone to take on Delia and face Robert Abela and Labour in the next general elections, with all the risks that entails. They only have themselves to blame.

I interviewed former PN leader Simon Busuttil this week and when I asked him why he thought he had lost the 2017 election, he admitted that it had been “too early” to take on the Labour government. He, of course, also attributed the landslide victory for Muscat to other factors, namely, the power with which it could curry favour with so many pockets of voters. To the victors the spoils, I guess.

But if 2017 was too early to take on Labour, the events that followed after the 16 October 2017 and more recently the 28 November 2019, should have galvanised the Opposition and raised its political relevance. Instead the PN nosedived into more irrelevance and the new PL line-up sky-rocketed (as Godfrey Baldacchino noted in MaltaToday last week, it seems Joseph Muscat has drawn out the poison and took it away with him).

I ask myself how this could have happened. The answers could be various.

For starters, and I think most will agree about this, the Nationalist party’s infighting coupled with the positive economic momentum in Malta, has left the public somewhat desensitised to the big democratic conundrum we face. As the surveys have shown, people want the “stability” that the Labour government has preserved in terms of economic and infrastructural investment; so long as the alternative is a divided PN, voters will not sacrifice the ‘national interest’ for anything the PN espouses.

But I have to add the fact that Labour’s popularity and ability to remain united in the face of all that has happened, also seems to be, partly, a reaction to what is happening in the wake of the Caruana Galizia assassination.

The protests we witnessed in the last three months did not bring the nation together. They definitely caused change, but they also added to the political and tribal divide. It has sharpened the us-and-them divide, even when non-partisan Labour and Nationalist voters would have loved to be part of this outcry. But still, they feel disenfranchised even though they support the protest in spirit as the actions of people of good will.

And yet, the protests have still – indirectly – consolidated the electoral strength of the Labour party, more so because the PN has been officially excluded from this show of force. And, whether one agrees or not, the incessant attacks from MEPs on Malta has hardened a native suspicion here that Brussels has been excessively preoccupied with Malta; that even minute financial institutions like Pilatus Bank seem to be more important to MEPs than Deutsche Bank’s own wrongdoings and peccadilloes. However justified the criticism has been, a good deal of Maltese have been unwilling to be shaken by what they read, hear and see. And certainly enough, the vast majority do not read the English-language press or share the angst of Occupy Justice and Repubblika activists.

So finally, we come to the Caruana Galizia public inquiry, which I am afraid, has only turned out to be a sad show of questions-and-answers concerned with the culture of a blog, rather than into the murder itself.

I, for one, cannot accept that impunity or the political culture that encourages it, was suddenly brought about by a social media circus where one side was pitted against the other. The first salvoes of abuse on the budding blogosphere – pre-Facebook and all that – did not start with those who have been called for questioning before the inquiry. For a very long time, the word on the web was controlled by those who wrote the columns and the news, and readers’ voices lacked a proper platform to hit back. When the unwarranted attacks from blogs started picking out people by shaming their personal lives, they were never questioned by the political class.

The murder of Caruana Galizia was not ‘facilitated’ in the arena of social media. Had that been the case, I for one would be culpable of having been such a critic of Caruana Galizia’s style and writing.

The murder was committed by the criminal minds of ‘oligarchs’ who wanted to silence a person who was effectively close to uncovering a web of corruption.

Instead this public inquiry by its independent judges seems to be a show of naïveté about what has been happening in the political world in Malta, on the powers of our political leaders, and on the great deception the former prime minister and his chief-of-staff managed to put up inside and out of Castille.

I hoped such a public inquiry could bring people to their senses by exposing the toxicity of both sides of the political divide and embracing a spirit of reconciliation. Instead, the opposite seems to be happening. How could the inquiry’s obsession with the Castille ‘incident’ – when journalists were kept locked in while the Cabinet made its exit – overshadow the more salient considerations that led to the fatal and horrendous event that murdered Caruana Galizia?

Why are we not asking questions about the message of fear that was designed to be sent out when Caruana Galizia was assassinated?

In my 32 years of journalism, being locked out, manhandled, thrown out, arrested and abused by government staffers – including former ministerial aides such as Manuel Delia – was part of the experience of being a working journalist. Being killed is not.

I hit back at Caruana Galizia when she lambasted me, or my family and friends, unfairly. That does not make me complicit in what happened. Her murderers were those who believed they were above the law and omnipotent. They believed they could determine who lives or dies. That their money laundering or kickbacks should not be questioned or queried. That they had a divine right to do what they wanted without question.

What we must determine is when and why this happened. But in doing so, we must think of the bigger picture. We need to bring this country and its citizens together, and understand that what happened should never happen again. To bring about this change, we would need to stop imagining that everyone on the other side of the border is to blame. We must stop this hatred, now.