Who is ‘the State’?

In his evidence in front of the inquiry, former PM Joseph Muscat tried to play on this agglomeration of responsibilities. He is, after all, the person who carries most of the responsibility for the mess

‘L’etat c’est moi’ (I am the State) is an apocryphal statement that the French King, Louis XIV, allegedly made on April 13, 1655 before the parliamentarians in Paris. It is supposed to recall the primacy of royal authority in a context of mistrust with a Parliament that challenged royal edicts. Today, this phrase symbolizes monarchical absolutism.

Nevertheless, many historians dispute that this sentence, which does not appear in the registers of parliament, was actually pronounced by Louis XIV, especially since on his deathbed, Louis XIV uttered a quite contradictory sentence: “I die, but the State will always remain”.

Monarchical absolutism is long past its best before date, and today the notion of ‘the state’ is quite different from the alleged utterance of Louis XIV.

Today we consider ‘the state’ as the political organization of society, or the body politic, or, more narrowly, the institutions of government. The state is defined as a form of human association distinguished from other social groups by its purpose, the establishment of order and security; its methods, the laws and their enforcement; its territory, the area of jurisdiction or geographic boundaries; and finally by its sovereignty. The state consists, most broadly, of the agreement of the individuals on the means whereby disputes are settled by the application of laws.

The public inquiry into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia found the State at fault in that it allowed the development of a situation where impunity became the norm – at least for some. In this sense, ‘the state’ can only mean the government of the day. It hardly includes the Opposition or – as some are alleging – the President of the Republic who is mostly a ceremonial figure as per our Constitution.

In his evidence in front of the inquiry, former PM Joseph Muscat tried to play on this agglomeration of responsibilities. He is, after all, the person who carries most of the responsibility for the mess. Now he has conveniently resigned from the House of Representatives and expects the respect that every private citizen of Malta should have. The ministers directly involved in the imbroglio are no longer members of the Cabinet, and Keith Schembri, the former chief of staff to the former prime minister Joseph Muscat, today is also a private citizen.

This does not mean that they are no longer responsible for their past actions and that no legal action should be taken against them for their misdeeds. But today they are political non-entities.

There remains the ‘collective responsibility’ of those who were ministers at the time and are still ministers today. Technically, they should resign.

Of course, the best way for the government to clean the stables is for the current administration to resign and ask the President to call for another election as soon as possible. This may not be convenient for the PN at this time, but it cannot keep harping on for the resignation of so many members of Cabinet, and even the president, without realising that an election is the real solution out of this impasse – a solution that seems hardly convenient for the Opposition at the moment.

Inconvenient though it may be, the Opposition’s duty is to ask for the government’s resignation and the calling of an election as soon as possible.

In the current circumstances, it is bizarre for the Opposition to call for an election that it will most probably – if not certainly – lose. But from a procedural standpoint, that is the only way that the impasse can be resolved and the state’s sins can be absolved.

Instead of asking for what should have been the real consequence of such a damning inquiry report, the PN is playing hide and seek.

Taking legal action against those who stand accused – albeit not in a Court of law – of breaking the law is a sine qua non and this should proceed unhindered in a state where the rule of law is – or should be – supreme.

But closing the chapter of those personally liable for breaking the law does not close the chapter as to what the State’s political liability is.

Only an election can do that.

Electricity once again

A lot of the political debate before the election of Joseph Muscat’s Labour movement in 2013, centred on the promise that our perennial problem with the provision of electricity will be solved by the ingenuity of Konrad Mizzi’s plans.

The PN’s reaction to Labour’s proposals was a veritable mess and continued to foster the idea that Labour knew what it was talking about. Incredibly false stories of non-existent tankers and the impossibility of Labour’s plans were not convincing, simply because they were untrue.

What happened afterwards was marred by the greed of the invisible hand that forced Electrogas to buy gas from Azerbaijan’s Socar at a prohibitive price, rather than buying it from a country that produces gas. Socar is a big state-owned enterprise but does not have gas reserves. It just buys it from where Electrogas should be buying it in the first place. The losers were Electrogas themselves and the consumers, while the winners were the Azerbajanis and their friends.

As fate would have it, we are now facing an electricity supply emergency once again. The problems in the distribution network are still with us. Enemalta is not making any profits and is facing hefty losses. Elecrogas is not making any profits. The Chinese who bought the BWSC plant set up by the PN administration and converted it to gas are probably making a small decent profit.

The consumer is getting impatient with power cuts, even though they are probably less frequent than they used to be in other times. The heat waves this summer continued to shorten the people’s fuses.

Technically Enemalta should raise the electricity rates if it were to survive. The new EU carbon ‘tax’ will make it worse. No one in the current administration has the courage to do what the mathematics say and raise the consumers’ electricity rates. This has happened and is still happening in most European countries.

It seems that Labour has been foisted by its own petard.

I don’t know whether it is some sort of karma but the supply, distribution and cost of electricity to the consumer will be a hot electoral argument once again.

What goes up must go down.