‘This is how our political system works’, he said...

... I mean, what more I can even say? If they still can’t see anything wrong, with any of that... there’s a very good optician down the road from where I live, you know

Foreign Minister Ian Borg
Foreign Minister Ian Borg

Remember that old Xandir Malta ad, back in the 1980s, that went something like: “I’ve tasted thousands of wines. That’s my job, as a wine-taster”?

If so: you’re already one up on me. Truth be told – ironically, given that if I’m even mentioning it in the first place – my own memory of that ad is limited ONLY to the above slogan, and almost nothing else.

So much so, that I can’t even specify which brand of local wine it was even advertising (except that it can’t possibly have been ‘Lachryma Vitis’... for, as I recall: ‘That is [NOT] the wine!’)

Looking back, however, I suddenly realise that what I remember was not so much the original ad, itself: but rather, how it was parodied by the satirical TV show ‘Ahn’Ahna Jew M’Ahniex’, at the time.

The spoof-version featured Kevin Drake, in the role of the anonymous ‘wine-taster’: and after mimicking the above line to perfection, he visibly teetered for a moment... only to add: ‘And believe me [hic!] It’s one hell of a job!’ (before passing out backwards, with a thump.)

Ah, the good old days! You know: when something called ‘satire’ still actually aired, from time to time, on Malta’s national station...

But there’s another reason - apart from unbridled nostalgia –to to bring that slogan up again, now. Truth be told, I’ve always wanted to parody it myself... only my version would go something like:

“I’ve witnessed thousands of corruption scandals, in this country. That’s my job, as an opinion columnist who often focuses on Maltese politics...”

And it would probably continue: “But I’ve sure never seen a corruption scandal quite as blatant, and in-your-face, as the one unfolding before our very eyes, right now; and even less, have I seen (or heard) any Maltese Prime Minister ever reacting to any of those scandals, quite as ASTONISHINGLY as Robert Abela, last Monday.”

Indeed, our Prime Minister’s performance at that press conference so utterly... well, ASTONISHING... that for once, I’m lost for words. [Note: if anyone can do a better job of describing it, go right ahead. The comments section is open.]

Because let’s face it, folks: it’s not all that very often, that you see a Prime Minister confronted with such irrefutable evidence, of a corruption racket taking place on his own watch (and involving one of his most senior Cabinet ministers, to boot)...

... and instead of doing what every other Maltese Prime Minister has ever done, before him – i.e., either ‘deny the allegation’; or ‘deflect the blame’ – he simply throws up his hands, and says:

“Yup! We did it, all right! And you know what? I’m PROUD that we did it, too! Because that’s the way things are SUPPOSED to be done, in a functioning democracy. It’s why we even have such things as Cabinet Ministers at all, remember? To ensure that certain hand-picked individuals, here and there, get to be given ‘preferential treatment’ (in exchange for their continued loyalty and support, naturally); and even to access services and privileges that they are manifestly NOT entitled to... and which could conceivably endanger public health and safety, if granted!”

And OK: he might not have said all that, in exactly the same words. But believe me [hic!]... that is PRECISELY the substance of everything he said, in that ‘astonishing’ press conference.

Nowhere was this more explicit, than in his own words – quoted verbatim, this time – “This is how our political system works. If anyone is saying this should not apply for this country, I DISAGREE!” [my emphasis: and yes, folks, he really said that.]

Now: at a certain level, I almost feel I ought to congratulate Robert Abela... who may yet go down in history, as the single most brutally HONEST Prime Minister, this country has ever had.

At the same time, however... I mean, seriously? Is THAT what our Prime Minister really believes his role (and that of his Ministers) to all along be? Nothing but a glorified ‘customer care department’, to assist certain ‘well-connected’ people to... erm, how can I even put this?... BREAK THE LAW, with glaring impunity?!!

Because if so... in all honesty, he may as well have addressed that press conference wearing a ‘KORROTT U KBURI!’ T-shirt (like I said earlier: it really doesn’t get any more ‘blatant’, and ‘in-your-face’, than that...)

And besides: is it possible that Robert Abela can’t see the glaring contradiction between his own words, and the evidence that is now in the public domain (where we can all see it quite clearly, with our own two eyes)?

One small example, out of many. At one point, Robert Abela gave us a breakdown of how government ministries are (in his own view) ‘supposed to function’.

“Every ministry – starting with OPM, and working downwards through all the secretariats - has a number of officials employed in its Customer Care Department: whose job is precisely to assist people in their everyday needs, irrespective of their political belief or orientation.”

Erm... ye-e-es, Mr Prime Minister. That’s all perfectly true. The only snag, however, is that... it’s not exactly what happened in this particular case, is it? In fact, you could almost say it’s the OPPOSITE of what really happened (according to leaked WhatsApp chats, that – let’s be honest – leave us with very little room for ‘interpretation’).

No, indeed. Those people did not ‘pick up the phone, and call the Transport Ministry’s Customer Care Department, to assist them with their (legitimate) needs’. Quite the contrary: they BY-PASSED that department, altogether – unsurprisingly, considering that what they were asking for was actually ILLEGAL – and instead, phoned (or texted) Transport Minister Ian Borg, to ‘facilitate matters for them’ in person.

But wait, it gets worse. For just like Robert Abela before him, Ian Borg candidly admitted his guilt, when confronted by the evidence: “I hear out people’s complaints, and act on them. Everyone speaks to me, from youths to a priest, commercial companies from Żebbuġ to Nadur - as well as Beppe Fenech Adami. As a minister, I always forwarded these messages to the authority...”

Now: for the purposes of this article, I’ll overlook Borg’s rather feeble attempt – which Abela also had a crack at - to ‘justify his own wrong-doing, by simply pointing towards similar offences by Nationalist politicians’. (Hate to break it to you, Ian, but... it doesn’t actually lessen your own guilt one tiny bit; and you know it.)

Instead, I’ll simply repeat the question I asked earlier about Robert Abela. Is it even possible that Ian Borg himself can’t see how downright ‘incriminating’ his own statement really is?

If so... well, I’m afraid I’m going to have to spell it out to him. Let’s start with the fact that most (if not all) of the WhatsApp messages we have seen so far, deal with requests to either ‘speed up’ the licensing process, in certain specific cases... or to ‘assist’ (nudge-nudge, wink-wink!) certain other people, who had already failed their test on a number of occasions.

Already, then, it is painfully apparent that we are NOT dealing with the sort of ‘legitimate’ requests, that can – or should – be handled ‘through the proper channels’.

The real problem, however, is that Ian Borg himself admits to having ‘always forwarded these messages to the [Transport] authority...” (instead of either to his own ministry’s Customer Care Department – which exists for that very purpose, remember? – or else, directly to the police: to be investigated for possible ‘Trading In Influence’).

And that’s just another way of saying that: ‘Ian Borg has always pressured the relevant authorities, into complying with those people’s (illegitimate) requests’...

... which effectively amounts to a crime, according to Maltese law (Article 121A of the Criminal Code, to be precise: which holds that “Any person who promises, gives or offers, directly or indirectly, any undue advantage to any other person [...] in order to induce such other person to exercise such influence, whether such undue advantage is for such other person or anyone else, shall on conviction be liable to the punishment of imprisonment for a term from three years to six years.”)

At which point: a whole bunch of other questions suddenly swim into view. Such as, for instance: if there is evidence of possible ‘trading in influence’, on the part of Malta’s former Transport (now Tourism) Minister, Ian Borg... why have the arrests and prosecutions so far been limited only to his ‘lesser minions’ (who – as the same messages show quite clearly - were acting on Borg’s own, very explicit, ‘instructions’?)

Much more importantly, however: if both Ian Borg and Robert Abela can so brazenly tell us all, to our faces, that they themselves ‘see nothing even remotely wrong’, with that sort of behaviour among Cabinet ministers...

... without, it seems, even pausing to consider how utterly APPALLING (There! I found a better word, at last!) that message is going to sound, to the ears of all those people who have been unfairly ‘BYPASSED’, in the queue for a driving licence...

... or who may even have lost loved ones (or suffered grievous injury), in traffic accidents caused by motorists who only received their licence, through NAKED FRAUD...

... I mean, what more I can even say? If they still can’t see anything wrong, with any of that... there’s a very good optician down the road from where I live, you know.  (I reckon he’ll fix their ‘eyesight problems’, in no time at all...)