Signor Mastro Lindo

Gaffarena was not created by any political party, but evolved as a direct result of the way the political parties do politics

“I’m not involved in the party structure, but what I can say is that there used to be a degree of honour in the Nationalist Party. There used to be some people, such as [former secretary general] Joe Saliba who were worth speaking to. Unfortunately, that’s all evaporated under the current leadership.”

These were the words of former parliamentary secretary Michael Falzon yesterday when talking to Andrew Azzopardi on Radju Malta. I can see his thinking – the PN had bayed mercilessly for his blood, he had to take a dig at the PN.

I, for one, cannot share his enthusiasm for this so called ‘honour’ that was, especially when it comes to the likes of Joe Saliba, the former secretary general who led the PN to two electoral victories and one big fiscal black hole. 

Falzon resigned on Wednesday after the long awaited publication of the National Audit Office report on Gaffarena. In spite of the alleged ‘slant’ in the NAO report, Falzon accepted that there was an element of political responsibility. He could hardly do anything else.

But he was not taking decapitation lightly.

If Michael Falzon applied the Nationalist Party’s yardstick on political responsibility, it would mean that he would have never resigned.

He did a PN thing however, he hit out at the NAO, just in the same way the PN attacked the NAO when the NAO came out with the report on the power station.

Under Eddie Fenech Adami and Lawrence Gonzi, the name of the game was very simply look the other way, and defend the indefensible. And, perhaps, refer to “perceptions”.

Of course, Simon Busuttil, to his credit in opposition, can ‘boast’ of having had two resignations. But everyone knows that if he does end up in government, it will be a totally different matter.

When former PN minister Louis Galea, today auditor in the European Court of Auditors, and a very good friend of Busuttil – was faced with damning imputations linked to the scandalous Auxiliary Workers Training Scheme report by the permanent commission against corruption and, years later, the magisterial inquiry into the Foundation for Tomorrow’s Schools, Galea stood his ground and neither Fenech Adami nor Lawrence Gonzi dared suggest he leave or resign.

Galea, described by many as the ideologue of the PN, was not exactly Mr Clean (the Italians dub the detergent ‘Mastro Lindo’).

When so many other ministers were faced with irreconcilable evidence that they were placing themselves in politically sensitive situations, nothing happened. On the contrary, those who dared raise a query, such as MaltaToday, were painted as pawns in the hands of dirty Labour.

Of course, foremost in painting this perception was former PBS host Lou Bondì, then the darling of many in the PN grass roots, but now firmly in the cosy arms of Joseph Muscat. 

We also recall how former fisheries minister George Pullicino waited in vain in Sicily to jump onto a yacht chartered by a well-known fish farming magnate. And we had former finance minister Tonio Fenech jetting privately with big business to watch a soccer match. And of course we had Joe Saliba – Michael Falzon’s hero – and his intimacy with business magnate Zaren Vassallo when the two went on holiday together, not to mention former secretary general Paul Borg Olivier who was also granted the same courtesy by Vassallo.

Then of course there was the case of Notary Tony Abela, who at one point had a business relationship with a man who was later charged with drug trafficking, which led Lawrence Gonzi to do… you guessed it, NOTHING. At the time he did not even answer questions put to him by the ‘independent’ media.

I could go on.

You see, to someone from my position and age, it is very much history repeating itself. And it will take more than a few Steve Jobs-like charades to convince me that things will change.

If there is one description that will not stick with any politician, it is the label virginal.

Which of course brings me to Gaffarena, the personification of what is so wrong in business and politics.  The Gaffarenas are described by one side today as if they were invented purposely by this administration and that before then, they were nowhere to be found – like all good revisionists, the Gaffarenas’ love story with so many big PN bigwigs has been erased from collective memory. The PN’s collective memory, that is.

But any reference to the past is considered an attempt to distort the importance of today’s doings.

We have been here before. Gaffarena was not created specifically by any political party, but evolved as a direct result of the way the political parties do politics. They advertised in no uncertain terms that they welcomed people of the Gaffarena type.  And the very cunning Gaffarena took advantage of the situation, and walked happily into the willing warm embrace of the politicians. There was never any shooing him, and those others of his ilk, away.

At the time, by the way, the Nationalist party was in the ascendant. A long list of party candidates and MPs and ministers opened up to the Gaffarenas as if these were some great benefactors. Which they were, of course – to the PN, not the country.

And of course the Gaffarenas expected something in return.

Then, when the PN fell from grace, the Gaffarenas moved to the other side. And before I leave the PN, it should be said that the Gaffarenas were not the only ones to go to bed with the political parties. All businessmen do it.  

The Gaffarenas may not be the most graceful of businessmen but they do business like most others. Let us not for a moment think that other businessmen do not sleep with the political parties.

There are no qualms, on either side, about doing it, and I can understand it. But I cannot accept it!

Gaffarena is not the only hungry jackal who got land for a pittance, though land is so scarce in Malta. Many of our hoteliers have been graced with the generosity of our governments. And they always give the impression that they are underdogs with hardly any cream on the cake.

Shall I go on?

Businessmen are interested in business, not politics, and most of the time the end justifies the means. That is how to make money.

But the Gaffarenas are also an extreme case, they formed companies with key people like Joe Saliba the honourable guy from the PN, former PL parliamentary secretary Louis Buhagiar, and even former police commissioner Ray Zammit. This is what we know.

We also know that Gaffarena purchased a car for Joe Cassar, the former Health Minister; and the news that Gaffarena financed house works for Cassar led to his downfall and eventual resignation from parliament. Ironically the exit of Cassar, led to Tony Abela rejoining the politicos in parliament. The naïve Cassar was replaced by the not-good-for-politics Tony Abela.

The bleak truth is that politicians cannot preach about standards, unless it is the standards of those who have none. Facts, on the other hand, speak volumes.

The Prime Minister has a tall order. Today he will address party faithful in the Orpheum theatre in Gzira. This is Michael Falzon territory and Manuel Mallia’s hinterland. There is every indication that Falzon will be there in the front row, perhaps Mallia too.

If Muscat opts to address only the Labour crowd today, and forgets the wider electorate, he will be misjudging seriously. Falzon’s resignation has been for weeks a fait accompli. There was no escaping it. 

In many people’s views, it should have happened earlier. Muscat was wrong in not asking Falzon to resign, just in the same way he asked Anglu Farrugia before March 2013 and Manuel Mallia after the Sheehan shooting incident.

He was wrong in not imposing a code of ethics on his ministers. He is wrong in not asking the people around him if they have skeletons in their cupboards. He will be wrong if he thinks that next time round, allegations of political irresponsibility or impropriety can wait for the conclusions of a report.  I would say ***k the reports and get on with political responsibility.

If I were he, I would look at every cabinet minister and tell them to realise that they have responsibilities and cannot put his government in disrepute. He is now on the defensive and he needs to gain the electorate’s backing if he wants everyone to believe that he is back on track. 

The numbers are on his side, but he needs to take care of the frills.