Losing the moral compass

Muscat’s administration has reached a defining moment: whether to go on ignoring the moral compass or make the right ethical choices

Barack Obama once explained that in politics, ‘The biggest challenge, I think, is always maintaining your moral compass’. Losing one’s moral compass is tantamount to losing your sense of what is right and what is wrong, and being in permanent denial about the lack of morality in what you do. 

The last few days have indicated that Joseph Muscat’s administration has reached a defining moment: whether to go on ignoring the moral compass or take a short break to decide that it has to make the right ethical choices rather than keep going on as if nothing has been happening.

In fact, a lot has been happening since Joseph Muscat’s movement made that historical record victory at the polls three years ago. The people are no longer just reflecting with disbelief on the scandals – whether true or perceived – that this government has been saddled with in the short space of three years; they are even asking what is the latest scandal for the week. This is being said in jest, of course; but the truth behind popular humour on politicians and political situations can never be denied.

It is not just one scandal or failing, it is a long list which is being perceived as having no end in sight and which is making a mockery of Muscat’s more recent promise to take the issue of good governance ‘head-on’. 

The accumulation of too many ethical and moral shortcomings in such a short time must necessarily have an effect on the average Maltese citizen; more so on those who were enticed with Muscat’s promise of a new way of doing things.

After demolishing Gonzi’s ivory tower, the people have found another tower in front of them: the tower of Babel. And sure enough they will eventually demolish this new tower as well, with the same enthusiasm with which they demolished the previous one.

The people are not happy with the way things are going. Even well-known loyal supporters of Labour are openly commenting about the situation in which the current administration has found itself. When the situation develops to this stage, it does not bode well for the administration. 

The real wonder is how all this has happened in such a short space of time. Normally it happens when political parties overstay their period in power. Managing to arrive at this point within the short period of three years is incredible.

Muscat is risking throwing away the record majority that propelled him into power. I am sure that future political historians will study what is currently happening in Malta as an example on how to fritter away what, to many, seemed to be an unassailable electoral majority.

Attempting to defend the administration by accusing the previous PN administration of worse sins will not work. The game of ‘the pot calling the kettle black’ is considered to be a very weak defence. The fact that Labour is seen as resorting to this ploy so often is perceived as a big weakness, not as a strength.

Those Labour gurus who think that it is just ‘the economy, stupid’ and that so long as there are no economic problems, the people are happy and satisfied, are all wrong. According to a report featured in a recent edition of ‘The Economist’, Ruut Veenhoven, a professor at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, has reached some intriguing conclusions after decades of analysing data on people’s happiness. 

Eurostat believes that the only parameter consistently correlated with European happiness is relative income. But Veenhoven found many other differences not related to income: differences in age, in ethnicity, in the areas where Europeans live and in whether couples are childless or not. 

‘Those places which are happiest,’ The Economist’s report goes on, ‘appear to have good governance. This may suggest a lesson to politicians: reducing unemployment and boosting wages will undoubtedly increase happiness. But clean pavements are important, too.’

The faster Joseph Muscat cleans his act the better to ensure people’s satisfaction with his economic performance. Leaving the stables dirty – if not allowing them to get even dirtier – will lead to an unhappy dissatisfied people. 

The last time people were unhappy and dissatisfied despite economic progress, they opted for Muscat’s vision promising a different way of doing things based on the promises of transparency, accountability and meritocracy.

They have been hugely disappointed.


Appointing the judiciary

Commenting on the way members of the Judiciary are appointed in Malta, a few weeks ago, I pointed out that: ‘On becoming independent in 1964, all the powers held by the British Governor (for which read the British Colonial Office) were passed on to the Prime Minister. This is why, more than a ‘primus inter pares’, the Prime Minister in Malta has powers that are akin to that of a dictator.’

I had concluded that: ‘it is about time that the Prime Minister’s powers are reined in and his proposals on important appointments are monitored before decisions are taken’.

A new bill published by the Minister for Justice that purports to reform the system has been justly criticised because it is considered as proposing a fake reform.

The Dean of the Faculty of Laws at the University, Professor Kevin Aquilina, wrote a piece in ‘The Times’ last Monday in which he concluded that: ‘The main defect of the Bill lies in its constitutionality’ and that it is also ‘ill-conceived, violates the independence of the judiciary, runs counter to human rights, transforms the judiciary into loyal civil servants at the beck and call of government, is in a constiutional mess and is a travesty of justice’.

The next day, the minister disagreed insisting that the proposal is constitutionaly sound and strengthens the independence of the judiciary.

Enough said, one would say.

I see another big problem: the so-called new system, in fact, leaves the final decision to the Prime Minister, who can ignore the recommendations made as a result of the process outlined in the Bill.

Which means we are back to square one, with the Prime Minister (whoever he is) retaining the disproportionate power that the current system gives him.

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