Dousing the flames

Muscat’s ‘non-divisive’ ploy worked while Busuttil’s shouting battle cries did not. And yet, the Prime Minister keeps dithering on the fate of Minister Konrad Mizzi and his chief of staff, Keith Schembri. 

The PN's anti-corruption protest outside Castile
The PN's anti-corruption protest outside Castile

The recent appeal made by the President – both in writing and orally – that we cannot allow our democracy to be diluted, is both timely and sensible. The President insisted that we cannot shed our responsibilities for short-term political gains as this will only serve the few and not our nation.

The President recalled that her generation lived through the 1960s and the 1980s with much trepidation. So did I and that is why I cannot help but agreeing fully with her when she wrote: ‘We still recall the suffering that many people went through and the social isolation and prejudices they had to endure for years. Many of us believe, demand and expect that such incidents, resulting from destructive divergences and political short-sightedness, are relegated to history.’

Political controversies erupt from time to time in every democratic country and many times exchanges between political parties are inflammatory. Only last Monday, British Labour MP Dennis Skinner was thrown out of the House of Commons for labelling Prime Minister David Cameron as ‘Dodgy Dave’ over his personal finances. The Speaker asked him twice to withdraw the jibe, made during a House of Commons statement on the Panama Papers revelations but Mr Skinner twice declined, leading the Speaker to ask him to withdraw from the chamber for the rest of the day, on the ground of unparliamentary language.

Such clashes keep on recurring in every democratic country and I am not trying in any way to insist that our MPs should be extra nice to each other.

However, I cannot but note that recently the tone of the political discourse in Malta has become more provocative, verging on the rabble rousing. It seems that the idea that Malta was going to turn a new leaf in the political scene has now evaporated. It seems that we have forgotten the promise of the good effect resulting from the fact that both Joseph Muscat and Simon Busuttil both first experienced parliamentary work and business in the European Parliament before they joined the local fray in our House of Representatives. 

We now seem to be back to square one – to the old ways of doing politics; where party supporters believe that whatever their party does is right and whatever the other party does is wrong. The politics of reason seems to have been just an ephemeral dream.

During the recent Labour Party annual general conference it was Minister Chris Cardona who used inflammatory words, saying that; “if you hit us with the sword we will hit you back with an axe” to the applause of the audience. In contrast, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat pledged that he would never be heard speaking ‘a word which could be described as divisive’. 

On the part of the PN, I feel that the hullabaloo raised in front of the Law Courts the other week when PN supporters went to ‘express their solidarity’ with Jason Azzopardi was nothing but unnecessary. Azzopardi is no martyr for the cause of democracy just because he is facing a legal action of criminal libel. Such talk is utter nonsense and raising this legal action to the altars of martyrdom was a disservice to our democracy.

The level of inflammatory exchanges became so high, at a point, that the Chamber of Commerce reacted to a rumour that the Nationalist Party was considering a general strike. The president of the Chamber of Commerce, Anton Borg, called for a meeting with Busuttil who assured him that he had no intention of calling a national strike. Busuttil was warned by the Chamber that any initiative to organise such a strike action would cause irreparable damage to the economy. 

In other words, at this moment the flames must be doused.

Simon Busuttil’s speech during the mass protest last Sunday was thought by many to be unnecessarily aggressive, but then the people who told me this were following proceedings on television from the comfort of their sofas. As anyone who compares watching football on TV with being present in the stadium knows, the atmosphere and the mood are completely different.

I suspect that Busuttil was advised to appear on the attack at a time when the current Muscat administration is at its weakest ever. This could have been intended to assure those to whom Simon Busuttil came across as a weakling. Yet making him look as if he is seeking a street brawl could have been more damaging than beneficial. Battle cries are a universal form of display behaviour aiming at competitive advantage, more often than not by overstating one’s own aggressive potential to a point where the enemy prefers to avoid confrontation altogether. 

At the end of the day, however, I thought that Muscat’s ‘non-divisive’ ploy worked while Busuttil’s shouting battle cries did not.

And yet, the Prime Minister keeps dithering on the fate of Minister Konrad Mizzi and his chief of staff, Keith Schembri. 

This is also damaging to the economy.

Employment of immigrants

Minister Evarist Bartolo is to be commended for launching a White Paper on the proposed system intended to ensure that employment of refugees is regularised, even when it is on a casual basis.

I have always believed that the exploitation of these people for cheap labour is wrong, not only ethically but also because it gives a short term gain that causes long term pain. Moreover the daily scene at the Marsa roundabout, that has been described as a ‘slave market’, shames Malta.

The idea of opening two offices to run the engagement of immigrants for work will not only remove this blot on our landscape but also ensure that immigrants are adequately paid.

It is very important that Malta utilises the full potential of these immigrants who are usually employed illegally in the lowest paid – but more strenuous – jobs in construction and agriculture.

Together with the news that fines for employers caught employing unregistered workers are set to rise from €58 to €500, the message against illegal employment is loud and clear.

Contrary to popular perception, foreigners working in Malta contribute to our economic success. That is another good reason why employment of immigrants should be above board.

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