Simon Busuttil and the Wailers

The PN must be the only political party in the world to reach its peak of hysterical belligerence, just at the time of year when most normal people couldn’t care less about politics

The PN’s wails sound a little all over the place
The PN’s wails sound a little all over the place

Does Simon Busuttil have a calendar in his office, I wonder? Does he realise that it is now August: a month so stiflingly hot and bothersome, that even lizards have to crawl into their holes to retreat from the midday sun?

I guess not. Certainly the summer heat has not had its customary effect on the Nationalist Party since he took over as leader. Quite the opposite: the PN must be the only political party in the world to reach its peak of hysterical belligerence, just at the time of year when most normal people couldn’t care less about politics if their lives (or livelihoods) depended on it. There is, after all, a reason why it’s called the ‘silly season’. You have to be silly not to enjoy it while it lasts…

And herein lies the problem. It’s getting hard to concentrate on the truly important things in life – like, what sun protection factor should I use? What book should I take for that weekend break to Gozo? Etc, etc – with all this infernal racket going on. It’s like trying to take a siesta with the neighbour’s Chihuahua yapping away in the background…

Actually… no. Even my neighbour’s Chihuahua has the good sense to keep its trap shut in August. As I see it, the only example of Maltese fauna that is at its most active in the dead heat of midsummer is the cicada (Cicada orni). Unless you count the guy selling granita, the cicada is about the only living thing you will actually hear right now. And what does it do? Why, it wails and wails and wails and wails, from morning to night. Hence its far more appropriate name in Maltese: ‘il-werzieq’ (the wailer). 

I think it would make a good emblem for the Nationalist Party at the moment: though it would perhaps be unfair on the poor cicada, which – unlike any political party – has good reason to wail at this time of year. That is how this creature stakes its territory; that is how it attracts its mates. Cicadas wailing in the heat are therefore a bit like Italian tourists playing loud music on the beach. It’s their way of saying: “I’m here; I’m enjoying my summer; and I don’t give a shit about anyone in the radius of 15 miles...”

And there is consistency in their wailing, too. It always starts low, suddenly elevates an octave or two, only to fade out and eventually start again. The PN’s wails, on the other hand, sound a little all over the place to my ears. OK, let’s take a closer look at a few of the recent bugbears, shall we?

In the last 24 hours alone, the PN has wailed and howled about: the appointment of the new Police Commissioner; the arrival of the gas tanker at Marsaxlokk; the appointment of a ‘politically-appointed’ magistrate to hear a specific case; and, of course, the fact that a couple of slices of bacon were placed between the pages of the Koran at Mater Dei Hospital. (There were probably other examples, but those will do for now.)

Let’s start with the appointments issue. Beppe Fenech Adami has taken issue with the new police Commissioner: whose appointment, we were told, is ‘a bad choice, because instead of seeking the national interest, he [Joseph Muscat] has chosen his own…”

Strangely, however, the PN’s deputy leader did not specify exactly why the choice was so poor. There were no examples of misconduct cited; no actual reason to object to Mr Laurence Cutajar… other than the fact that he was appointed under a Labour administration. 

Sorry, but that’s just not good enough. If you’re going to undermine a strategically crucial national institution, and deliberately weaken the executive arm of the State… you’re going to have come up with arguments to support your case. Not even ‘better arguments’ (as the expression would normally go). At this point, ‘any old argument’ would do… because ‘any old argument’ is always going to be better than ‘no argument at all’. 

Yet ‘no argument at all’ was the only thing the PN could actually come up with to justify its opposition to this Commissioner. We are all expected to simply take it on trust. He is a bad Police Commissioner, because Beppe Fenech Adami said so. Nothing more, nothing less.

But that’s a small matter. The real issue is that the appointment procedure was no different from the procedure used by all successive Nationalist administrations. Joseph Muscat simply picked and chose the man, in the same way as Beppe’s father had simply picked and chose George Grech and John Rizzo (to name but two) in his own day. Is this problematic? Yes, of course it is. The Police Force is supposed to be independent of government… so how can its Commissioner be a government appointee?

But it didn’t suddenly become problematic only now, and not just because there’s a Labour government. It has always been problematic… it’s just that the PN never saw anything to wail about, when it was its own government doing all the appointing.

The same goes for the magistrate issue. In fact, I won’t even waste another sentence on this one: just re-read the above paragraphs, and replace ‘police’ with ‘the judiciary’. ’Nuff said.

This leaves us with the gas tanker and the slice of bacon. The former was described by a PN press release this morning as ‘Labour’s gift to the people of Birzebbuga’; the latter prompted the observation that the removal of law against the ‘vilification of religion’ was a ‘threat to national security’, and – according to Jason Azzopardi – Labour’s ‘most dangerous decision yet’.

Well, let’s see now: the gas tanker was actually part of an electoral promise (very late in the delivery, but that’s another story) and as such – regardless of the PN’s opinion – it was blest and approved by a sizeable majority at the last election. If it is a ‘gift’, then it is one that was willingly accepted by ‘the people of the Birzebbuga’ (who overwhelmingly voted Labour in March 2013). So what does all this wailing actually tell us, if not: ‘we were all along right, and you [the electorate] were wrong’? 

Even so, however: what would the PN’s ‘gift to the people of Birzebbugia’ be if they win the next election? This one’s easy: the expansion of the Freeport. Simon Busuttil recently criticised Labour for refusing to consider that option… when the option had been discarded on two specific grounds: one, expanding the Freeport would drastically increase the congestion, air/noise pollution and over-development in the area, resulting in a nosedive in residents’ quality of life, and; two… it is not actually possible to expand the Freeport without encroaching onto ODZ land.

And there you have it: the party that is now wailing about Labour’s refusal to yield more ODZ land to development, was last heard wailing about a diametrically opposite decision to sacrifice virgin, unspoilt ODZ land for a development project in the South of Malta. And it was quite specific in its wailing, too. ‘ODZ is ODZ’… unless, of course, there is a Labour decision to wail about. In which case, the PN suddenly favours more ODZ development, and loudly criticises Labour for actually taking an environmentally sensible decision for arguably the first time in its entire term.

All that remains is the slice of bacon. Personally, I can’t think why this story was even run in the first place. It was a childish act of inflammatory vandalism – probably carried out by schoolchildren – and clearly motivated by nothing more newsworthy than the thrill of attention. Nobody hurt, nothing damaged beyond repair… (except perhaps the bacon, which was left unrefrigerated in the summer heat, and is now probably writhing with maggots and E-coli)… so why draw attention to it at all? Why turn such a quintessential ‘non-issue’ into a ‘cause celebre’… unless the intention is to actively encourage the sort of retaliatory act that would, in fact, constitute a danger?

This raises the question of who is actually posing ‘a threat to national security’ right now. The people who (rightly) ignored the event altogether; or the ones who are doing their damnedest to keep the story alive for as long as possible?

And that’s before turning to the arguments. Simon Busuttil seems to see a connection between the removal of the aforementioned law, and this mindless act of racist vandalism. By that token, I suppose the vandals had all along planned to place those bacon slices there… but never actually did for fear of the legal repercussions (i.e, a small fine, and a slap on the wrist by a magistrate).

Hmm. Yup, that is totally plausible. Especially when you consider that the removed law couldn’t even have been invoked in this particular case; nor is it even needed, when there are other articles in the Criminal Code specifically dealing with hate crimes based on religion (among other factors).

Again, however, what makes this outburst extraordinary is that the PN seems to be (for the umpteenth time) in stern opposition to itself. As with public appointments, the Nationalist opposition criticises decisions which are identical to the ones they themselves took when in power. Only in this case, it is not ‘identical’. It is, in fact, the same decision.  

Busuttil and Azzopardi both seem to have forgotten that they themselves approved this ‘threat to security’ in Parliament. The bill was debated in the House, and it was passed unanimously, with no division called. So why did the Opposition not try and stop this grave ‘threat to national security’, this ‘most dangerous decision of all’, when it had the chance? 

The answer should be evident by now. To give itself something to wail about, of course. Why else?

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