A ‘coalition against corruption’ should be made of sterner stuff

The PN sends out totally incompatible messages about the tuna industry… fishing for both the environmentalist vote and the tuna industry’s financial support in the same murky waters

This week’s absurdity arose just as the PN held its Independence Day rally on the Fosos in Floriana
This week’s absurdity arose just as the PN held its Independence Day rally on the Fosos in Floriana

It seems that hardly a day goes by without some major political contradiction or other arising out of almost nowhere. Just yesterday, for instance, the Nationalist Party issued a statement ‘welcoming’ the Planning Authority’s decision to revoke four fish farm permits, after the farms in question were found to be in gross, multiple violations of their permit conditions.

Excellent news, I must say, that the PN suddenly considers the law worth enforcing when it comes to the local tuna industry. It wasn’t quite that way when all the same issues – and illegalities – were painstakingly pointed out by this newspaper seven years ago... with the PN firmly entrenched in government, and its tentacles deeply embedded in the tuna slime.

Ah well. Better late than never, I guess. The only trouble is that this change of heart came about barely two weeks after Nationalist leader Simon Busuttil tweeted a considerably different reaction to an earlier, opposite decision by the PA – i.e., NOT to revoke the same licences. 

“Fair enough,” Busuttil tweeted at the time. “The onus is now on industry to prove it can meet proper [environmental] standards. Workers must surely be relieved...”

Hmm. Try and work that one out. So the PN leader thinks the original decision was ‘fair’, and expresses relief on behalf of the workers... yet two weeks later, the party he leads expresses a polar opposite opinion, and forgets all about its leader’s concerns with the fish farm employees’ plight.

I suppose, by that token, that if the PA suddenly changes its mind yet again... let’s face it, stranger things have happened... I suppose the PN would have to once again welcome the decision to spare the fish farms from an enforcement order... even if it corresponds to the antithesis of the decision they welcomed this week, which itself contradicted the last previous PN statement on the same issue. 

Once more I am reminded of Schrodinger’s cat, which was both alive and dead simultaneously (Note: don’t ask me to explain it again... apparently I made a mess of it the last time). Only in this case, we have a political party which simultaneously manages to both agree and disagree with law enforcement and proper environmental standards, without appearing to even notice the anomaly. 

And the truly bizarre thing is that, while it may look, feel and smell like a complete contradiction in terms... it isn’t. It only becomes contradictory when you make the mistake of considering the Nationalist Party to be a single entity with a single purpose. If you take it for what it is, however... i.e., a formless, shapeless mish-mash of conflicting and contrasting opinions and political directions, somehow hammered, chopped and stretched to fit under a single banner... the contradictions iron themselves out in no time at all.

Of course the PN and its leader would send out totally incompatible messages about the tuna industry. They are fishing for both the environmentalist vote and the tuna industry’s financial support in the same murky waters. And OK, I’ll admit that none of this surprises me in the least: if there is one... actually, two things on which both parties have been tremendously consistent over the years, they would be inconsistency itself, and the reasons described above. 

This is why the PN somehow managed to be anti-divorce and pro-divorce for years, until its internal divisions were flushed out into the open by the 2011 referendum campaign. It also explains why the same PN can rail from the rooftops about the sale of Maltese passports, while its own top officials are greedily raking in most of the profits. And why stop there? The same formula could be applied to Labour’s changing relations with the EU... Labour’s laissez-faire attitude towards corruption today, and how it contrasts with its former statements when in Opposition... Labour’s complaints about ‘hate blogs’, when a top Labour official owns and administers one himself... The list is endless. 

What endlessly fascinates me, however, is that both these parties continue to hold great sway over large parts of the population. This week’s absurdity, for instance, arose just as the PN held its Independence Day rally on the Fosos in Floriana. Even here, there are conflicting reports about how many people actually attended – for that’s something else: the two parties seem to use different numerical systems when computing their own mass meeting attendance and that of their rivals. Two pictures of similarly massive crowds will be described as a ‘pataflun’ (‘multitudes’) or ‘erba qtates’ (four... um… cats), depending on whether the flag they’re rallying under is blue or red.

Everywhere you look, in brief, you will find gross contradictions staring you back in the face. Yet those ‘multitudes’ and those same ‘four cats’ will still make their way dutifully to hear their masters’ voices on the Fosos or on Pjazza Gavino Gulia in Bormla – or wherever – when they are ordered to by the party media. They still cheer and chant like a horde of mindless automatons, as their Glorious Leader contradicts himself yet again on a public podium... just as they had cheered when he said the clean opposite at the last mass meeting, and again the time before, etc.

 At which point, I am unsure which is in fact the more laughable of the two: the political party which shamelessly contradicts itself at every turn, or the average voter who – astonishingly – still buys into the blatant deception at every election.  

Either way, the prospects are not exactly encouraging. Let’s stick to the ongoing tuna permit saga for the moment. The entire industry was spawned under the Nationalist administration, and all the original laws and regulations were drawn up by Nationalist legislators. Yet throughout the next 15 or so years, the combined efforts of MEPA, the Environmental Planning Directorate, the Fisheries Department (not to mention the police) somehow failed to notice that these regulations were being breached with impunity. It had to take a direct threat to tourism – which contributes somewhat more to our GDP than tuna – to force the authorities to take action. And it will not pass unnoticed that the government had changed in the meantime... as did the nature and composition of the aforementioned authorities.

Would the PN have done anything about the issue at all, had they still been in power today? Experience (of which, if I say so myself, I have my fair share on this particular issue) strongly suggests they wouldn’t.

It was against this inauspicious backdrop that Simon Busuttil – who had only just publicly rallied behind the tuna industry with that tweet – urged the Maltese people to join a ‘coalition against corruption’ on the Fosos last Tuesday. And I couldn’t help but notice that all the people who were politically responsible for the tuna sector, throughout all those years of gross violations and ignored illegalities, were cheering him on in the background.

From there, it is a small step to also remember that many of the people on the same podium were also cheering at Busuttil’s condemnations of the IIP scheme... when they themselves routinely buy Maltese passports for their own legal firm’s clients, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. And bear in mind that the same PN has vociferously declared its intention to address the ‘transparency and accountability’ deficit it now attributes to the Labour government: at a time when it is: a) refusing to disclose the extent of its own debt; b) borrowing three million euros from people without disclosing the donors’ identity; and c) accepting that money on the promise of a 4% interest return after 10 years... when it has no actual source of income to speak of, and is already technically bankrupt.

That’s some display of commitment to the principles of transparency and accountability, don’t you think? For all we know, the PN’s biggest donor could be a drug trafficker or international arms trader. But it also raises the question of how the PN expects to actually pay back both loans and interest, when it hasn’t even managed to settle a debt with a local billboard supplier. Only one answer presents itself: by winning the next election, naturally. Then – and only then – it will have the entire country’s assets to distribute as it pleases. Paying back those 30 million, plus 4%, will hardly be a problem... then.

And yes, you guessed it. This, too, contradicts something Simon Busuttil said... specifically, when he declared that he wouldn’t strike any ‘pre-election deals’ with anyone. Well, the entire Cedoli scheme is one massive pre-electoral agreement, right there. It is nothing more than a lazy extension of the previous system, whereby undisclosed donors simply bought the complicity of a political party, in cash or in kind, on the promise of future government favours.

Is that how the Nationalist opposition intends to forge a ‘coalition against corruption’? By simply adopting the same old ‘us and them’ double standards... absolving itself of all its own transparency and accountability deficits, while howling endlessly about Labour’s... and above all, by retaining and reinforcing the very culture of political patronage that makes corruption almost unavoidable in the first place?

No, thanks. Call me old-fashioned, but I think anti-corruption coalitions should be made of sterner stuff.

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