Looking back

If this has been a crazy year it will be worse next year

The Opposition did rock the apparent impregnability of Joseph Muscat
The Opposition did rock the apparent impregnability of Joseph Muscat

Looking back is never easy but it has been a hectic year for journalism. The last thing that hit the newsroom before going off to print this MaltaToday edition was the hijack of a Libyan plane. It could not get worse when we were thinking of having an early break leading to Christmas day.

This week, we had the usual scene of the pots calling the kettles black. Everyone is calling each other names and the temperature is getting higher and hotter. PN deputy leader Beppe Fenech Adami in particular lost his cool when he reacted to accusations of bad governance by shouting hysterically that this was the most corrupt government ever.

He was reacting to criticism of Jason Azzopardi’s bad governance decision in connection with the land that was passed on to PN donor Zaren Vassallo for a pittance in 2012. And Azzopardi likes to portray himself as some holier than thou Church stalwart.

The day before Fenech Adami issued a statement after being called in by the inquiry on the MaltaToday story about Capital One and claims of money laundering, making it a point to remind everyone that he was the father of three and had been fighting a very serious illness. That, of course was beside the point. The fact that he was a director of a fiduciary company burdens him with legal responsibility, it does not exculpate him. 

When Muscat’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri, and PN deputy leader Mario de Marco had their fair share of health scares they had to face the music from political quarters. More than that, they had to live with spurious inventions about their health from the inimitable queen of bile. But then we have the two weights and two measures syndrome, and every time people seem to be getting closer to embracing the Nationalists they are turned off by the self-conceit and hypocrisy of what politicians say and do.

Another disappointment and shock was the scandal at the Foundation for Tomorrow’s Schools. Evarist Bartolo was always the first to take a stand on corruption and had a lot to answer for. His tirade against Konrad Mizzi and his offshore shenanigans came back to haunt him.

His decision to appoint Edward Caruana (a former driver) as a person of trust to organise procurement at the cash-rich FTS, while at the same time Caruana’s brother was serving as permanent secretary at the education ministry, was a cesspit overflow waiting to happen.

This year was also dominated by the uproar on the Panama papers and the fact that the two protagonists basically continued to perform in their respective posts as if nothing had happened. There is no doubt that in normal circumstances they would have resigned, or been made to. They did not because it is very clear that Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri are far too useful and competent and essential for Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. That political gamble led the opposition to bolster its hard-core support and rock Muscat’s apparent impregnability. In spite of all this, Muscat still rides high in the polls. There were many other issues that dominated 2016, but Panama was far reaching because it allowed people to believe that corruption was not a perception but a reality. 

Although there was no hard evidence the fact that the companies had been opened by two senior members of Muscat’s inner circle did not help and made those two members look incredibly reckless, naïve and lacking political nous.

The Nationalist party launched a campaign on the threat they claim to see in Marsaxlokk by the LNG tanker. But the PN did not really excite public opinion, or convince many about their sincerity, considering that the PN in government had never uttered a word about the very dangerous gas tanking facilities next to Birzebbugia in the previous 25 years of their government. Even Alan Deidun, a former Nationalist diehard and European parliament election candidate, waved his green card for the project as the NGO representative at MEPA.

I guess too many people could not understand what the fuss was about. Some people seem also to have lost their voice, and self-respect. Joanna Spiteri Staines, representing Din l-Art Helwa at the hearing on the power station this week, decided to publicly give up her time to Anne Fenech for the PN.  

But then this is the year of the unpredictable, including my last attempt to consider Din l-Art Helwa an objective environmental broker. More so when one considers the positive environmental benefits of a gas fired power station, whose commissioning will help do away with the heavy fuel oil power station that was itself originally meant to be gas fired.  

The Panama happenings left many with a sour taste, but it was the decision to remove Salvu Mallia from the TVM schedule that really catapulted Mallia into the grasp of the Nationalist party, which welcomed him with open arms. His hippie-like looks and occasional foul language did nothing to deter the PN’s senior echelons from accepting him as a candidate.

Whether he will succeed or not is another matter. The fact that he frequently uses the F word in his posts will not get him the support of the traditional PN voter, but nothing is impossible, with the party leader apparently  cringing from backing him. 

The high-rise debacle kicked off in the middle of August. It was launched when most of the political class was having a break but this did not mean that civil society did not try to put up a fight.

If it failed with the high-rise in Mriehel and Sliema, it was not for want of trying, but then it gained momentum in Paceville with the botched up masterplan, which led to an outcry.

The Archbishop continued to uplift the Nationalists – he seems to be a useful but perhaps unintended forċina – and to rouse the ire of Labourites with his direct and obviously biased commentary. And the war on the blogs entered a new dimension with an unrelenting crossfire that had no limits or boundaries.

The abuse of fish farm owners finally made the news, after years of official neglect that saw administrations doing nothing to stop the mess. The situation finally boiled over when the farms’ slimy effluent reached the shores around the country and drove bathers away from the sea in the height of a hot summer.

But as we remained fixated on our problems the worst consequences were being brewed abroad with the presidential election in the United States and the rise of Donald Trump, the human tragedy in Syria, and the coming exit of the UK from the EU after the Brexit referendum, and of course the carnage in Nice and now Berlin.

Malta takes over the presidency of the EU next month, with everyone wondering whether the Europe as we know it today will still be in existence in a not distant future.

If this has been a crazy year it will be worse next year with the temperature rising dramatically as the last months of the Muscat government come into focus. The record and positive economic results have done much to shield Muscat from being burdened by seeing a heavy outflow of angry political switchers – the uplifting financial results have served as a lease of life for an embattled PM.

Economic growth has left its toll on our landscape and environment, making Malta more Dubaified and ugly. No arguments seem able to stop the bad planning. We have no Piano to champion our country.

But next year’s political battle will also leave its mark. Expect the worst, the lies, the bad vibes, the accusations, the deceit, the fake news, the wrong feeling, the bad and the worst and the race for Castille. It will be ruthless, both leaders will fight tenaciously, one to dislodge the other from the seat of power, the other to outwit his rival. We will be there to report it, to analyse it and to get caught in the crossfire that will leave us temporarily numb but not maimed.

Stay with us, it still promises to be captivating and gory, in a metaphorical sense. We not only report the news at MaltaToday, we love to be agenda setters.

A Happy Christmas to all.