The carpenter of coffins

The Nationalist Party seems to seek to win the next election with the help of a talented carpenter making coffins for the people she attacks, unhurriedly hammering nails in the wood and sealing the coffin for its final journey into the earth

The PN seems to seek to win the next election with the help of a talented carpenter making coffins for the people she attacks
The PN seems to seek to win the next election with the help of a talented carpenter making coffins for the people she attacks

There is a narrative that goes like this: The Labour Party does not deserve to be in government. It is the most corrupt government ever in the history of Malta.

That could be true, if we were to take a look at the political state of things in 1987. In 1987 the country needed a drastic change. 

And in 1992, just five years later, I was already feeling that there was need for another change from the Nationalist administration that had followed Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici’s. I not only stood for election with a third party, I campaigned relentlessly to make a difference between the two.

Between 1987 and 1992, shocking things happened, not as shocking as between 1981 and 1987, but still very shocking. So in 1992, it was the Greens for me.

And I can tell you that because we were a threat, we were depicted as a crazy, irresponsible bunch. Even the Church ranted against us, for being in favour of divorce, and, by some unnatural correlation, abortion.

Fast forward to 1996, and Labour was elected with a sizeable majority after ten years in opposition, but with only a one-seat majority. The introduction of VAT and restrictions on hunting, and the EU membership’s imponderables scared the electors and they voted for a man who had as much emotional quotient as my goldfish. 

But more importantly, they voted against the arrogance of the period.

Between 1987 and 1996 there was a fair share of serious corruption scandals, but they did not take the glare of the media, for the media of the time was a feeble one.

In those years I founded the newspaper Alternattiva, even before the party Alternattiva Demokratika came into being. Most of the time, I was writing about Labour’s past – stories about Lorry Sant, Karmenu Vella, Lino Spiteri, Dom Mintoff, Jimmy Magro and, of course, Joe Grima. I was shocked because I felt that they had disenfranchised the Labour Party and social democracy.

In 1996, I gave up politics and watched in disbelief as Alfred Sant put Malta’s EU membership application on ice. I helped start The People and before that, The Malta Independent, and investigated stories about any politician, but most of all, I wrote repetitively about the importance of EU membership.

I covered the impressive and surreal speeches of Dom Mintoff in the summer of 1998, who out of pique metamorphosed into a godsend for the Nationalist party, which went on to give him airtime on its radio. And I watched as the formerly evil and despised Lino Spiteri was also embraced by the PN and then by the Sunday Times of Malta as an opinion writer, and finally as the pig-headedness of Alfred Sant took a strong hold of the Labour Party.

In all this chaos and after the re-election of the PN in 1998, the rape of the Maltese landscape went unnoticed and so did the unethical behaviour of most Nationalist politicians, who cleverly installed their blue-eyed boys and enriched themselves, and the debilitating influence of Richard Cachia Caruana on the media. 

I know because I lived there. But at the time, the EU membership question was far more important than anything else. I campaigned as a leading captain with IVA Malta fl-Ewropa and when I set up MaltaToday I willingly dragged the newspaper into the campaign.

And in 2003 I did the unthinkable and voted Nationalist and, more importantly, I wrote an editorial calling on readers to vote PN and give them their number 1 vote. Because Europe was far more important than anything else.

The election of Lawrence Gonzi heralded a new era for the media in Malta and MaltaToday in particular. It also exposed the malaise of a tired and corrupt administration, one that accepted in its ranks the likes of George Pullicino and Tonio Fenech, and of course Giovanna Debono. But what this translated into was that anyone who dared question the politics of the PN became the enemy. The public broadcaster PBS was headed by people like Natalino Fenech and Lou Bondì and Where’s Everybody. People, it appears, seem to have forgotten what happened then. 

The rest is history.

What happened to me and MaltaToday happened to many individuals who came to feel that they had been disconnected by a malicious administration and an arrogant party that was having it all too easy for itself.

Enter the Labour Party, which ideologically is now somewhat centre-right and which has raised the status of the middle class and uplifted the business community. It rode high, attracting not people like the repentant Ganni l-Pupa, or Joe Grima and Eilenn Montesin; but media sorts of the likes of Bondì, John Bundy, Kevin Drake and even Karl Stagno-Navarra, who had had such high profiles within the PN. It left many gobsmacked. Former Nationalist MPs were roped in and crowned with posts, including Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando and Franco Debono. 

But more importantly, Labour attracted big business, a class that had traditionally been on the side of the seductive PN.

As the economic tiger was unleashed, not without some turmoil in planning and the environment, there was no end to the feel-good factor but it came at a heavy price, underscored by serious issues of bad governance and corruption allegations.

The angry PN deputy leader Beppe Fenech Adami recurrently states that he believes that this is most corrupt government Malta has ever experienced. He says that he loves to be in politics, because he gets a kick out of it, even though he has had a close shave with cancer. I would act differently, had I no loans to pay and a million euros in my bank account.

But then Fenech Adami has a role to play. He is the son of his gifted father, and the fruit does not fall far from the tree. His role is to galvanise the Opposition into taking the looks of an alternative to the present government. If only there were not so many old faces to stare at.

As I see things, I do not see much of a difference between the two parties. They both are involved with big business, and both use the same tactics, but I can see that one is more malicious than the other, less liberal, more retrograde, while the other is less tribal.

Which brings me to the latest episode.

In a very clear attempt, timed and discussed within the PN party structures to overshadow the EU summit, allegations were made against Minister Chris Cardona by the detestable blogger, which were promoted by the Opposition to steal the show.

The audience and the internet traffic zoned in on the sex allegations, leaving the ratings on the EU summit way behind. Perhaps it all says something about what the PN is thinking of its chances at the hustings.

The PN TV station’s head of news Fabian Demicoli started off by accusing TVM’s Xtra, hosted by myself, of conducting a damage-limitation exercise for Chris Cardona. I have heard the same accusation before, from both the Labour Party and the PN. And Demicoli would say this even though he knows he presides over a station that offers news in one brand of colour, just like Labour’s One News does.

Then the proof that Cardona and Joe Gerada did what they said they did not do, was finally presented – in the shape of young journalist Mario Frendo, who visits the brothel in Germany and, secretively shoots a recording of two prostitutes being asked whether they have seen the pictures of Chris Cardona and Joe Gerada. They mumble and then say maybe, I think yes, and then yes.

The two unknown women are taken as the final proof that symbolises the ‘excellent’ piece of investigative journalism.

What I ask myself is why Net TV needed to get hold of some so called proof from unreliable witnesses (how many men do these ladies of night go through every day?) when the blogger who first made the accusations said she had the proof?

Chris Cardona has said that he will present eight defamation cases, but in my view he should have presented a precise timeline of his two-day visit to Germany. It needed to be done immediately he wanted to convince doubters that he was saying the truth 100 per cent.

I say this because it would not have been an issue if it had been restricted to the columns and hysterics of a blog. But as all we all know, Simon Busuttil and Beppe Fenech Adami made it their issue by espousing it, stupidly enough inside the House of Representatives, with the Opposition leader making the blogger’s agenda his own.

As the Malta summit came and went, there was little doubt in many people’s minds that the Nationalist Party was feeling left out. So once again the master of ceremonies was dispatched to disrupt the event.

Many people are trying to understand why the PN they love needs to use such an unhinged and cruel muckraker to win what should be battle of ideas. They seem to seek to win the next election with the help of a talented carpenter making coffins for the people she attacks, unhurriedly hammering nails in the wood and sealing the coffin for its final journey into the earth.