Money as a measure of success? Only ‘now’. And only ‘here’...

The rest of the EU is driven by ‘higher values’. It is only here in rotten, corrupt little Malta... and only now, under the present rotten administration... that people eschew such values in their amoral drive for profit as an end in itself

There’s been a stunning turnaround on this country’s economic front in recent weeks. And I don’t mean that the economy itself seems to be doing rather well at the moment: that our GDP growth figures are high, unemployment low, and so on. Without detracting from that kind of success, it is not in itself all that unusual. Economies do perform well under certain circumstances, you know.

As I recall, the Maltese economy did rather well in the early 1990s, too. The conditions were not identical: but a broad comparison can still be made. Back then Malta was opening up its markets after decades of protectionism. Today, after years of economic crises, Malta is finally reaping the benefits of being part of a much bigger market, etc.

Admittedly, it is also the sort of cycle that you can only really appreciate through hindsight. For let’s face it: if we could all accurately predict the next roll of the die... well, what’s our excuse for not all being fabulously rich, eh?

So no, it was a different kind of turnaround I had in mind: one that concerns our perception of the economy and its value. Consider, for instance, this excerpt from a recent press statement by the Church’s Social Justice Commission... under the headline, ‘Malta now using economic gain as a measure of success’.

Actually, let’s pause to admire that headline for a second. To me, there is one word in it that simply flies off the page: a word whose presence there is so utterly incongruous, that you really have to ask yourself where this Church Commission has actually been hibernating all these decades (if not centuries).

‘Now’. We are ‘NOW’ using economic gain as a measure of success. We are NOW “striving incessantly, and often at all cost, to generate wealth”. We are NOW “unashamedly favouring the rich because of the real or perceived benefits that wealth brings our economy...”

Excuse me, but... what were we all doing before, exactly? You know, in that glorious recent past of ours... when we all collectively shuddered at the very idea of appraising the value of anything merely by (ugh!) money? And what did we all use as ‘a measure of success’, anyway, until this recent corruption of our lofty values?

Reason I ask is, from my own humble perspective (I am but dust and ashes, etc)... the only thing I ever remember anything valued by in this country has, in fact, been money. Lots and lots of money. And the more of it, the better. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, for instance, when we demolished rows of architecturally unique villas to replace them with soulless apartment blocks... what did we do it for? ‘Moral principles’? No. We did it for money. And let’s not forget who was in power at the time... and what it actually took to get a building permit. (I’ll give you a clue: some of ‘what it took’ ended up in overseas accounts in Switzerland and/or the British Virgin Islands. And no, it wasn’t ‘higher values’...).

But let’s not use up all our ammo in the opening round. I quoted that article only because it caught my eye this week. And also because a remarkably similar viewpoint got reported just a few days later: “Joseph Muscat trusted because ‘Maltese are profit-driven’ – Nationalist MP”.

OK, this time we were spared the chronological absurdity of a ‘glorious age’ scenario. Unlike the Church Commission, the MP in question – David Stellini – did not suggest that this national drive for profits was in any way ‘new’.

He did, however, replace that temporal dimension with a purely spatial one instead. It is not that we are NOW more money-minded than ever before... it is that this mentality only exists HERE, and nowhere else.

“Most people in Malta are probably profit-driven – as opposed to ‘values-driven Europeans’ – and that is why Malta’s corruption perception ranking remains negative despite trust levels favouring Prime Minister Joseph Muscat” [...] “One can be profit-driven, or values-driven; in which case the rule of law is more important than profit. In the EU, there is a lot of the latter...”

Got that, folks? The rest of the EU is driven by ‘higher values’. It is only here in rotten, corrupt little Malta... and only now, under the present rotten administration... that people eschew such values in their amoral drive for profit as an end in itself. That is why the rule of law is paramount in Europe, and non-existent here... etc., etc., etc.

I need hardly add that these two viewpoints (minor and inconsequential though they may be) reflect a sizeable chunk of public opinion at the moment. In my own online entanglements with people – not that I bother that much anymore – I encounter the same level of delusional absurdity all the time. At first I thought they were putting it on... but no: it seems that people out there genuinely do believe that this tendency we are talking about – i.e., to value money, and ONLY money, above all other considerations – is somehow a recent phenomenon, or one that has taken some kind of nosedive under the present government.

And not only that, but they experience the opposite delusion when looking at other countries. Listen to these people, and you will get the impression that ‘rot’ and ‘corruption’ are somehow alien concepts when applied to any other European member state... or to Malta under any Nationalist government.

And I don’t think it’s necessarily a coincidence that this sort of blather came out of a Church commission, before being dutifully recited by a Nationalist MP. This mentality is after all the stuff of dogma, not the product of rational thought. One would have to be indoctrinated within a religious belief system – or its political equivalent – to come up with such a brazenly contorted image of reality.

People who argue this way seem to have forgotten (if they ever knew) that the EU is not exactly known internationally for its squeaky-clean governance. (Gomorra author Roberto Saviano, for instance, described the UK, Germany and France as the ‘most corrupt countries on earth’) And the EU openly and unabashedly prioritises the drive for profits in its own policies (unsurprisingly, seeing as it is ultimately a trade federation).

Our own experience as EU members amply confirms this. Issues undermining our rule of law existed (and very conspicuously, too) when we joined in 2004; yet the only areas we were taken to the European Court by the Commission – apart from hunting – concerned ‘excessive deficit procedures’.

Why ‘excessive deficit procedures’, in particular? Why not all the problems in the administration of justice, which were recently the subject of a damning EP report (which, like the equally damning EP report on our passport sale scheme, was duly ignored by the European Commission)? Well, the answer is simple, really. Because there’s only one thing this ‘value-driven EU’ really cares about: economic growth. That’s why such a thing as a ‘growth and stability pact’ exists (or at least, existed: until Germany couldn’t meet the conditions, in which case the pact became null and void), while no corresponding pact exists for justice, human rights, equality, social wellbeing, etc.

So to come back to our country’s (apparently newfound) obsession with ‘economic success’... where did it come from, exactly? Whose example are we following, when we put monetary gain ahead of all other considerations?

Not, mind you, that we really needed the EU to serve as a global traffic-light to green-light all our rapacious greed. Fact is, we were just as money-minded before we joined the EU... indeed it is debatable whether we would have even joined at all, if there wasn’t a tonne of money waiting for us on the other side.

Maybe the rest of Malta has suffered some form of collective amnesia in the meantime, but I remember the pro-EU arguments before the 2003 referendum. They were all about money. Guido de Marco’s famous ‘Mitt Miljun’ quote became an unofficial campaign slogan. And when Malta voted Labour in 1996, Francis Zammit Dimech (in the days when he still had both hair and a column in The Times) quoted a Maltese proverb to the effect that ‘Malta never says no to corn [qamh]’. “We just said no to corn for the first time in history”, he intoned back then.

It may be a vague reference, but it does give an indication of exactly how the Nationalists under Eddie Fenech Adami appraised EU membership. Certainly we didn’t join Europe to become more open, tolerant or socially just. We joined for our rations of free corn... for the EU funding that would fill our coffers, and for the investment we would attract as a member state.

And, oh! Just look at the ‘higher values’ we always bore in mind when pursuing foreign direct investment. The Nationalists themselves boast about having engineered the foundations for Malta’s thriving financial services sector. And what did it result in? Dodgy banks. Online gaming companies (which thrive on gambling addictions among Europe’s most vulnerable). A host of money-laundering operations... oh, and yes... a few hundreds of million euros worth of investment.

So it looks like Guido de Marco’s vision of a European Malta came true in the end. The ‘mitt miljun’ – and plenty more – did indeed materialise at last, though he did not live to see it. Nowhere in that vision was there ever any concern with ‘higher values’, of course... but who cares? We got money. Lots and lots of money...

Oh, but hang on... we didn’t care about money back then, did we? I almost forgot: it’s only ‘now’ that we’ve suddenly become such a sordid, tight-fisted bunch. And only ‘here’....

More in Blogs

Get access to the real stories first with the digital edition