Delia must get the Opposition in shape

This is not about being a President of a football club where you occasionally write your thoughts in a badly scripted poem, this is politics. And politics is ruthless and has no frills

Delia must act, not for his sake but for the sake of the country which is in need of a functioning democracy
Delia must act, not for his sake but for the sake of the country which is in need of a functioning democracy

There is only one victor and only one winner. The rest are forgotten, distant faded memories.  I guess this is the sad thing about elections, most especially in Malta where the winner takes all and presumes a licence to rule over all without question.

Today’s MaltaToday survey paints a bleak picture for the future, and more importantly for the Nationalist party. It gives Muscat’s administration the green light to continue with its style of government which is driven by an aggressive expansionist economic policy that places the environment and cultural aspects of Malta and Gozo on the backburner.

There are many in the Nationalist party who may argue that the campaign on corruption will not win them elections. I would like to rephrase this.

The campaign orchestrated by the likes of gossip-mongers posing as journalists simply make any good governance campaigns ineffective.

It is not true that Egrant, and other allegations, were believed by all the independent news media. It was believed – and is still believed to a certain extent – by those who captained The Times and The Independent. MaltaToday and Illum were cautious about the allegations: I believe I have the right to underscore this once again.

The problem is that if we are to fight corruption and the political patronage and business in between, we need to dig deeper and come up with the facts.

For fear of sounding patronising and self-conceited, I still believe that the scandal that could not be countered or torn to shreds remains the oil scandal. The proof showed beyond any doubt transactions on the sale of fuels to an Enemalta subsidiary. The proof we published was black on white; we gave to it the police; arrest and prosecutions followed. The truth is that five years down the line, the real culprit is actually enjoying a pardon from the former Nationalist administration to carry out the same brokerage job, while those accused of corruption have not even started to face the real court proceedings.

Which means, if this case fails, it would have been the system’s inherent willingness to make it fail that is to blame. Because then and now, nobody from the political class took responsibility for the oil scandal. The ‘on my watch’ ethos is simply alien to every single politician in Malta.

Indeed, had the MEPs who alighted on Malta to scrutinise the rule of law on this island got wind of the Enemalta oil scandal in 2013, they would have paid witness to the brave face of journalism. Because even then when MaltaToday broke the story, nobody covered it: TVM ignored, notably Pierre Portelli making nary a mention of the story just a day after in the morning breakfast show he presented.

This is why the deeply divided Maltese electorate takes accusations of bad governance with a pinch of salt. Not only because the accusers are not taken seriously, but because those who suddenly joined Simon Busuttil’s millenarian crusade in 2017 had never, ever, taken a stand against the bad governance of the former administration. Corruption, to them, started after 2013.

This does not mean that corruption is not the serious issue that it is for Malta. But it would be better for us as journalists to come up with the beef.

When in the 2013 election campaign, Austin Gatt was revealed to have had a Swiss bank account which he said was a family bank account, he simply argued that he had forgotten all about it – his reason for not declaring it in his parliamentary register of assets. Now that was quite a slip of the mind.

He was treated far more leniently than the same newspaper that partnered up with the ICIJ on the Swissleaks, when former PN ministers Ninu Zammit and Michael Falzon were shown to have had undeclared Swiss accounts (which were repatriated and declared under a government amnesty).

It seemed that incidents such as these – for Simon Busuttil had then suspended Zammit and Falzon from the PN – fortified the belief that the PN did not have the credentials to cry wolf. Which is why Busuttl was naïve enough to think that people were ready to just embrace his call to bring down the government, possibly misled by those from the commentariat that simply disliked Labour, as well as civic action groups who tagged themselves to the PN while fighting on crucial issues such as the environment and land use.

When activists and politicians like Michael Briguglio and Marlene Farrugia tied themselves to the PN, the environmental and governance issues lost a much needed reference point of non-partisan credibility.

So it is clear why the situation in this country is now so desperate, without a strong Opposition and civic action groups to prod the parties on.

The Opposition is today led by Adrian Delia, but it is clear that he has started on the wrong foot – to put it mildly. He was elected democratically and has every right to continue leading his party. But he needs to sit back and start listening to his instincts. This is not about being a president of a football club where you occasionally write your thoughts in some badly scripted poem. This is politics. And politics is ruthless and has no frills.

If Delia’s dream is only about replacing Muscat, that is not enough. A dream is about an ambition to change things, to make Malta a better place in all senses.

The first step is for Delia to broaden his team of advisors and talk to people out of the party.

Secondly, he has to reach out to all those who formed the Nationalist party before Lawrence Gonzi stepped in and alienated and pushed people aside. He needs to embrace, urgently, those who were part of the party – people who might not necessarily be on the radar of his trusted advisor Pierre Portelli.

He then needs to choose his battles, and the battles he chooses should be ones he can win.  He needs to pluck up courage and face his party councillors and ask them for their trust in a vote of confidence. 

Delia must act.

Not for his sake but for the sake of this country which needs a democracy. Because a democracy does not function without an Opposition.

As things stand today we are living the Muscat era. Many people are understandably happy with their improved fiscal position, with the economic prosperity and with the libertarian social reforms and taste of progress.

But there is a flipside to all this, which is bubbling like a pressure cooker waiting to explode and which only a charismatic and effective political leader can wrestle with.

Delia must give it a try, failing which there is no other way of putting it. We are, in terms of democratic surplus – simply fucked.

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