The wrong fight on good governance

If there was a subject fit for the satirists this week, it would have been the PN headquarters, where a motley crowd consisting mainly of MPs and staff members, turned up to hear yours truly interview PN leader Adrian Delia

Readers with some fondness for Italian TV surely remember Striscia la Notizia, a mellow satirical programme with a focus on political corruption and scams. It started life back in 1990, a garish send-up of Italian news, replete with canned laughter and an unlikely mascot, the blob-like Gabibbo.

The Gabibbo spoke Italian with an exaggerated Genoese accent, since the word itself –gabibbu – is a Genoese word to describe an immigrant from southern or even central Italy, so the mascot came to symbolise the low-salaried worker living in the docks of Genoa, who together with the dancing ‘veline’ soubrettes, offered some light relief to those seeking the news on a different tone.

It is just one of the many TV offerings in Italy, France, but also the UK and in so many places in Europe, where television provides an outlet for well-produced satirical programmes that sends up politicians and the system.

And believe me, if there was a subject fit for the satirists this week, it would have been the PN headquarters, where a motley crowd consisting mainly of MPs and staff members, turned up to hear yours truly interview PN leader Adrian Delia inside the PN’s foyer. It was definitely more of a joke than a journalistic feat; here I was, facing a political leader who still does not have the depth to put out in his detail his political vision.

Undoubtedly, Delia is loquacious and flowing in his choice of words; but he can be confusing and evasive when it comes to saying how he will tackle various aspects of the economy, the foreign workforce his party has complained about, saving the environment or the Gozo tunnel.

It is this awkwardness that makes Adrian Delia such an unsuitable alternative to Joseph Muscat, who remains a focused leader who clearly knows what he wants – whether right or wrong.

I made it clear that I would be fair and put forward questions which were not loaded. But then there was one point when he mentioned a particular controversy that caught my fancy, but was simply too complex to tackle at that moment. 

He pointed his guns on the MFSA, over a statement issued by one of its governors, the former deputy leader of the Labour party from the early nineties Joe Brincat, a lawyer by profession and renowned for always being a misfit, apart from a part of his shady past. Brincat has cried wolf and hit out with a judicial letter against Joseph Cuschieri, the MFSA’s CEO, claiming that a golden handshake payment to an MFSA employee was a breach of the law, and that it had  brought shame upon the government’s administration of the country. Strong words indeed.

The protest was a reaction to the recent retirement and subsequent re-recruitment of George Spiteri, the MFSA’s former human resources director, who earlier this month was paid over €150,000 as part of a voluntary retirement scheme after 25 years’ service, only to be re-employed in the same position in the public sector.

Delia, aided by his MPs Mario de Marco and Kristy Debono, has said there must be political responsibility for this travesty of governance.

Now Brincat is a member of the board of MFSA governors, which board decided in October 2018 to issue a voluntary retirement scheme. All staff received a circular with specific details on eligibility and method of payment. It was a voluntary scheme just like the ones at PBS, Maltacom, the Shipyards, and so many others which failed to attract the attention of anybody then. But if Brincat, as a politically appointed board member, has a problem with a decision his board took, is not resigning from the board the right thing to do?

The retirement scheme had been open for four full weeks and 11 people availed themselves of it. Perhaps this explanation is irrelevant to Brincat or Delia, as well as De Marco and Debono. Yet, if Brincat insists on the obligation to speak up when public funds are squandered, why does he not also speak of the fact that Debono is still an employee on the payroll of the Gaming Authority since 2013 and yet is never seen at the authority? She has been paid €210,000 in total since 2013… not bad for her attendance record.

Even Delia should be careful about lauding Brincat on the thorny issue of good governance. He should not forget that Brincat had been arrested in Italy and accused of aiding and abetting a client involved in the trade of valuables: had it not been for the late Guido de Marco (father of Mario) – who was PN justice minister at the time and enjoyed cosy relations with his Italian counterpart – Brincat may well have spent years behind bars. It was a riveting story that made the front-page of defunct newspaper Alternattiva, alas not one to have reached the internet years, but anyone interested in receiving a copy can send me an email.

If Delia really wants to talk of unfair practices, perhaps he could mention the fact that the former PBS head of news Natalino Fenech still enjoys the same salary of his former position, which is actually still paid from the PBS’s coffers, even though he no longer serves as head of news – and that was six years ago. This is, by the way, a decision of the Labour administration.

Why not take this up? Delia has worked closely with the MFSA, and knows well how long overdue the reforms at the regulator are: he represented several foreign clients and knows that for the MFSA to respond to it obligations, it has to move away from the mediocrity of former chairperson Joe Bannister, and build a structure with efficient and competent people.

Let us scrutinise our agencies and institutions but let us not be lectured by those who should know their place. When Delia stupidly hangs on to newspaper cuttings and storylines without carrying out his homework, he risks doing a Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici by shooting from the hip.

 

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The Caruana Galizia family has to be congratulated for having built a narrative that has played well in the media, most especially that in the foreign domain. They have now called for a meeting with the Prime Minister to complain over the composition of a board of inquiry into the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, which they are crying foul about.

Today, the portrayal of Caruana Galizia as someone who produced unblemished journalism has clearly rocked people’s faith in the media establishment that runs European titles like The Guardian or La Repubblica – that’s the media for you – because their lack of context and intimacy with the crass partisanship of Caruana Galizia’s work can never be understood by them. In 2017 I was interviewed 17 times by foreign journalists and TV stations about Caruana Galizia – not one of these interviews was broadcast, because naturally, my side of the story and of who Caruana Galizia was did not fit their mindset.

They prefer hearing it from someone like Manuel Delia, the former personal assistant of Nationalist minister Austin Gatt, because there is just one storyline that the Caruana Galizia family want followed – that Daphne Caruana Galiza was the “only” Maltese investigative journalist, that she was “victimised” and murdered by the State, and that Malta is a cesspit of corruption.

They are entitled to their beliefs, but when the grass grows and emotions cool, even the truth will surface. Caruana Galizia may have been fearless but she was reckless, even cruel at times as a gossip-monger who was fed information – some true, some false, most of which apparently was not fact-checked – but always framed by her virulent dislike of Labour and PN dissidents. She will be remembered for her role on the Panama Papers as much as for having been the proponent of the false Egrant allegation, but many will know that for her, the best form of defence against critics was by persistently attacking them personally and without reason, including those associated with them and their relatives.

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