People want fairness: nothing more, nothing less

Neither a Labour victory by a larger margin, nor even the seemingly-impossible prospect of a Nationalist victory, will truly deliver Malta from the quagmire into which it is sinking

There has been much speculation about the possible date of the next election; but one thing is certain. 

If it is to be held in 2021, Prime Minister Robert Abela would have to make the announcement imminently: most likely, in the coming days. As such, the question may already be answered by the time you read this editorial. 

Regardless of when he plans to head into that election, however, Abela himself is no doubt already eyeing a prize that would validate his leadership of the Labour Party. Going by MaltaToday’s own polls, that prize is almost certainly that of obtaining a larger majority than his predecessor in 2017.   

The implications of any such majority, of similar magnitude, would be an eye-opener for the Maltese Republic. On one hand, it would force us to question how government largesse – or too much power in the hands of Cabinet ministers – can condition the manufacture of consent for parties-in-government; and whether a discussion is needed on introducing greater checks-and-balances; and rules to set limits on what people in power can and cannot do, and how this is related to the art of currying favour with voters.   

On the other hand, a larger majority for Labour would once again open up a debate on the state of the Nationalist Party – now under its third Opposition leader since 2013 – and its inability to forge ahead with an alternative vision for the islands.  

A survey by MaltaToday recently showed how the fight against corruption offers parties little traction, when compared with not only economic management and disposable income, but also the state of the environment, which is a byword for quality of life.   

In a sense this should come as no surprise. In 2017, the PN and many of its allies – including those whose space of action is at the thin line of civil society and politicking – weaponised corruption in a way that equated it with Labour’s very essence. To this very day, the PN is unable to shake off this moralistic approach to the fight against corruption, as an assault on what it depicts as some ‘faulty DNA’ inside Labour.  

Bernard Grech has certainly been more tactful than his predecessors. But he would be well-advised to see the wider picture of what an anti-corruption battle should really look like: i.e., a fight for more fairness in a system that is rigged against common mortals; and which is based on a clientelist demand to suck up to politicians, in order to get what should be theirs by right. There is unfairness in Malta not because of one particular government, but because of a system that is geared to benefit the rich and powerful first: in planning for example; in educational outcomes; in justice and due process; in political decision-making and public procurement. 

Certainly, one of Labour’s greatest disappointments has been its failure to not only provide a suitable response, and peace of mind, over the taint of the Panama and 17 Black scandals; but also to carry out a self-analysis of the tragedy that befell Malta in October 2017, with the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, and the subsequent disgraced exit of Joseph Muscat from power.  

If Robert Abela convincingly wins power with a satisfactory majority – but without addressing the deep-rooted structural problem of corruption, or even addressing his own government’s troubled recent past – Malta’s predicament would only sink even deeper. The risk that a victory at the polls would validate the excesses and scandals of the preceding Labour administration, would surely be detrimental to Maltese society.   

It is for this reason that an alternative vision of Malta’s government and development model should be the real challenge for anyone aspiring to take over the reins of power. 

People want fairness: nothing more, nothing less. They want equity; and they demand that the market does not rule every aspect of their life. They want intervention from the State, when the market is unfairly robbing them of a decent lifestyle.  

But the solution cannot just take the form of benefits to help them eke out a basic living. They also want a decent living wage. They want regeneration in their towns; solutions to parking problems; open spaces and green urban areas for their children. They want the construction madness to be reined in; they want more police on the beat, and they want good neighbourliness.   

But to achieve any of this, both parties must also repudiate their own ‘friends-of-friends’ networks; and deconstruct the very machinery that gives them so much more power than they should rightly have, over the citizens of this country. 

Admittedly, that may be considered ‘wishful thinking’ in Malta’s marketplace of democracy. But it is this precisely this kind of clientelism that forces parties into Faustian pacts with strong lobbies and big business; and unless this serpent is scotched, once and for all… neither a Labour victory by a larger margin – nor even the seemingly-impossible prospect of a Nationalist victory, against all odds – will truly deliver Malta from the quagmire into which it is sinking.