Corruption has driven us into a brick wall

After all, past experience has already taught us that the existing institutions cannot be relied upon; and the ongoing TM corruption case only reinforces the point that this mistrust – even if undeserved – is not misplaced

The latest developments in the Transport Malta corruption case – as revealed by testimony during yesterday’s court session – have once again highlighted the need for a pool of investigative magistrates, specifically dedicated to investigating and prosecuting political corruption.

The case has been ongoing since August 30, when three former TM officials - Clint Mansueto, Philip Edrick Zammit and Raul Antonio Pace – were charged with bribery, in connection with the issuing of drivers’ licences.

Initially it seemed to be a rather minor matter, compared to the major corruption scandals the country has witnessed in recent years: a simple act of petty corruption by a public official, to ensure someone passes his or her driving test. Nothing, in a word, to get unduly worried about.

But even at this early stage in proceedings, it was still alarming to discover that the tentacles of Malta’s ‘octopus of corruption’ may have (allegedly) extended so very deeply, into the fabric of our country’s public life, that it was now even affecting such mundane, everyday matters.

Moreover, there is a case to be made that ‘petty’ corruption may actually impact public opinion, far more than any of the larger, multi-million-euro corruption scandals of recent years. For while ‘money-laundering on an international scale’ may be too nebulous a concept, for some people to view as ‘important’ to themselves… corruption at the lower end of the scale – in this case, quite literally at ‘street-level’ – can make a significant difference to people’s daily lives.

Apart from the sheer injustice faced by those who abide by all the rules – often as not, with the consequence that they fail their own driving test, while others simply ‘pay to pass’ – there is also the added concern with road-safety.

Indeed, some people out there may even be questioning whether there is a direct correlation between Malta’s rising rate of fatal traffic accidents… and the fact that an indeterminate number of people may have been issued with driver’s licences, by Transport Malta, despite the fact that they never really ‘learnt to drive’.

The biggest cause for concern, however, was that as the investigation proceeded, it appeared to uncover a much wider web of deceit, corruption and nepotism: this time, with fingers pointing directly towards the political class.

Under police questioning, Mansueto told the police that he had been ‘pressured by a minister’ - who was not named in court: either in August, or yesterday - into helping certain individuals pass their driving test. These individuals, he added, were allegedly ‘working on the minister’s villa…’

Mansueto’s phone also revealed chats with people linked to a political party, and a list of individuals who needed to pass their driving test. Further investigations saw the police seizing diaries and mobiles, which showed how certain individuals were being assigned specific driving examiners; and in August, the chief prosecuting officer testified that the police had managed to trace a text message from the (nameless) minister himself: complaining of difficulties faced by a ‘certain individual’.

Admittedly, all the above remains a case of corruption that has only so far been ‘alleged’ – albeit under oath, in court – and as such, remains unproven until a verdict is reached. But this does not mean that certain questions cannot be asked; and after yesterday’s testimony, the public certainly deserves a few answers.

Enlarging on the details already in the public domain, driving examiner Roderick Cavallo testified yesterday that “a Transport Malta director would tell him to help certain candidates to pass their driving tests, because they were “the minister’s [people].”

“You’d go to work, and he’d send for you, to tell you which candidates to take care of because they were the minister’s. Sometimes there would be a note. In the morning, a package of documents are handed to the examiner. If a time is listed it meant that they were ‘tal-ministru’,” the witness added.

Among many other examples, Cavallo recalled one incident which had also highlighted the link to the minister. “He told me: ‘If you don’t pass this guy, you answer the minister (wiegbu int l-ministru).”

Once again, it bears repeating that all such allegations have to be proven, before their truth can be ascertained beyond doubt; nonetheless, there is a certain consistency in these allegations – which now come from at least two sources – that makes them too persistent to ignore.

Naturally, one assumes that – given the mysterious ‘minister’ has been implicated twice, in the ‘compilation of evidence’ of an ongoing corruption case – his or her identity is already being investigated by the police. But surely, it should also be the subject of an internal inquiry by the government itself: if nothing else, lest it be perceived as being ‘reluctant’, to get to the bottom of this allegation.

Ultimately, however, it is for this very reason that any such investigation should ideally be conducted by an independent judicial body, that exists specifically for the purpose of investigating cases of corruption, involving members of government.

After all, past experience has already taught us that the existing institutions cannot be relied upon; and the ongoing TM corruption case only reinforces the point that this mistrust – even if undeserved – is not misplaced.