Of rockets and reality checks

By focusing on North Korea, the Prime Minister exposed himself to the charge of hypocrisy, for accusing the Opposition of a shortcoming that his own government has been guilty of for decades.

Cartoon for MaltaToday Midweek by Mikiel Galea.
Cartoon for MaltaToday Midweek by Mikiel Galea.

Judging by Tuesday's May Day speech, the advice now being whispered into Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi's ear must be to say as little as possible, lest he further undermine his already beleaguered position by unwittingly exposing his own desperate fear of losing power.

This might explain why Dr Gonzi said so very little worth reporting in yesterday's May Day event. It also contrasts sharply with his comments just a few days before: when he raised eyebrows by lashing out at the Labour Party over the least likely issue imaginable: Muscat's presumed 'support' for North Korea's controversial missile-testing programme.

Dr Gonzi picked on a single comment, in which Dr Muscat allegedly told the North Korean ambassador that 'Labour respected the integrity of sovereign states'. This, the Prime Minister said, indicated that Joseph Muscat also approved of North Korea's rocket launch a few days earlier.

Immediately upon publication, this comment was greeted by a chorus of online sarcasm - and rightly so, for the remark really does make one wonder how a supposedly hands-on prime minister could possibly hope to score political points through such a patently contrived ploy.

In fact, one wonders whether the same Dr Gonzi has ever heeded his own advice, and listened to his own constituents in their kitchens. If so, he would surely have realized that North Korea's missile programme does not exactly top the list of Malta's national concerns at the moment. In fact, it does not even remotely show up anywhere on the radar.

Instead, if Malta's kitchen talk features complaints about 'weapons' of any kind at all, these are far likelier have been the bills issued by the aptly-named 'ARMS limited'.

Listening to such talk, Gonzi would surely have heard incessant grumbling about the disproportionate price of utilities such as water, electricity, gas and petrol. He might even have been asked how his own government - that seems to encounter no problem raising €80 million for a lavish and unnecessary project such as the new parliament at City Gate - could somehow also be unable to afford  a €55 million Enemalta subsidy, that once upon a time helped keep the cost of living under some semblance of control.

Above all, Dr Gonzi would have realized the sheer extent of popular resentment at the fact that - while the people have been constantly told to 'make sacrifices' and to 'tighten their belts' - his own government did the very opposite: committing the unpardonable offence of augmenting its own salaries without actually informing anyone (not even its own members) of its intentions.

These are among the many concerns Dr Gonzi would surely have been exposed to, had his finger really been on the pulse of the nation right now. The very fact that he evinced all such concerns last Sunday - and instead spoke about North Korean rockets, of all unlikely things - tells us the very opposite: that he is incapable of disguising the fact that his government is simply out of touch with real-life popular preoccupations.

It also illustrates that his fear of losing power is now so very real, that any form of ammunition that can possibly be used against the Opposition is considered justified... no matter how laughably unsound the resulting claim may come across.

If this is the case, then Dr Gonzi ought to really rethink his entire strategy before it becomes too late. There are, after all, many real and valid concerns a serious Prime Minister could be raising at this stage about the Opposition's credentials as a government-in-waiting. He could criticize Joseph Muscat's apparent inconsistency on environmental matters, for instance - as evidenced by the PL representative's vote on the Portomaso extension. He could pick on the evident wishy-washiness of the same Opposition's electoral proposals (many of which are little more than empty sound-bites). Or he could challenge the Opposition to come up with workable strategies, instead of merely replicating the same kitchen talk that Gonzi himself has so far ignored.

Besides, there is yet another reason Dr Gonzi ought to be more careful in his choice of political rheotirc. By focusing on North Korea, the Prime Minister also exposed himself to the charge of hypocrisy, for accusing the Opposition of a shortcoming that his own government has been guilty of for decades.

Dr Gonzi after all had nothing to say when his own foreign minister, Tonio Borg, also had meetings with the outgoing North Korean ambassador.

And not only did Dr Borg stop short of criticising Pyongyang over the same rocket tests; but he even boasted about the size of Malta's shipping register, in a rather transparent bid to interest the North Korean government in possible future registration of Korean vessels under the Maltese flag.

In all honestly it is difficult to envisage a situation more totally and utterly hypocritical, than that whereby Dr Gonzi now accuses Muscat of attempting to do what his own government had only just done a few weeks earlier.
All in all, this is not the serious style of leadership that has traditionally been associated with the Nationalist Party in decades past. And from this perspective, Lawrence Gonzi is damaging not only his own credibility by making such ludicrous claims - the same credibility that used to be his greatest asset - but also that of the party as a whole.

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Luke Camilleri
Dear Prime Minister, Why not just discuss ARMS instead of rockets, ARMS Ltd. with tariffs that really have ROCKETED UPWARDS , with you & your coterie even VOTING in Parliament with ALL YOUR HEART so these are not reduced!