Taking the country for a ride

The fact that so much uncertainty continues to shroud Franco Debono’s intentions suggests he himself does not have a clear idea of where he wants to go, or what he intends to gain out of all this.

Cartoon for MaltaToday on Sunday by Mark Scicluna.
Cartoon for MaltaToday on Sunday by Mark Scicluna.

If there is any truth to the suggestions that - after all the instability and uncertainty he has caused in the past months - Franco Debono now intends to vote in line with government and approve the budget implementation bill on 9 May, he may as well go one step further and retire from politics altogether.

Naturally, we will have to wait until 9 May to find out what his true intentions are. But even the fact that so much uncertainty continues to shroud Debono's intentions at this very late stage suggest - unthinkable as this may sound - that not even the maverick backbencher himself has a clear idea of where he wants to go, or what he intends to gain out of all this.

What we do know, however, is that the present situation is untenable, and is now close to becoming unbearable. From the outset it will be remembered that Franco Debono rose to prominence mainly because he had - and still has - some very good ideas for legal and political reforms. This newspaper supported many of those ideas - indeed MaltaToday had suggested one or two of them, including electoral reform, a law on party financing and a reform of the judicial system, long before Debono even appeared on the scene.

But no matter: where the backbencher was correct in his claims we were the first to endorse him; and we would do so again if the same reforms are not taken up by the relevant authorities, now or in future. 

However, things have now got out of hand. Over the last months, the country and the media have been fixated on Debono. They have afforded him ample space and often have treated him with kid gloves. They have listened patiently to his political statements and in many cases they could not find fault in what he was saying. 

Neither did they ask what was the cause of all this discontent.

From his speeches in parliament and in the media it was abundantly clear that Debono would eventually bow down and would retract his strong words. 'Arrogant', and 'authoritarian' were among some of the words used for his own Prime Minister... whom we would often call on to resign.

In the last months, everyone translated his harsh words as 'determination', and took them as confirmation that he would vote against his government and effectively bring it down.

The very fact that his political future with his own party appeared to already be history seemed at the time to reconfirm this belief.

The Opposition also appeared too sure that Debono would take his final leap and vote in a crucial bill against the government... even though the same MP has in the past already led the same Opposition down the garden path, only to succumb to pressure and abstain rather than vote in line with the no confidence motion in Transport Minister Austin Gatt.

Yet, as time passed, it became increasingly clear that Debono was in fact just playing a game. And while such antics are ultimately to be deplored among parliamentarians of a certain calibre, one must concede that he played this game very well.

He held secret meetings with senior members of the government; and the PN media were very careful not to attack him directly. More so when one could clearly read that the Prime Minister had absolutely no inclination to call for early elections; on the contrary he had and still has every intention to hang on to the latest possible moment...  by applying archaic parliamentary procedures to drag the House into a long, hot summer recess.

Now that we are on the eve of a budget bill and Debono (as MaltaToday reports) has confided with friends that he will not be blamed for bringing down the government, one can safely ask what this has from day one really all been about.

 It could very well be that Debono's egocentrism, coupled with Lawrence Gonzi¹s steadfast refusal to recognise a crisis when he saw one, has now led the country to an even bigger crisis... a crisis that involves popular perceptions of politics as a whole.

This crisis has had a serious impact on business in general, at a time when it is already facing a depressed period as a result of  a slowdown in the international economy. And it has sapped an already flagging confidence in the entire political class.

Naturally, as a newspaper we are the first to welcome free debate and dissidence, a more open parliament; a sense of loyalty to the Constitution and the people, rather than to the party and its leader. But at the same time, we recognise that what Debono is doing is simply unacceptable.

He has made his arguments, loud and clear, but he cannot go on demanding change and not be the first one to make such change when the opportunity presents itself. Failure to do so now would mean that all along, he was doing nothing but taking the entire country for a ride.

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Luke Camilleri
Taking the country for a ride.... on GonziOPM's own Special Purpose Vehicle! ... and we all know what Dr' Gonzi's "Special Purpose" is, getting his €600 honoraria back and keeping his perks and his POWER SEAT!