Taking corruption seriously

So far, reactions to a series of articles about alleged corruptionin the procurement of fuel by Enemalta, suggest that the authorities in this country can indeed adopt a serious attitude towards corruption, when the need arises.

The Police Force, to its credit, certainly took the matter very seriously indeed. And while the messages sent out by government have so far been mixed - it was strange to hear the Prime Minister refuse to comment at all, when one of his cabinet members was called in to give a statement to the police - the general reaction from Castille was a far cry from the usual pattern of behaviour when faced with allegations of corruption.

Evidently, the implications of this development have not been lost on the current administration: which, to be fair, was not even in place when the main protagonists in Malta's fuel procurement were first appointed... though of course the present government has been politically responsible for the same department for the past two terms. 

Contrast this with the same government's rather cavalier response to suspicions of foul play in the BWC saga just a few years ago, and it is only fair to state that the people at the helm of this country are at least conscious of just how much we stand to lose as a country, if the perception of rampant corruption are allowed to spiral out of control.

This is commendable, but at the same it also raises a question. Why does it have to take serious revelations of corruption, for the institutions tasked with monitoring and warding against corruption to suddenly spring into action? Why is our approach to corruption always so reactive, when there are several pro-active measures any government can take to at least reduce the likelihood of corruption spreading through the system?

Without meaning to over-stress our own contributions to this debate in the past, MaltaToday has for years been editorially demanding a number of serious and important reforms that would, if implemented, go some distance towards redressing the lack of proper checks and balances in the distribution of power.

Many of these checks and balances are so basic that one can only marvel at how they remain in an EU member state in the 21st century. The first and most basic would be the enactment of a proper Whistleblower's Act. Given that precisely such an article of law had been promised before the last election - and that the law itself passed though all phases of parliamentary approval, save only the publication of a legal notice to make it operative... one can only serious wonder why the government has dragged its feet for so long.

It cannot be because there was no real need for this law. The revelations of possible corruption at Enemalta on their own attest to its importance (after all, the intelligence would have emerged much sooner, had whistleblowers been offered protection in this country). Yet despite an electoral promise, and numerous commitments over the years, the nation still lacks this most basic tool against corruption. And it is not the only glaring lacuna in our arsenal of anti-graft weaponry.

Another important piece of legislation that has (an admittedly indirect) bearing on the same issue is a law on party financing. In this case, there is no clear-cut connection between politics and corruption... or at least, none that has been exposed beyond doubt. For instance, we do not know if there was any link between the main suspects in this case, and donations to one or both of the two parties (bearing in mind that the same people have been hovering behind the scenes at Enemalta since the early 1980s).

Yet all this has undeniably taken place against a backdrop where it isn't even considered unethical to inveigh upon a political party with lavish, undeclared donations - of the kind that would instantly recognized as a crime practically everywhere in the civilized democratic world.

Naturally, this is not to say that other countries do not suffer from their own problems insofar as corruption and illicit party financing are concerned. But here in Malta, nine years into our European experience, we still don't even recognize the lack of such legislation as something inherently wrong.

Sadly, it seems that decades of complacency have inured people to corruption in our country. This in itself may perhaps account for the present government's lack of resolve to pass such important legislation, even in the face of ongoing demands by GRECO: the Council of Europe's anti-fraud watchdog.

If the people themselves do not demand such legislation, or even publicly express a doubt or an objection to the current state of affairs whereby undeclared donations are considered 'business as usual'... it becomes hard to expect government to enact such laws without being pressured into doing so.

Yet in the end it is precisely government that suffers for lack of proper checks and balances. Whether justly or unjustly, it will be the government of the day to carry the can when the allegations come to the fore. All the more reason, then, for the incoming government to make proper anti-corruption legislation its top priority.


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