Weaponised free speech

It is the role of the political class to show responsibility and to look beyond the result of June 3 and read through their words, deeds and actions

Cartoon by Mikiel Galea
Cartoon by Mikiel Galea

There has been a narrative that has always been easy to follow. When things do not add up and transparency is not a priority for an administration, one cannot blame the sceptics and citizens of good faith for thinking the worst.

The Panama connection, with the existence of offshore companies belonging to people close to the Prime minister, confirmed the people’s worst fears. The perception game was clearly lost. And any story incidental to it would add up.

But beyond the perception game, we need to hold our ground and explain to our readers, that there is such a thing as the rule of law. There is abundant ground to support our argument that the chief of staff of the Prime Minister should have resigned.

There is no proof of a criminal act, but his actions raise suspicion and serve as an affront to the integrity of the Prime Minister’s office. That is sufficient ground for him to stand down. There is no doubt about this argument. But what has happened in the last few weeks has only contributed to confusing readers about what is true and what is false.  

Joseph Muscat’s reluctance to sack his chief of staff is something he will have to answer for himself. He must be very aware of the political damage to him and his government. It was a risk he took in the full knowledge of the likely consequences. But Simon Busuttil’s repeated tirade and harsh critique of the Attorney General, calling on him to divulge the contents of the FIAU report about Keith Schembri, are worrying.  

Busuttil knows, at least we presume that he knows, that the AG cannot divulge the contents of any report drawn up by the FIAU, but he forges ahead and demands that the AG does so. We report today what Peter Grech has said about how the law stands on this. He made it clear that he cannot do this. Disclosure of FIAU investigations is an offence punishable by five years in prison and a fine of over €115,000. And he also made it clear that he was not privy to the workings of the FIAU even though he is chairman of its board of governors. Adding that he does not interfere in their workings.

Peter Grech has been Attorney General since 2010. And since 2010 he has been responsible for an AG’s office that has had its fair share of controversies. But his integrity has never been questioned.   

The same applies to many public officers who are not rushing to take orders from politicians and are not willing to take instructions from politicians when they are dished out – publicly or in private.

It is understandable that in an election there will be exaggerations and drama, but we have a responsibility not to misinterpret the role of the independent institutions and not to accuse anyone, especially for partisan reasons or without good grounds.

Let us be fair, this is not a banana republic, we have some serious shortcomings which make us wonder how serious we are, but we do have checks and balances which mostly work, and we also have a strong media with a thirst to publish at all costs. The very fact that we are talking about this issue is proof that nothing is sacred. This is coupled with a dynamic social media that has raised the citizen’s voice to unheard of highs even though there is more abuse and cross border accusations than precious intelligent arguments.

There are two types of voters, those who never question what their party leader says and those who are willing to listen and come to their own conclusions. The latter are the ones that matter. Pity there are not more of them.

It is the role of the political class to show responsibility and to look beyond the result of June 3 and read through their words, deeds and actions. The truth is something that eventually reigns supreme.