[WATCH] No love lost among political commentators in heated debate looking back on 2017

Tonight’s episode of Xtra pretty much summed up the year in politics

Tensions ran high during tonight's episode of Xtra as four political commentators looked back on 2017
Tensions ran high during tonight's episode of Xtra as four political commentators looked back on 2017

A discussion intended as a look back on the year about to draw to a close turned into a heated debate between four political commentators from the two sides of the political divide.

ONE radio and TV presenter Manuel Micallef, architect and planning consultant Robert Musumeci, journalist Dione Borg and lawyer and TV presenter Frank Psaila were all guests on this evening’s episode of Xtra, which is hosted by Saviour Balzan.

Asked to describe the year in their view, Micallef said that 2017 brought with it more positive news than it did negative, for the Maltese people. He said it was the year in which a successful legislature had ended and one in which a new one promised to bring about the country’s best days.

Musumeci insisted that 2017 was the year in which the country rejected the establishment, and having ideas and values imposed on it.

On the opposite side of the political divide, Psaila described 2017 as a “wake up call” for the PN. He said that while one could not deny that the economy was performing well, the country had also swept many issues under the rug, adding that this was not sustainable in the long term.

He added that the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia in October put a spotlight on the fact that there were some in Malta who could not tolerate people who exposed corruption or immoral practices.

Manuel Micallef
Manuel Micallef

On his part, Borg also agreed that the economy was doing well. He said however that while the government had based its narrative on economic indicators, he was concerned by the fact that no new economic sectors had been created, as well as by his belief that Malta appeared to have lost some of its values.

“I see a society that needs to be stronger. We can’t have a society which is only reactive and not proactive when faced with political scandals,” he said.

This, he said, was compounded by the fact that institutions like the Police Corps and the office of the Attorney General had been weakened to a dangerous level.

Daphne Caruana Galizia

The late journalist, through her writing dictating much of the political discourse in the country over the last year and tonight was no exception.

Asked for his interpretation of the allegations by Caruana Galizia last February that Economy Minister Chris Cardona had visited a brothel while on government business, Micallef stressed that the year had been dominated by allegations.

“I believe that the nation doesn’t want speculation and allegations but facts,” he said, adding that over the course of the year, the nation had heard many similar allegations but had never been given any proof.

Borg responded by pointing out that once proceedings got underway in court, people would be able to verify the veracity of Caruana Galizia’s claims.

Frank Psaila (left) and Dione Borg (Right)
Frank Psaila (left) and Dione Borg (Right)

He said the “main issue” was that the police were “investigating nothing”, and that articles written by various journalists were not investigated.

“Today we have three inquiries underway not because the police investigated but because the Opposition had to go the inquiring magistrate to give him information,” he said.

Musumeci pushed back against Borg’s argument however, saying that the electorate had made its position clear in the last general election. He too said that despite the accusations made about the government and the Prime Minister in the months preceding the vote, no proof had been presented.

Responding to Musumeci, Psaila stressed that elections could not earse wrongdoing by the government. Moreover, he said that while it was clear that the electorate had prioritised the economy, this did not mean that it had rejected the concept of good governance.

Asked by Balzan whether it would have been wiser for then Opposition leader Simon Busuttil to, like Muscat, pledge to resign if the allegations proved he had not been truthful, Borg stressed that the issue went beyond Busuttil.

Robert Musumeci
Robert Musumeci

Musumeci on the other hand said that one could not underestimate the fact that many people in Malta did not believe allegations coming from Caruana Galizia.

“This was reflected both in the election of 2017 as well as in the PN leadership race,” he said, adding that Caruana Galizia had also accused Adrian Delia of wrongdoing, accusations which he personally did not believe.

June’s election and its aftermath

Turning to the June general election, Micallef said that when the Labour Party was elected in 2013, Joseph Muscat was not a tried and tested leader, but despite this, he had presented a vision people could relate to, and won. This time round, he said, people had seen that Muscat delivered on his promises and therefore people’s faith in him increased.

Psaila said he agreed that the PN’s decision to focus only on issues of good governance was not well received by the electorate, admitting that if it were up to him, he would have been more realistic about the way people in the country were feeling.

On September’s PN leadership race, Psaila said he believed the PN had waited too long to get the process of electing a new leader under way but rejected claims the PN was in a crisis. He pointed out that with social media, it was much easier for people to express their views and opinions in public.

Frank Psaila
Frank Psaila

Borg said that in his opinion, while Delia had a big challenge in uniting the party and making room for different viewpoints, all political parties went through a process of renewal from time to time.

Asked whether Delia was in a position to propose ideas that the nation could get behind, Musumeci said the internal resistance to his leadership, as well as the Caruana Galizia’ allegations would weigh him down too much.

Where do we go next?

In conclusion, the four guests were asked how the country could move on from the “dark shadow” cast upon it by the brutal assassination of a journalist.

Micallef emphasised the importance of protecting the country’s reputation, and working for national unity. Borg on his part said that as a start, the government could take on board a number of proposals to strengthen the rule of law, which were put forward by the Opposition back in October.

Psaila insisted it was important for the country to come together, but before this could happen, people’s faith in the Police force needed to be restored, while Musumeci said that ultimately the different factions within the PN needed to get behind Adrian Delia and allow the party more stability.