The Malta Independent 22 September 2017, Friday

Has db cancelled out Panama?

Noel Grima Sunday, 19 March 2017, 10:30 Last update: about 7 months ago

It may be less than a year before the next election and the building blocks are already in place.

The main one on the Opposition side has long been there: it is Panama Papers and its ever-widening ramifications.

The government side now has its one too, offered on a silver plate – the enormous discomfiture suffered by the Opposition over the db issue and the ramifications therefrom.

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The worst thing is that this trump card did not come as a result of machinations by the government or Castille but fell out of a mess of the Opposition’s making.

I watched the Leader of the Opposition on Frank Psaila’s show on Net – favourite ground, favourite interlocutor – and nowhere did I see any realisation of the great damage that has been self-inflicted. On the contrary, it was the same promises about what will be done by the ‘government led by me’.

Dr Busuttil’s promises about ensuring a level playing field for all businesses sit askance with the little we know of the companies who are – or were – bankrolling the Party, assuming that it was not only db that was forking out for the salaries of key employees. There does not seem to have been any level playing field but only the cosy few who were invited.

If the Leader of the Opposition is now toast, then so are the two deputy leaders, a sizeable part of the parliamentary group and – even more so – the inner core of the Party which has not changed from the leader who lost by 34,000 votes to the present leader, give or take a few token individuals: right down the line to the hacks on the papers to the people presenting programmes on the station.

So we have to assist as the polls show the popularity of the Prime Minister goes up and up while that of the leader of the alternate government, for all his efforts and bold statements, languishes and barely moves a notch or so up.

The db mess shows bad strategic thinking, incomplete thought processes and, above all, a lack of consultation and politics played on the hoof. Who is being consulted and who warned about what could happen?

As I see it, all this is the consequence of the basic decision to go to the country with one policy base, the confrontation sought at every angle over the Panama Papers and their consequence as against a wider, more rounded approach that tackles the problems of Maltese society and offers concrete solutions. This is all the consequence of listening to the siren voices of those determined on confrontation at each and every level instead of the drudgery of hard work of politics at the grass roots. It is all the consequence of knowing it all and refusing all support and collaboration from people who mean well.

The db mess knows its origin to the Party’s parlous finances, its debts and its shaky financial structure. The party has closed down subsidiary companies that were loss-makers but that could have been turned around. And it is saddled with the highly costly television station that has never risen from the third and last place among the stations, just as its papers have never risen from the fourth and last place among the dailies. Should this not be telling people something?

And at the same time, the Party still owns buildings in all the districts which are mainly a club for a very small number of people and which never pay their way, considering the value of the property on which they are sitting.

So the db mess shows us that the much acclaimed restructuring was either a fiction by those who wanted to climb the party tree or else do not understand real restructuring at all. And these are the people who would have us believe that they can restructure the Maltese economy.

So apart from a leader who has been rumbled, and two deputy leaders – one of whom says he does not know whether to be a politician or a lawyer and the other with some issues pending on his head – who else does the Party have? Nada, zilch – at least if one does not consider a cloud of wannabees whose rhetoric may fall flat when the testing time comes.

This could have been an exhilarating time of expectation by the Party in Opposition, considering the many scandals the government is spawning and the increasingly interlocked nature of suspect deals by a quite restricted clique which has left out of the honey pots many Labour supporters. Instead, for the members of the Opposition who know what’s going on, it is a time of anguish if not of outright despair.

Can things change in the short time that is left? At this time in the last legislature I gave the same warning, but the Party persisted at full speed, with eyes shut, and committed its Titanic moment. It doesn’t look much different this time around and it is still plagued by a huge dose of arrogance that it knows best.

The politics of confrontation make for great sound-bites and can whip up huge passion but demonstrably are not persuading many people. And many people find that their woes and worries are not being reflected by the alternative government.

To answer the question posed by the title: the db issue should not have cancelled out the Panama Papers issue but in actual fact it looks as if this is what it is precisely doing.

 

ngrima@independent.com.mt

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