The Malta Independent 16 December 2017, Saturday

TMIS Editorial: Malta and the rule of law: traitors or patriots?

Sunday, 18 June 2017, 09:15 Last update: about 7 months ago

Much has been said in the wake of the Prime Minister’s somewhat anti-climatic appearance before the European Parliament’s plenary session this week that debated Malta and the rule of law in the wake of the Panama Papers. 

One could have been forgiven for having expected more of the Prime Minister on the subject at hand rather than his evasive statements and his rattling on about the country’s economic successes and its LGBT rights record, which are, it must be said, all well and good but had little to do with the subject matter of the day.

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But despite that, it was what has been said in the wake of the debate that is far more concerning than anything that came out of the debate itself.

The Maltese MEPs who spoke out against the way in which the government has dealt with, or rather not dealt with, the fallout from the Panama Papers and the reports leaked from the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit - and even the chairman of the European Parliament’s PANA Committee - have come in for a great deal of gratuitous and unwarranted abuse.

Of course politicians need to have a very thick skin indeed and none of these people mentioned need any sort of defence from a newspaper but, it seems, a lot of people out there need defence from themselves.

We are referring here to the cyber lynch mob that took to the internet in their droves after the debate to slam anyone who had the audacity to have, in their blinkered view, criticised Malta.  Amongst the various internet elves and trolls, perhaps the largest troll of them all is former union boss Tony Zarb, who actually incited not only hate speech but what very clearly verged on violence toward the Maltese MEPs who had the audacity to have spoken out.  He even declared the PANA Committee chairman a persona non grata because he took the Prime Minister to task over the government’s complete inaction in the face of everything that has been revealed over the past year since the outbreak of the Panama Papers.

The Maltese MEPs who spoke out against this state of affairs have been dubbed traitors across several sections of the Maltese cyber sphere by members of the general public, people in positions of authority and even by aspiring politicians.

But those Maltese MEPs who spoke out during the debate, who had spoken out before and who are still speaking out are anything but traitors.  They are, in actual fact, patriots.  They may have a political stripe that differs from that of the government, but the fact of the matter is that they have subjected themselves, and will undoubtedly continue to subject themselves, to such criticism for love of their country, for its rule of law and in the name of its aspirations toward truly good governance of the nation.

We will make no bones about it, there is political mileage to be gained from criticising the government at EU level but in reality, where else is there to go when the government itself is accused of covering up crime?  Where else is there to go when the government itself buries its head in the sand, deludes the people and calls early elections so as to stave off any potential political fallout from the conduct of some of its top people?

To cry foul for having dared to expose the country’s dirty laundry against such a backdrop is, to use a word the Prime Minister himself has chosen to use in the past, hogwash.

Meanwhile those who have sought to drag those who spoke out over the hot coals, to threaten and intimidate them have done so not for love of their country but, rather, for love of the political party in government.  And they have done so with a complete lack of understanding of the basic workings and underpinnings of democracy, good governance and the rule of law.

Is this what people should expect when they speak out in a democratic, free country?  Are dissent and the questioning of the powers that be not to be tolerated, or are they only tolerable when crying foul against a government run by a political party that one does not subscribe to?

In a democracy, dissent, criticism of the government, the exposing of misdeeds and misconduct and the insistence of good governance on every level of government from top to bottom are not only absolutely necessary, they cannot be done without.

And those who would seek to stifle any such ambitions through the use of intimidation and threats have no place in such a democracy.

The rule of law in Malta should kick in at this point and people who are practicing hate speech so capriciously and inciting violence so wantonly should be brought in to face the appropriate charges at law.  But this, sadly, is unlikely to happen with a police force that does not even investigate the underlying crimes when it has been urged to do so by the country’s very institutions that have uncovered them.

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