The Malta Independent 22 October 2018, Monday

The Parliament of fools

Noel Grima Tuesday, 17 October 2017, 09:04 Last update: about 2 years ago

'Il-Kummidjanti tal-Parlament'
Author: Carmel Scicluna
Publisher: Horizons Publications / 2014
Extent: 204pp

I can think of quite a number of books in this genre - Oliver Friggieri's Fil-Parlament ma jikbrux Fjuri and also around that time Il-Parlament tal-Kappillan by Tuse Costa.

Carmel Scicluna, whose books I have reviewed many times from Ghall-Imhabba ta' Lesbjana to Miss Wilma and Lavberds, Ossessjoni and Feruti, used to write on Il-Mument until he dedicated himself almost exclusively to novels with a Maltese background.


His writings, as Dr Francis Fabri writes in a critical analysis, describe a Maltese reality that you would not find in the papers or on TV but which is real enough at ground level.

This book focuses on the events that shook Malta between 1992 and around 2012 when the Nationalist administration was on its last legs. Scicluna mixes names and episodes but they are mostly recognizable. He then adds a grotesque touch which portrays Malta as more of a mad house than it already is.

The first chapter portrays Onor. Dott. Bongi Wongi (Franco Debono) during a crisis in the government because key minister, Onor. Rhesus Macaque (Austin Gatt) made a mess of the reform of public transport while a second minister, Babuna Bizaru (Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici) lost a vote of confidence because his father used to fail Bongi Wongi in the law course.

The next chapter focuses on Alfred Sant in 1995 up to and beyond his fall from grace two years later. It goes back to his election as leader when he was contested by another intellectual (Lino Spiteri) but his first low poll changed overnight through what the author describes as "hanky panky". There is mention of a mysterious message by someone who signed MC (not Manwel Cuschieri, Mario Camilleri, etc.) who warned Don't overdue it.

Then the story takes off to the stratosphere. A month and three days before the election he was passing in front of the Auberge de Castille and he thought he saw a cow peering out. This sudden vision made him stumble and fall and he hit his head on the steps of the auberge.

Then from a deep coma the prime minister is taken up at first to heaven, which is boring and full of boring people. He then asks God to send him to hell, which is far more agreeable.

He gets to meet Satan and this one dictated some very strange terms to him in order to give him power: he was to raise water and electricity rates skyhigh, freeze the application to join the EU, etc.

He accepts and then asks Satan how much time will he have in power. Satan replies 22 months and after that the other party will get 25 years in power.

After four chapters on generic subjects - a mass evasion from prison, a grotesque Carnival, a rave party and a father with a child who is dying buys a paper and reads all sorts of irrelevant things - we are back on political subjects.

Il-Kummidjanti tal-Parlament is not just the title of the book but also the title of perhaps its most intriguing chapter. It tells the story how the Birgu waterfront issue brought down Alfred Sant's (in the book, Dott Leonardo di Malta) government. Sant had a plan for the Birgu waterfront but his old mentor and predecessor, ir-Romblu (Don Mintoff) was against.

His mind goes back to what led to that impasse: the agreement (called the Pact with the Devil) before the 1996 election as a result of which Labour won the right to govern. Ir-Romblu had listed some hard conditions to take part in the election.

He won the election but soon enough his government started to crumble. His Minister of Finance resigned, having made clear he did not agree with the key tax commitment. Then, amid other resignations, a key consultant (George Abela) left. Then came the historic sessions of Parliament and ir-Romblu's six-hour speech.

In another story the Prime Minister (Lawrence Gonzi) is at home preparing to have sex with his long-suffering wife when they tell him that his rebel MP JPOS (JPO in actual fact) did it again. He had already got the PM's aide RCC to resign. In the previous election (2008) he had run after the Leader of the Opposition regarding an allegation he made regarding him. He had followed him from Gozo to Malta and right into the PBS television station where he posed as a journalist to snare the Leader of the Opposition. Then he went to a PN mass meeting and shed copious tears. Following that he was elected.

The penultimate chapter was a complete surprise for me, for it is about a story in which I was involved. I had told this story in an article in this paper. We skip some years and focus on John Dalli and the end of his term as a European Commissioner.

On purpose or out of some weird instinct of fun, the author makes some serious mistakes. The event took place in Brussels, not Strasbourg. And we were not a threesome of journalists including a homosexual, a lesbian etc. who all slept together.

It is true that on a Brussels trip (as a guest of Louis Grech) we saw John Dalli (here Nardu Delia, a pastizzar from Luqa) walk in late in the middle of a speech by the head of the European Commission (here Sander Montana, in real life Jose Barroso).

And it is also true that the next day, as we were boarding a plane to return to Malta, the news came that Delia (Dalli) had been sacked or forced to resign.

The story goes to flashbacks. There is a leadership contest and Delia (Dalli) is contesting for the leadership of the party. His close collaborator, Spiru Bartolo (Saviour Balzan), editor of MaltaIntelligence (MaltaToday) organises a lavish breakfast at the Excelsior (actually the Hilton. Saviour strongly denies this but I was there and I remember it well). Later Delia (Dalli) loses the bid.

Fast forward to January 2008 and on a Sunday morning I get a phone call from an irate Delia (Dalli) about a story we had run that day about $18 million of savings by Americans which got lost between the Bahamas and which ended up in Malta. Then came another angry phone call from an American implicated in the matter and he then passed on the phone to Norbert Cefai (Noel Farrugia), a Labour MP.

We were then invited to a conference that was to be held the next day. I had a blown tyre and Cefai (Farrugia) came for me at Zebbiegh (in the book, Mdina). We went to a meeting in Floriana (in the book, Gudja) where we met the protagonists. The case is still ongoing.

Then on to the snus case in which Dalli (Delia) plays a key role along with his side-kick Xmun Bartolo, a seller of imqaret at his kiosk in Sliema where the book tells us they planned how to milk the Swedes.

If you haven't made any sense of all this, you're not alone. It takes a lot to unravel the intricacies of what passes for life in Malta.

The book is high on panache and grotesque scenes. But to understand it one has to know what was happening in Malta in those trouble-filled years.



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