The Malta Independent 17 August 2019, Saturday

Hot-weather hubris

Daphne Caruana Galizia Sunday, 20 August 2017, 09:54 Last update: about 3 years ago

The other day I found myself outside the Bank of Valletta’s head office. I’d heard the top job was up for grabs. I walked in and declared myself “ready and willing” to run the bank. “I have never taken the slightest interest in banking or worked at a bank before,” I said to the bank’s senior officers, who were lined up in a phalanx of bewilderment. “But I know I can take this bank to new and greater heights. A New Way! Together we will make it a winning bank, the greatest bank in the southern Mediterranean.”


I overheard one of the senior officials ask another whether he should ring for the men in white, or possibly the police, and the other reply, nervously, “No, no, no, ma tarax. People will say that the bank is not democratic. It is far better to risk spectacular catastrophe than to be taunted on Facebook and by HSBC’s internet trolls for being undemocratic and intolerant, with two ‘ells’.”

I then took a tour of the premises, talk-talk-talking my way through security, and breezed round the clerks, administrators and managers, who tried to work out what was happening. “I apologise to you for all the hurt that we in the Bank of Valletta’s management have caused you,” I said. “We will make sure that it will never happen again. All those who have been hurt by the bank’s management can come to me and I will bandage their wounds after dabbing them with that yellow stuff that burns.” And I breezed out again, remembering too late that it’s called iodine.

Later that day, I called a press conference to announce that I would be aiming to run the bank in two months’ time. “I wasn’t ready before, because I had three sons to raise and a career to develop. But now I feel that I am ready. I feel so ready that when I am chosen to run the bank in a few weeks’ time, I will sell my house and my car and stop writing my newspaper column and my website and working on my magazines, so that everything is clear and transparent and then I will publish a list of my assets. But if anybody publishes so much as one of my liabilities, I will call them hysterical and accuse them of launching a knavish attack on my family. I will also take them to court for causing child mental abuse to my adult sons, because though I aim to run the bank I don’t know the difference between a civil suit and a criminal prosecution.”

An upstart among the press corps stuck her hand up and asked me why I have suddenly developed this out-of-the-blue interest in banking, and in running a bank in particular. I pause to modulate my voice to an impressive level, and then I explain that I may have never participated in banking in any shape or form, and know little about it, but that more than 30 years ago I opened a bank account. “I was 17 and had just started working, and I opened my account with this bank. And I have had a bank account ever since. And once or twice, I wrote an article about the bank.”

But why now, when you never did anything in banking, the upstart persists. I try to conceal my irritation at being interrupted and second-guessed by a woman whom nobody has told that her place is in the home having one child after another and leaving the work and the decisions to the men. I resist the urge to demand her power of attorney and to tell her that, miskina, she hasn’t understood. I think better of it. An unhappy encounter with another journalist has taught me that not all women appreciate the wisdom of the façade of conservative 1950s values. I don’t want any more hysteria because there is work to be done.

I straighten my shoulders and open my eyes wide behind my spectacle lenses. Then I hold out my right forearm, curl up my right hand and lower my head to look at it contemplatively, lost in thought for a brief second before saying, “I am ready to make this sacrifice.” Yes, I am ready to make the sacrifice of controlling one of Malta’s largest banks. It’s a very big sacrifice and people should appreciate me for doing it.

I dispatch my supporters all over the internet to repeat the message that what the Bank of Valletta really needs right now in its period of crisis is to be run by somebody who knows nothing about banking and who has never worked in a bank before, not even as a teller, though she may have stuffed leaflets into envelopes in a summer job at the bank in the early 1980s.

They oblige. Soon, the message is spreading all over Facebook: “A new broom sweeps clean! What the Bank of Valletta needs now is to be run by somebody who is not tainted by banking or by having worked in banks before! Look at all the damage bankers have done to the bank! The bank has to be run by somebody who doesn’t know about banking, because bankers have shown us that they can’t run the bank!” I am deeply touched, heartened and encouraged to see how many crazy people are out there. It warms the cockles of my soul.

Encouraged, I make a video and have my public relations people send it to all of the Bank of Valletta’s employees. I spruce myself up, face the camera and say, with all the conviction of a man who has to persuade his wife to give him her full power of attorney before next week, otherwise he’s done for, that for three decades I have not taken the slightest interest in any kind of bank beyond cards and a chequebook, but now I am ready to make the ultimate sacrifice of running the bank. I think this video is so good that it must be disseminated to a wider audience on Facebook, so that the wider world out there can rally support for my bid to run the bank, and in five years’ time, the Central Bank of Malta. Sitting in a café, I overhear a couple of people listening to it. One of them says to the other, “What the hell was that?”

I ignore them, because right now I have far more pressing problems to deal with, like how to get to run the bank before it forecloses on my seven-figure loan, failing which I have to find some way of selling the 20 flats which nobody wants even in a property boom and which I’m hoping everyone’s forgotten I have anything to do with.

On my way out of the café, I spot a business associate I’m not supposed to have and momentarily forget myself, letting out a volley of swear-words that hang in the air for a frozen moment before I’m brought up short by the briefing notes that my campaign aides had prepared for me only that morning: DO. NOT. SWEAR. OR. BLASPHEME. People don’t like it when the person running their bank does that. I make my excuses and leave. It’s time to go home, put on my red trousers, and pop in to visit a former grandee of the Nationalist Party, for a spot of co-branding while touring the village feast. To my perplexity, he doesn’t know me from Adam.

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