The Malta Independent 13 December 2019, Friday

Angry and betrayed

Mark A. Sammut Sunday, 1 December 2019, 11:00 Last update: about 11 days ago

As a matter of fact, all of us feel angry and betrayed. Some of us have been doing something about it for the past three years and more, though. I know it is bad manners (so I ask to be forgiven), but I still have to declaim that we were right. We were right to realise that the situation was rotten, we were right to denounce the rot, we were right to accept the abuse and not give in. Yes, we have been angry for three years and more, and we feel betrayed. But we did something about it.

Let me just spend a few quick words on what I did. When in 2016, Daphne Caruana Galizia published her blogs on the Panama secret companies, it was immediately clear to me that the reason why people in those positions should open such structures was for illicit purposes only. It simply could not be otherwise. All the nonsense about it not being illegal was just that: nonsense. It is not illegal to own a crowbar; but if walk through a villa neighbourhood with the crowbar hidden under your jacket, the police would be more than justified to presume you have bad intentions.

I immediately asked for an appointment with Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, and he greeted me in his office in Valletta. My late father used to work there, on that same floor, during the Sant Administration, when he was a member of the Prime Minister’s personal staff. I was therefore not awed by the OPM aura, even though Dr Muscat clearly was used to milking it unashamedly, to impress certain folk who are easily impressed. Instead, I was overwhelmed by memories.

The meeting did not last long. I told him that to my mind, this whole Panama setup was unacceptable. He retorted by telling me that it was a Nationalist spin. He clearly did not understand or purposely ignored that I had reached my conclusions on the setup by myself, not because I had been convinced by Daphne Caruana Galizia or the Nationalists. I there and then decided that my intelligence had been irremediably offended and that I would write a book.

And I wrote a book in which I not only collated all the information about the scandal – the media had been bombarding the public in a structure-less manner, because news emerges in an unstructured fashion – but also included analyses and a chapter on Dr Muscat’s neoliberal policies. I received a lot of abuse from silly Labourites who thought I had betrayed the Tribe, sorry, I mean the Party. Some even had the temerity to mention my father, and that he would be turning in his grave. Clearly, they didn’t know him. Had my father been alive he would have torn down the columns with the sheer strength of his voice, telling these corrupt Philistines to go and hide in shame.

In my book, I wrote that Dr Muscat had taken over the Party and made it his, transforming it – without any mandate – from a social-democratic party into a neoliberal party. Now that his end is so near we are in the position to be able to say, conclusively, that he has done the same with the State. He has taken it over and behaved as if it were his. He thinks that both party and State are like big companies, and he’s the majority shareholder. He took over the shareholding and started appointing his directors and his Anointed CEO. And then started dictating. There is no democracy in a company: the majority shareholder is, for all ends and purposes, a dictator.

Now that his Anointed CEO has had to leave, Dr Muscat keeps behaving as if the State were his company. He thanked his Anointed CEO – a man who (whether he was or was not involved in the assassination) is tainted by clear suspicion (and here I’m being extraordinarily generous) of money laundering and bribery. He thanked Keith Schembri like a majority shareholder would thank an outgoing, efficient but reckless, CEO. So much has happened this week that we need to go back to Monday and think of that interview he gave to journalists a short while after Mr Schembri had resigned his post. He spoke like he owned the country. His reluctance to leave now – now, that Truth is coyly leaving its hiding place for us to see her in all her naked brutality – further confirms this analysis.

If Joseph Muscat were a statesman, not a parvenu for whom the State is private property, he would step down. For the good of the country. (I’m writing this on Saturday afternoon. The situation is fluid. By the time you read this, Invictus might have conceded defeat.)

But he proposed to the country a mask, a fake profile. He put himself forward as a statesman, when in reality he’s just a petty political picaroon. I feel like telling him that he’s nearly a laugh, but he’s really a cry.

 

Reputational damage

His daredevil policies, actions and political management have damaged the country’s reputation probably beyond repair. No wonder the Institute of Financial Services Providers has noted recent events unfolding in Malta with dismay and disappointment given that Malta’s reputation as an emerging international financial services centre has taken a severe bruising recently, in spite of all the hard work industry players and practitioners have put into building this industry over a number of decades.

Similarly, the Chamber of Advocates is right to point out that the current situation is exceptional and unprecedented and needs to be handled with restraint by people in power who are free of conflicts of interest or who, if conflicted, act and appear to act with unusual restraint, particularly when police investigations involve present or past ministers and holders of high office.

Add to all this chaos, Chris Cardona’s request for protection claiming that he’s being framed for the Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination! Chris Cardona, the “self-suspended” Minister for the Economy. (“Self-suspended”: what an ugly phrase to use – suspended from where? From the beam holding the storage shelf in the garage? From the handrail of the staircase? At least, this paper had the common sense to use “auto-suspended”.)

A top businessman “promises” to uncover more filth – conveying the indelible impression that the entire country is corrupt and rotten to the core! Crazier still, he expects to be granted a presidential pardon for any involvement he might have in the assassination of a journalist in exchange for this information on corruption involving top government officials!

In the meantime, a Court of Law has found sufficient grounds for investigation and the Finance Minister (who usually depicts himself as a holier-than-thou virgin, an upright and pious man) has to face a criminal inquiry over the Vitals deal, one of the biggest deals ever signed by the Maltese State!

 

And, the proverbial cherry on the cake – journalists were “locked up” in the Prime Minister’s office and kept from leaving by a number of “tough guys”! Unbelievable!

How do you think a foreign investor will look at all these thriller-like twists coming up in quick succession? Is this the image of a properly-run country, or has Malta become a European Banana Republic, an English-speaking Mafia State?

They have smashed the fragile reputation of this young, tiny country. Our country. Because Malta indeed belongs to us all (tagħna lkoll).

Mass meeting

While this mess was unfolding, the idea cropped up to call a mass meeting. Some people mispronounce clerk, branch, France – they could have mispronounced mass... a mess meeting. A mass meeting, a melee of people thronging the streets ready for what? To celebrate their hero Invictus? Or to vandalise property and beat up “adversaries”?

To my mind, the Cabinet and/or Labour’s Parliamentary Group realised that Joseph Muscat was trying to take them for another ride, as he did last time when he gathered the masses and bullied his ministers into silence and submission. Let us be frank, the Cabinet is not made up of nincompoops. They surely realised what Keith Schembri (and the other one) were up to with their secret Panama companies, and some of them did try to voice their concern. But the army of party supporters that Dr Muscat deployed frightened and froze even the more courageous among his detractors.

This time round, the Ministers must have pre-empted him. They pulled the rug from under his feet and he had to recede.

Heroes

But the real heroes are those who, for the past three years or so, have tenaciously denounced Joseph Muscat and his cronies, have kept them under pressure to do the right thing, to leave the political scene and stop debasing the country’s reputation.

We might not be there yet, but the end is nigh. There’s no time for public repentance (do you remember the mumbo-jumbo about “learning from our mistakes”?) – repentance from now on will be consigned to the private lives of those who committed all types of malfeasance. From now on, we need a New Malta. And fast.

The Age of Villains is approaching its end. Now we need an Age of Heroes.

The Panama Papers scandals made me realise that, as a man of reason, I find myself agreeing with the Nationalists – on no other grounds than that their positions are the more reasonable, at times the only reasonable positions to subscribe to.

 

Revolutions and Constitutions

The Muscat Years will be remembered as marked by an urge to revolutionise the constitution which came to naught, and complete ignorance or ignoring of the current constitution.

Needless to say, all revolutions have a long history of eating up their progenitors. Muscat the Revolutionary has been eaten up by his own revolution. I will write again about this, in more detail, in the future. For now, I will only say that his revolution was not really and truly a Progressive one, but a revolution in laxity, in corruption. He tried to legalise moral corruption as a distraction from his revolution in institutional corruption – the two faces of the same Janus-Corruption.

More importantly, I am cultivating the hypothesis that his insistence on a New Republic, a New Constitution, was meant to hit two birds with one stone: keep the people distracted by dangling this possibly much-expected carrot while, at the same time, imply that since the current Constitution is on its way out, it need not really be observed.

Equally important is Joseph Muscat’s constitutional insensibility. Again, another proof – if any were indeed needed – of his not being really a statesman. Unlike his predecessors (all of them), Dr Muscat seems completely oblivious to the true meaning and significance of a constitutional setup. For him, the State is a private company of which he is the majority shareholder. His greatest flaw, I think, is his misunderstanding of the Modern State and of the power that majorities engender.

 

My Personal Library (77)

The arm wrestle which must have taken place during the heated Cabinet meetings of this week reminded me of Gabriel García Márquez’s The General and His Labyrinth, the 1989 dictator novel that narrates the fictionalised account of the last seven months of Simón Bolívar, liberator and leader of Gran Colombia. 

There is a moment in that novel which can help us better understand Joseph Muscat’s Fall.

García Márquez observes that the Dictator was stronger than each individual Minister. But when the Ministers grouped together, they were stronger than the Dictator.

Needless to say, for Malta the question is: who was the real dictator? The Prime Minister or his Right-Hand Man?

Was the great statesman nothing but a puppet in the hands of a diabolical puppeteer who posed as right-hand man and factotum? Have we been living six years of theatre? Is the season over yet, or are we in for more shows?

Will they all be here in a few weeks’ time... or will they go into “voluntary exile”... “suspending themselves” from their responsibilities toward the People that trusted them?

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