The Malta Independent 25 May 2020, Monday

The Last Days

Mark A. Sammut Sunday, 29 December 2019, 11:00 Last update: about 6 months ago

When Joseph Muscat announced he would be resigning (not out of a sense of right and wrong, but because his back was against the wall), I immediately formed the intention of writing a "trilogy".

The first piece, "The Rise and the Fall", appeared four weeks ago. The second appeared a week later, called "The Legacy". Then there was Christmas, and today, here's the third and final instalment: "The Last Days".


Muscat's last days coincide with the last days of 2019, a year that will remain etched in Maltese history like 1919, though for different reasons.


What could have been but was not

In July 2018, former Labour Minister Joe Debono Grech, a good-hearted man with the voice of a Doberman, was interviewed on that waste-of-airtime TV show called Xtra. The interview was then transcribed on the mercenary newspaper which belongs, in part, to Xtra's presenter, Salvu Balzan. In the shoddy English translation, Mr Debono Grech says, "Muscat managed to become a statist – which none of us expected."

Clearly, Mr Debono Grech had said "statista" in Maltese, but for Mercenary Today, since ġurnalista is journalist, statista has to be statist. What do they care that statista is statesman whereas statist is "an advocate of a political system in which the state has substantial centralised control over social and economic affairs"? One could say of Salvu Balzan what Mr Debono Grech said of Disgraced Muscat: "Balzan managed to become a journalist – which none of us expected." Only that, as the more intelligent expected, neither became either.

Expectations... One would expect that when Muscat was a one-year-old toddler, during the quċċija he chose the statesman gizmo. When he was slightly older but his princely face still smeared with royal snot, people would ask him "What do you want to become when you grow up?" and he would answer, "A statesman, a statesman!" ("Statista! Statista!").

Instead, and tragically, Muscat grew up to become an amoral man. Morality was for him something to be derided. The main connotation of his unnerving, slightly malevolent Cheshire-cat grin was that he had knowledge that you, the beholder, were not aware of. I think that knowledge was that morality is unnecessary ballast that keeps the hot-air balloon from rising to reach the heights it's meant to reach.

But now that the hot air has gone, something Alice-in-Wonderland-like has happened. Whereas in that children's novel, the Cheshire cat disappears leaving the unnerving grin behind, in Malta, the unnerving grin has disappeared leaving an enervated Cheshire-cat politico behind.

A statesman does not live politics as a get-rich-quick scheme (was the Bulgari watch just a tip... of a huge iceberg?). Muscat wanted to become a statesman; he became the central figure of a medieval tragedy instead.


Muscat's birthday

On January 22, 2020, 10 days after his planned resignation, it will be the former Invictus' birthday, his 46th.

At forty-six years of age, he's at his peak, full of energy and vim, endowed with enough life experience to understand what he really wants and how to get it and to know the ways of the world and how to achieve his full potential. He has now reached the point when he's too old to be young but too young to be old, when the investments he made in himself during the first half of his life can be brought to bear fruit. This is the time in the life of an alpha male when he can lead others not on the basis of institutional authority or a cornucopia of promises, but because the horizontal forehead lines, the faux-tame force of the voice, the dignified salt and pepper in the hair, and the wild violence he could potentially unleash but chooses not to, all conspire to make charismatic authority ooze naturally from every single pore in his body.

And yet, having reached this juncture, the former Invictus has castrated himself. His name has become worthless. Even on his Ph.D. rumours have been making the rounds for ages, which he never bothered to dispel because it would have looked petty and infra dig. So now with his top academic qualification sullied by doubts raised and never quelled; with the edifice of his political track record having been pulled down by the wrecking ball of his reckless blind faith in a man who has no scruples, no culture, no values, nothing but cynical materialist utilitarianism; with his reputation swept away by a destructive whirlwind that had started off as a breeze of chutzpah and self-confidence and then grew into full-blown arrogance and overconfidence as time went by... his downfall now is a tragedy. Not just for himself, but for the entire nation: his private failure is like an oil stain that spread all over the fabric of the nation's reputation.

The "genius" – as that lady screeched at him after his Farewell Tour stop in Naxxar – turned out to be another benighted victim of the Dunning-Kruger effect. For if the ten Labour victories were secured by the sweat of Keith Schembri's brow, how does the genius of the "ġenju" feature in the story?

(When that women in Naxxar shrilled "ġenju!" at the top of that voice of hers that resembles fingernails scratching across a blackboard, somebody drew her aside and whispered in her ear, "Le ħi, dak mhux Ġenju... dak Ġowżef ta..." But either the whisper or the witticism was too subtle, and she didn't get it.)


Born Again?

Are we to believe that the raging fires of scandal kindled Muscat's spiritual rebirth?

The Prime-Minister-King under whose reign the Maltese State took a hard-line anti-Church stance, passed legislation that defies Catholic teaching on marriage, and tolerated pro-abortion manifestations (when abortion is a crime in Malta – would the State have tolerated, say, pro-fraud, pro-homophobia, or pro-rape manifestations?)... this decidedly anti-Catholic Prime-Minister-King first visited the Bishop of Rome, then attended the Christmas midnight mass in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem! (The bills for the trips triggered by this recent spiritual awakening were, alas, footed by the taxpayer.)

The man's effrontery knows no limits. The spoilt brat who was elected Prime Minister but crowned himself King, never managed to grasp the notion that the respect for limits is what makes us mature men and women. His self-perception is seriously constrained by his inability to see where the limits are and that lack of limitation annihilates being. We are witnessing the self-annihilation of a man who presented himself as a statesman in the making but proved himself to be just the embodiment of a brand craftily packaged by the shrewd Schembri.

Limits there are. A little water gives life, but if it keeps on raining, the levee eventually breaks and the flood carries everything away, leaving chaos where there would have been order.

The hypocritical use of religion to impress the gullible should stop.

The chaos being created by this man in his last days should also stop or be stopped.

The doctor who in August 2012 said about Dom Mintoff's 1998 actions: "I’m not saying his mind wasn’t there but this high fever could have affected him", now can't diagnose Muscat and save the nation further embarrassment and chaos?


The President of Malta

The last days of the former Invictus are marked by the signature disrespectful approach encapsulating his philosophy on public life and the nation's institutions. That the President of Malta is drawn into this public display of disregard at the constitutional setup of the country, is also an ignominy.

It is not clear who is advising the President, but it seems to me that it's unimaginative advice he's receiving, that the constitutional setup is made up only of the constitutional document. This is wrong. There is the constitutional document but there's also constitutional morality. (As Dicey teaches.)

However, I am not surprised. I have it in writing from people very close to the President that His Excellency feels quite unsure about his knowledge of human rights (an integral part of our constitutional setup). It would therefore follow that he could also feel unsure about constitutional morality.

But His Excellency should follow his doctor instinct and transcend whatever legal advice he's receiving. This country has had a political infarct and needs a device to arrest fibrillation of the ventricular muscles of the nation's heart – a presidential defibrillator. When a doctor is faced with an infarct situation, he does not consult a lawyer on the legal niceties. A doctor has to save the patient, without wasting precious time, acting quickly with vision, courage, and moral integrity.

These are the very qualities that Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici and many Labourites had seen in George Vella in 1992, when Dr Vella was offered the leadership of the Labour Party. These are again the qualities that the Maltese nation now needs to see in Dr Vella. He has to act, and the constitutional setup affords him that.

On December 10, in a move that the editorial of this newspaper called "a double blow to democracy", Parliament went into Christmas recess – three full weeks before Christmas – to reconvene three weeks into the new year. This decision was taken without consulting the Opposition. During this record-breaking seven-week recess, there is no way for a majority of MPs to express themselves in the only legally valid way possible, through the House itself. The President is claiming that he can remove the Prime Minister only if such a majority expresses itself yet he knows that they cannot do it because Parliament rose for this seven-week-long recess.

The wool has been pulled over everybody's eyes, to benefit Muscat. But the President has to resist it. The entire nation can see that the ball of leadership is now in the President's court, just like the ball of constitutional morality. The very restrictive interpretation of a constitutional setup that excludes everything except the constitutional document is noxious to the health of the nation.


B-Movie Days

What we are all witnessing in Muscat's last days is something close to a crime thriller. Day after day, we get carried away by new revelations, almost all scandalous in nature, many of which could verge on the criminal.

Muscat's prolonged stay in office may serve to satisfy psychological needs, but it may also be a ruse to attain last-minute crime-related objectives. There are so many things we don't know and that we might never get to know. So many that we probably don't even know that we don't know them.

Even if Muscat is not up to something (difficult to believe knowing him, but let's give him the benefit of the doubt), the indelible impression Muscat is leaving is that he's covering up evidence. This impression will haunt him all his life, but he seems oblivious to it. He has been told by the Opposition to leave, for the good of the nation. A true friend would also tell him to leave, but for his own good.

A wise man knows that it often happens that your own good and the nation's converge... and that your enemy could be giving you the friendliest advice.


My Personal Library (81)

Procopius (c.500 – c. after 565) was legal adviser to Belisarius, the Emperor Justinian's chief military commander in the campaign to regain the Empire's lost Western half. In The Secret History, which he probably wrote in 550 AD, Procopius criticised harshly both Emperor Justinian and his wife Theodora and his chief commander Belisarius and his wife Antonia. The former Procopius called, "demons in human form"; the latter, incompetent and treacherous.

The Secret History exposes the secret motivations behind the public actions as well as the private lives of the Emperor and those close to him. Justinian is portrayed as venal, prodigal, cruel, and incompetent, while his wife Theodora as vulgar and insatiably lustful, envious and fearfully mean-spirited, full of shrewdness and cold-blooded self-interest.

By uncovering the secrets of the powerful, The Secret History reminds me of the attempts to uncover the truth on the ownership of the third secret Panama company.


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