The Malta Independent 12 July 2020, Sunday

Diplomatic Malta

Rachel Borg Saturday, 11 January 2020, 09:06 Last update: about 7 months ago

Except for Joseph Muscat and family, who may still have a weekend break ahead, we can expect that most families have returned from their holidays over Christmas or New Year and are back home, children once again at their school desk, and everyone going about their daily business.  Apart from enjoying the scenery and relaxation how was your reception abroad?  Did you experience raised eyebrows or hear some grunt as soon as you handed over your documents?  Or were there the sympathetic remarks about Malta’s now well-known and assassinated journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia? 

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Until just under a decade ago, the mention of Malta’s name or our nationality evoked a sense of curiosity and perhaps some envy at how we could have survived the recession and other economic downturns such as unemployment or austerity, whilst other neighbouring countries were suffering in a bad way.

In time, both Western and Eastern Europeans were forced to look to where they could find employment and packed their bags for Malta’s sunny shores.  Things were good.  There were jobs and good standard of accommodation and even families brought their children over to go to school here.  Health was not a problem either.

Today we find ourselves in a drastically different scenario.  Everywhere we go, disdain and judgement follows us.  And it can’t be helped.  Malta is now constantly in the news, negatively and shamefully, whether it is online on the search engines such as google, yahoo or MSN and the stories lifted from leading media houses such as Reuters, the Daily Mail, the Guardian and the Telegraph in the UK. 

Two contenders for the job of Prime Minister, to take over from the disgraced Joseph Muscat, have done absolutely nothing to immediately send out the right message that they see the damage that has been done to our country, its people and its economy and to commit to seeing justice done for Daphne.  That means, in no small terms, taking the decisions to work with the civil society to establish a rapport and a way forward. 

They should have, without hesitation, made clear the intensity of their commitment to making Malta a decent place again, without a shred of bad light over it. 

On the contrary, all we have are two school boys calling each other and everyone not Labour , this and that and never showing the least bit of interest in serving the country.

They avoid scrutiny and make veiled threats to the media and to anyone who oppose the undemocratic regime that has been at work in the past years.

Because, apart from some economic activity generated by construction and real estate and the remnants of a tourism industry built on mass arrivals of all sorts, we are possibly in a worse place reputationally and in reality than we were post-independence.

Back in the 60s when Malta had achieved independence, there was proper investment, local and foreign.  Our island was associated with potential and seen as a desirable place to live in.  Then came the wonders of Mintoff, who managed to make life as miserable as possible for us, the violence and the ruin of our infrastructure. 

Change came in the late 80s with Dr Eddie Fenech Adami and the Nationalist government all the way through to Dr Lawrence Gonzi, who albeit were far from perfect, managed to construct a new path for our country and go on to take us into the European Union and gain millions in EU funds and new foreign investment that served as a re-launch for the economy. 

In came Joseph Muscat, Keith Schembri and the whole “raba sular” - or the 4th floor of the Labour party headquarters, ready armed with their road map, making hay while the sun shines. 

Only now we have a total eclipse.  Back to the dark days, literally and metaphorically.  We are no better than an addict seeking the next high.  Spiteful things are said that are passed off as jokes or reposts.  What should be said is silent. 

The utter ruin of our reputation and name isn’t even given a thought.  Our dear Malta, our home and our history are in shreds.  Each day that passes, is another day lost, another shame and disgrace.  And all the while, Joseph Muscat tells us it’s not our business if he has spent beyond his means on a 3 day holiday to Dubai.  Nobody from his own party will challenge him or have the decency to stand up for the Maltese public.  Instead they hop, skip and jump over how they can remain the guardians of a corrupt system and keep control over streams of personal income and power, whilst avoiding making reference to what brought them to the contest in the first place and what is happening as Malta is in the news for all the wrong reasons.

The damage to our reputation as a democratic and safe place to do business, to live and to visit started a while back.  The problems all around with excessive construction, dust, noise, road blocks, traffic and ugly sights were being observed but for a while there, we still had the benefit of a good reputation, a good climate, a good working population and a vast history with which to distract from being totally cancelled off the map.

When, then, the corruption met the unresolved murder of a journalist, the match was struck and we got totally burnt.

All the connection with the office of the Prime Minister and the interference in the investigation of the person or persons suspected of ordering or carrying out the killing became like the pollution brought in with the waves after a storm, leaving all the plastic bottles and debris lying on the ground, as evidence of what lay below and afar.

The White Flag turned into the red flag.  Danger.  Malta was no longer a safe place to do business or to trust and there are other countries where investment can flow to.  At least until the tensions settle and something is known of how all the problems will be handled, a holiday to Malta can wait, especially when the destination is amongst the most expensive.

The banners at Old Trafford of “Visit Malta” are decades old.  Who wants to visit a corrupt country without any reason?  People visit heritage, they visit friends or places of comfort and relaxation.  If the Brits have not yet visited Malta, they are unlikely to do so now.  Instead of taking, always taking, it is clear that until we appreciate the real value of a visitor we cannot expect them to appreciate us.

All the signs are that nothing is going to change.

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