The Malta Independent 19 January 2020, Sunday

It finally happened

Mark A. Sammut Sunday, 12 January 2020, 10:50 Last update: about 8 days ago

It finally happened. We’re slightly mad.

Actually, we’re not just slightly mad, we’re really mad. At Muscat who has hijacked our politics. Maltese society has abandoned all semblance of mature political discussion on matters of national import and got lost in Muscat’s labyrinth.

Consider the recent events in Libya. They are indicating that Russia and Turkey have assumed a larger role as regional powers in the Mediterranean. Malta’s foreign policy seems to be working through proxies, when we are one of Libya’s neighbours. Public discussion and scrutiny of politics means we should be analysing this new development; instead, the nation is wasting its limited resources on the mess created by Muscat and his evil shadow, and on pushing for a malfunctioning State to investigate malfeasance... Just look at France to see how a functioning State works. The French are tackling the Libya crisis head-on and at the same time they will try their former President Nicolas Sarkozy this coming October for corruption, and all this while the people have been demonstrating for weeks on end.

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The French try their former President (who toppled Libya’s Qaddafi in 2011) for corruption; One TV fetes the outgoing Prime Minister as a national hero.

 

The aftermath

Today was Muscat’s last day as Prime Minister. At least, de jure. Let’s see what happens de facto. (He promised – or was it a threat? – he’ll remain active but on the sidelines.)

Is Muscat a psychopath who climbs the ladder and cuts the rungs, not caring at all if the ladder maintains itself, and perfectly willing to have it destroyed after he’s exhausted it?

I know that there are many who subscribe to this school of thought. I’m not one of them. Also because it seems that he wants that ladder to stay, possibly because he thinks he hasn’t exhausted it yet.

Muscat’s self-perception is important for us to understand what he’s still capable of. Objectively speaking, he was born under a lucky star. From a subjective point of view, however, he probably marinates himself in self-pity, spiced with his sensation of having endured terrible suffering, particularly when he was Alfred Sant’s acolyte. (He keeps forgetting that this role was not imposed on him; he sought it and was only too happy to keep it.)

He probably resents the office boy who ran around during fateful Executive Committee meetings convened to vote on by-election choices, handing out scraps of paper with numbers written on them. That boy – the arm that executed the orders that made or broke political careers – probably resented the humiliation but also revelled in the importance it bestowed on him.

I suspect that he carries this psychological scar, and it somehow engenders within him a sense of entitlement that, in turn, has been contagious and infected both his inner circle (I cannot otherwise decipher Neville Gafà’s delusional public statements) and his followers. This could explain the psychological dynamics of the surreal farewell tour and concurrent campaign for the new leader. Needless to say, there could be more pragmatic reasons behind what we witnessed, but it’s still too early to say.

Muscat should have resigned a long while ago. And I don’t mean in November or December of 2019. I mean even before. In particular, I mean when Daphne Caruana Galizia was assassinated. I have repeatedly quoted precedents – particularly, Francesco Cossiga’s, when the Italian Minister of the Interior resigned to carry the political responsibility for Aldo Moro’s assassination. When I first mentioned this, I wrote that Mr Cossiga was obviously not criminally responsible for the assassination, implying that the same could be said of Muscat. As things have now developed, I’m seriously reconsidering my statement.

If one were to be stricter, Muscat should have resigned when his right-hand man, his evil shadow, was caught red-handed owning secret offshore corporate structures meant to receive God knows what money. I obviously don’t know what former Police Commissioner Cassar declared behind closed doors during the ongoing Inquiry, but the fact that investigations on Schembri began on 8 April 2016 (a few weeks after the Panama Papers scandal erupted) and Mr Cassar resigned a mere twenty days later is, to say the least, bizarre.

 

Muscat as myrmidon

Certain people recognise who’s good and who’s evil quickly, not to say immediately. Others take more time, if they ever manage, particularly when the evil wear the clothes of the good. The Italian proverb l’abito non fa il monaco (literal translation: “the monk is not by the habit made”) means little if anything to them. They are easily beguiled by smart suits, child-like golden smiles, and hollow rhetoric.

Then again, we live in morally ambiguous times. Consider the silly actress who recently bragged that she owed her success to her abortion. She portrayed killing her own child in the womb as a strategically intelligent move for her career. Her life was not threatened, there had been no rape, the child wasn’t deformed (the usual three excuses for abortion) – it was essentially an act of selfishness; she destroyed a life for her career; and the media portray her as a heroine. How can people understand right from wrong, when they’re constantly fed this rubbish?

Why do I mention abortion? Because much of the pro-abortion rhetoric is like Muscat’s: based on subtle misrepresentations, illogical arguments, non sequiturs, and all the other techniques used by manipulators. The rhetoric’s success is predicated on the inability of people to see through invalid arguments than on the arguments having any inherent validity. Muscat mastered such rhetorical trickery, with such gay abandon and consistency that it’s good material for a PhD. Consider the latest example: Jacob Borg’s legitimate question to Muscat about Muscat’s Dubai trip (while he was still Prime Minister) and Muscat’s obscene answer: “It’s none of your business”. The obscenity was missed by the majority – Muscat again used his rhetorical abilities to obfuscate the issue. The public was again fed rubbish.

The latest instalment in this never-ending charade is the almost-imperceptible shift in the narrative the public’s being fed. Analyse how Muscat, who for a short moment was coming out as the evil man he really is, has begun to morph into a goodie again, while the blame shifts unto his evil shadow, Keith Schembri.

There’s a clear effort to deflect guilt from Muscat unto Schembri. It’s a subtle shift in the narrative, meant to present Schembri as Prime Minister in all but name and Muscat as Schembri’s myrmidon.

It’s the umpteenth attempt to pull the wool over the people’s eyes. If we want to resist the indecent proposal to absolve Muscat of Schembri’s sins, we have to ask: if indeed Muscat was simply Evil Schembri’s myrmidon, how to explain Konrad Mizzi? Mizzi is the man who, when last December Muscat declared he would be soon resigning (but then took his time), told him, “I love you – our project is still alive.”

If my memory serves me right, it was Muscat who brought Mizzi in as the third leg of the energy-deal tripod, not Schembri. If indeed the unholy trinity was created by Muscat, not Schembri, then the narrative of an evil Schembri who manipulated a ginger boy Muscat amounts to rubbish, and Muscat is as evil as Schembri.

 

Schembri’s business too is none of our business?

In November 2018, the newspapers reported Muscat saying that he did not “interfere with his chief of staff’s business affairs”.

Actually, since Schembri told us he had divested himself of all his business interests, there should have been nothing for Muscat to interfere with in the first place. Be that as it may, there are a few questions to ask about Schembri’s business affairs.

Starting from 2013, did Schembri’s companies use his powerful role as chief of staff to a Prime Minister who “does not interfere with [his] business affairs”, to push their products and drive competitors out of the market?

What kind of direct orders did the Police, Army, and other State entities place with Schembri’s companies from 2013 onward? Do we know anything about these dealings?

How many tenders were Schembri’s companies awarded post-2013? Was everything above board?

Schembri’s companies import paper, machinery, power tools, foodstuffs, wines, beers, and so on. Did these companies increase their sales to State entities from 2013 onward? How and why were their products chosen?

In September 2019, the papers ran stories claiming that Schembri’s fortune had sky-rocketed in the previous five years. In May 2016, Schembri had written an article claiming that “a political conspiracy” was afoot “over [his] business group” and that serving as “chief of staff to the Prime Minister [...] ha[d] come at great cost to [his] business interests.”

“I serve this country and its prime minister,” he wrote, “with no expectation of gratitude or reward”. Miskin, ruħi qalbi. Was he ever grilled on all this unadulterated rubbish?

Now that Muscat’s era is over, there should be nothing to hinder a thorough investigation of Schembri’s companies’ dealings. And while they’re at it, they should also thoroughly investigate all the companies Yorgen Fenech was involved in, in view of his declaration that there were many instances of corruption.

If this country wants to get back on track, it has to go through this painful experience. The French have charged their former President Nicolas Sarkozy with attempting to persuade a high-ranking magistrate to leak confidential information about another investigation targeting him. He will face a three-week-long criminal trial in October of this year. If we want our ability to manage our own State to be taken seriously and if we want to find our way out of the labyrinth Muscat threw us in, we have to (not should but have to) investigate our own office-holders, for malfeasance that’s far more serious than anything Mr Sarkozy is being charged with.

 

My Personal Library (83)

In the Cambridge University Press publication The Psychology of Politicians, edited by Ashley Weinberg (2012) – with a silly Nicolas Sarkozy laughing like a monkey on its cover – Dr Weinberg herself writes: “Perhaps the time is well overdue to ask that the process by which leaders are selected, and their functioning monitored, is one which includes assessments of their suitability against more objective criteria than if they can win power. [...] This is not to say that there is such a thing as an ideal set of psychological attributes for politicians [...] Nevertheless there are advantages to regular and reliable health screening of serving politicians, which could help to flag up serious misgivings about the behaviour of a leader. As history shows, only in major crises does the question begin to be asked audibly, ‘Should this person be in charge?’ As with selection, health screening of politicians is likely to be challenging to introduce, but constitutes a necessary precaution against political abuse” (p. 16).

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