The Malta Independent 15 August 2020, Saturday

Filial facilitators

Charles Flores Sunday, 12 July 2020, 10:42 Last update: about 2 months ago

True or not, part or not of a political scheme involving a particular section of the media and whatever the outcome – or not – by the time this piece appears, the recent spate of revelations of exchanges between top businessmen and prominent politicians re-triggered an old belief I’ve had for decades. While some naively think big business and politics supposedly don’t mix, they certainly intertwine in a way that often leads to shady deals and hypocritical situations.   


We don’t need to go into names, but if you have a good look at even the niceties of the most recent of revelations you will notice there is an incredible element of soft-soaping and sycophancy, that chummy-chummy feeling one gets when two geometrically polar figures of power meet or exchange messages. Love letters, almost. One needs the other as much as the other needs one.

Re-read those SMSs. The underlying factor is the obvious nuance of “we are behind you”. Well, of course. Notice the first person plural, for it is not just one high-profile individual merely doing the spade work for the family, but a good word-monger doing the collective harvesting. There is one indisputable fact, though – rest assured the same faithful, breast-beating spectacle of everlasting love and admiration is being accorded to rival power-holders by either the same rich cowboy or one of his siblings.

Business families in Malta have always had these filial facilitators doing the pipework among politicians, their canvassers and even their henchmen. I have never stopped being intrigued by this reality of brothers and sisters from the same business families opting to publicly or privately show an inclination towards one political colour or the other. The examples are numerous and well known. It would be absurd to think people are hoodwinked into believing this businessman or that businessman, this businesswoman or that businesswoman, has even an iota of political interest unless it is meant to be a deeper investment into power.

My journalistic nose often got me into somewhat embarrassing situations. Like the time I had taken for granted this top entrepreneur for a “progressive”, only to find, quite by chance, when an old friend of mine who happened to be the waiter serving us at our chosen restaurant, whispered into my ears it was “his other brother” that had conveniently turned red and not this one asking me about my poetry by way of expressing some sham culture. I quickly shifted topics and he too seemed quite relieved.

On another occasion, another working lunch with a top businessman inevitably led to things political. I had just met his older sibling quite by chance and he had been pretty emphatic on the then situation from his perspective – but miles away from the other’s. When I expressed my surprise at this, he could only say: “I don’t know what’s come into my brother’s head.” Then I was left flabbergasted. Today I certainly know better.

A quick mental scan of some of our old and new business families in Malta and Gozo will tell you the same story. Sometimes brothers actually had to even publicly come to blows over politics in their bid to show their assumed adherence and/or repugnance to opposite political views, more so when trends, developments and electoral shifts occurred. It is a very familiar feature, a most convenient method of making sure no one political power, no one political powerhouse, gets to disrupt the family business empire.

Don’t take this for an anti-business tirade. It is not. It is more of an anti-hypocrisy tirade. When things get hot, when it then leads to serious accusations and ugly situations, the mealy-mouthed, snivelling compliments really get to mean absolutely nothing. History the world over is replete with these sad stories of filial facilitators gone stale and politicians committing professional hara-kiri... until the next generation of gung-ho businessmen and politicians.


End of iconic waterhole

It is always so sad to see an iconic old place closing its shutters forever. With it, oftentimes dies a whole generation. The closure of Valletta’s Prego café inevitably provoked a social media maelstrom of memories among people who have known it since childhood and who still got a kick out of visiting it several decades later.

In 1960s Valletta, the Prego in South Street was one of only a few popular waterholes one could go to for discussion among friends, to plot some anti-something campaign and to just fill up with booze without being hurried out to create space for other clients. It had been there since the late 1940s, but it was the 60s that gave it the distinction it has enjoyed to this very day, not only for its genuinely retro ambience, but also for the friendliness and camaraderie of the people who ran it and served you.

While it is so tempting to go all gooey with nostalgia, suffice to say that the Prego was also the haunt of different people with different latitudes in life. Like El Vino in London’s Fleet Street and the earlier fellow-victim to time in Valletta, the Lantern, the Prego had its regular flow of journalists, lawyers and trade-unionists, all of whom mingled together, each and every one of them with his or her professional pursuits.

The Prego was also common fertilising ground for the young, up-and-coming generation of Maltese writers, playwrights and poets of the late 60s. Coffee and brandy or lager alternated as per one’s pocket conditions, but the place carried with it the buzz we all needed. Few may actually know the Prego also featured in the new poetry that was emerging at the time, along with its “christs on lambrettas”, LSD invocations, anti-war slogans and gay bus conductors. There’s a thesis there to be written.


German resolve?

It is good to see the German Ambassador to Malta, Walter Hassman, declaring the issue of illegal immigration in Europe will be one of the main topics on the agenda of the German Presidency of the European Union.

It is even better to hear him acknowledging the great problems Malta is facing with immigration and how important it is to see the German Presidency working for the achievement of all-round, pan-EU cooperation on the problem. He could not have been any clearer: “We are fully aware that Malta is really very much in a difficult position being so close to Libya, right in the centre route of boats. We cannot continue as we have done so far by dealing person by person, always negotiating; we need a stable, sustainable mechanism to deal with arrivals.”

Like the German envoy, other EU member state ambassadors on the island daily witness the trials and tribulations of this little nation in having to deal with such a massive European problem. But they prefer to stay mute. Nationalist interest takes precedence, of course.



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