The Malta Independent 8 March 2021, Monday

The country that needed Joseph

Mark A. Sammut Sunday, 17 January 2021, 11:00 Last update: about 3 months ago

Yes, the country needed Joseph Muscat. For many reasons, but mostly because it wanted – it needed – to experiment.

But now that Joseph and his Circus are gone, it looks like things are changing, a fact borne by recent opinion polls that clearly show solid increases in Bernard Grech’s support among the electorate. The electorate wants stability, and Bernard Grech embodies it.


Though the polls were carried out before the Gavin Gulia election-immediate-resignation incident, that incident affords us a rare opportunity to catch a glimpse of what’s going on behind the scenes and therefore to understand on a deeper level the true meaning of the polls. Gavin Gulia was elected in a casual election, but seconds later he resigned, purportedly because Prime Minister Robert Abela asked him to stay on as Tourism Authority Chairman. (I find this quite a lame excuse: if Dr Gulia’s role is so crucial for the tourism industry, not appoint him Tourism Minister?)

The Gulia incident confirms what many of us had been deducing from the subtle hints available here and there and from the incontrovertible fact that most Cabinet members openly supported Chris Fearne during the Labour leadership contest a year ago. It’s self-evident that Robert Abela is forced to face a lot of instability. He faces political instability; but he also faces an instability engendered by the fact that he’s probably constantly acting on his father’s advice. What might at first seem enviable – paternal advice will always be genuine and honest – the reality is that paternal advice is also oppressive, because your father is the only advisor you can never fire. This is an added source of instability for the Prime Minister, and it’s of the worst type, to boot. Political instability you can tackle; the other type, you simply have to live with.

But the argument I want to make is that since 2013, Malta has been experiencing two types of instability.

First, the “earthquake” Muscat willed. It was planned instability and it rode the wave of repressed popular malcontent at the Nationalists’ slow-paced approach to reform. Muscat’s earthquake was a Hegelian moment in Malta’s history, when the “Cunning of Reason” did what it usually does. But such moments in history also create chaos and instability. They usually need to be followed by a pause, for society to catch its breath. This is the instability that Malta is now facing and to which, in my view, Dr Abela is unable to offer a remedy because he lacks the requisite political qualities. On top of that, I think that the situation is compounded for Dr Abela by the pandemic that’s certainly making his time as Prime Minister more onerous and less attractive. The impression Dr Abela gives me is that he’d rather be in Sicily playing with his yacht and practising motorised water sports than in Malta mopping after Muscat’s mess and trying to salvage the country after the coronavirus tempest.

The other type of instability is party-related, engendered by the fact that the current crop of Labour MPs is a mixture of deputies created in the image of Muscat (the majority) and others who survived Muscat’s “muscatomorphism” attempts (the minority). Dr Abela needs a team that respects him out of personal loyalty, not that simply tolerates him because he happens to be the current boss. In a sense, this instability too was caused by Muscat and his cavalier attitude toward power and probity in politics. But the cause of events is (at this juncture) less important than their unfolding. The imposed resignations to pave the door for the entry of hand-picked loyalists, must undoubtedly be engendering tensions within the Labour Parliamentary Group and Cabinet that give rise to instability, which the country should desperately avoid. This instability overflows into the domain of the country’s reputation abroad, as embassies and international agencies are constantly observing us and drawing conclusions… which, in turn, affect and impact our ability to attract foreign investment, the lifeblood of our economy.

It’s useless that Ian Borg ruins the countryside and raises our expectations by building watered-down versions of spaghetti junctions, if the country fails to attract foreign investment and foreign business. It’s all concatenated.

Long story short, post-Muscat Malta is a dynamo of instability.

Which is why, little by little, despite the fact that it’s an uphill struggle, Bernard Grech’s stature and support are growing, mostly because the Nationalist Leader radiates an aura of stability. After the turbulence of the Muscat and Post-Muscat Years, the Country now needs stability. The country now needs Bernard Grech.

The question is: will there be enough time for the message to sink in?


Amsterdam v. Malta

Whereas Malta’s Reds are not-so-coyly flirting with a number of demented liberal projects – like prostitution, drug legalisation, etc – Amsterdam is seeing the light, but it’s not red. Amsterdam’s first female mayor, Femke Halsema (a left-liberal for the record), is worried about the city’s reputation for its liberal sex industry – its Red Light District is notorious – and wants to tone things down. Not only with regard to prostitution, but also drugs: she’s proposing to limit entry to cannabis-dealing outlets only to Dutch residents. Local police and prosecutors support her to the hilt, because the city’s liberal attitude has attracted hard drugs and the organised crime linked to the marijuana trade.

Ms Halsema’s policy, expected to come into force next year, isn’t original: similar restrictions have been put in place in Maastricht and Den Bosch.

The Dutch are hospitable and liberal but they’re learning that hospitality and liberalism too have limits.

Will the Maltese hippie-happy liberals listen?


JJ Cremona

A few days ago, the man who drafted our Constitution passed away. JJ Cremona had served the country as professor at our national University, attorney-general, judge and Chief Justice, and judge and Vice-President at the European Court of Human Rights. He also wrote poetry. When I spoke to him on the phone a couple of years back, his choice of words in Maltese struck me – it was clear that even as a very old man, his lucid mind still reflected great lexical sensibility. As far as I know, he wrote poetry in Maltese, English and Italian though I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that he wrote in French as well.

I thought the State would do more to commemorate such a man, particularly because he wrote our Constitution. But it seems that the French historian Alain Blondy is right about us: the Maltese don’t know what the State is; by extrapolation, they are ignorant as to how to honour those who contribute to its building.

What we, as individuals, could do to try to remedy this shortcoming is to understand the constitutional document more profoundly. It is my opinion that the principles found in Chapter Two are of significant importance to a proper understanding of the State’s role in the well-being of the Maltese nation, particularly with regard to the natural and built-up environment. I think that Professor Cremona chose words very wisely, and those words conceal concepts that haven’t yet been thoroughly explored. I might write about this in the future.

In the meantime, my condolences to Professor Cremona’s family, and to the Maltese Nation.


Trump, Free Speech, Big Tech Companies

Donald Trump isn’t everybody’s hero and it’s legal for big tech companies to do as they please with accounts they host. But I welcomed Germany’s and France’s lambasting of social media platforms that shut down Mr Trump’s accounts. At a news conference, Angela Merkel’s chief spokesman said that rights like the freedom of speech “can be interfered with, but by law and within the framework defined by the legislature – not according to a corporate decision.”

The sentiment was echoed by France’s Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, who said that the state and not “the digital oligarchy” is responsible for regulations, calling big tech “one of the threats” to democracy.

I must admit that I have a personal interest in this. A while ago, after I posted something about President Vella’s son-in-law on Facebook, that big-tech company suspended my account. You’d think that they would ignore a dot-on-the-map like Malta. Instead, they’ve made the dream of the James Bond villain organisation SPECTRE come true, and conquered the world.


Maltese Quirks (9)

Malta is probably the only country in the world where adults need to be taught good citizenship. Look at this photo (ignore the two spelling mistakes). Citizens are told that there’s video surveillance (nothing to remark there). But then they’re told – as if one really needs to be told! – that they should care about the environment, they shouldn’t vandalise, and – unbelievably! – that they should respect the law!

The fact that the authorities feel the need to tell the population to obey the law speaks volumes. In Italy, where they take formalities quite seriously, such a sign would quote the legal basis for the CCTV (video surveillance has human-rights and other legal implications). Not in Malta. In the once Best in Europe Country (formerly led by a deluded Invictus and now by a jet skiier in his spare time), the people have to be told to respect the law!

Let’s be frank. This is something for which many people (not just the deluded Invictus and his hapless successor) have to beat their chests and repeat Mea Culpa.

(Photo by Katrine Sammut.)


My Personal Video Library (10)

In the words of Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times, All the President’s Men (1976), starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, “provides the most observant study of working journalists we’re ever likely to see in a feature film. And it succeeds brilliantly in suggesting the mixture of exhilaration, paranoia, self-doubt, and courage that permeated The Washington Post as its two young reporters went after a presidency” – that of US President Richard Nixon who was implicated in the Watergate scandal (1972-1974) and had to resign in 1974.

  • don't miss