The Malta Independent 19 June 2021, Saturday

Persistence, perseverance, grit

Claudette Buttigieg Thursday, 3 June 2021, 07:56 Last update: about 16 days ago

The government likes to boast that it listens. Isn’t it about time it evolved into a government that answers — to the basic requirements of democratic accountability?

In this column I have often referred to government information which I managed to squeeze out like water from a stone. It takes persistence — in asking Parliamentary Questions. It takes perseverance — in following the stone-walling replies with further questions. It takes grit — in following up references to replies, which more often than not, do not really answer my question.

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Take the use of public funds. I tabled a set of questions related to funds directly donated by the government (or through government-run agencies and entities) to the Marigold Foundation, the outfit run by Michelle Muscat, spouse of 2019’s International Man of the Year Award (for organised crime and corruption).

Not one Minister has answered honestly and fully. Never mind, I haven’t forgotten: persistence, perseverance, grit.

I am trying to find out the following: How much money was given to the Marigold Foundation by Joseph Muscat’s Ministers (through agencies, etc)? How much money continued to be given by Robert Abela’s Ministers — you know, for the sake of continuity? Also, what happened to this money? How was it used?

It is very clear that the Government is making a collective effort not to reply to my questions. How interesting.

The latest “replies” to my questions are totally absurd. In eight years in parliament, I have never come across such a reply. All the Ministers gave me an identical one: “the questions she made about the subject have been satisfactorily answered” (il-mistoqsijiet li għamlet dwar is-suġġett kienu diġà sodisfaċentement imwieġba).

Excuse me? I am a member of parliament and, on behalf of my constituents, I have a right to know how much public funds were spent and in what way they were spent. And no, we are not satisfied with the replies. None gave the information on how these funds were spent.

The irony of it all is that, while I am being told to shut up and stop asking questions about the Marigold Foundation and public coffers, Parliament is passing a law to promote open data. (It is a transposition of the provisions of Directive 2019/1024 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 June 2019 on open data and the re-use of public sector information, recast, into Maltese legislation.)

So here we are, telling Europe, how “open” our government is, but failing to be transparent about funds which passed from the same government to a foundation which just happens to be run by the ex-Prime Minister’s wife.

I am not just angry at the situation we are in; I am furious. People are giving up on politics, democracy, parliament, and all that is remotely related to the system because they are not seeing a way forward.

Trees and democracy for the chop

In a recent post on my FB page I wrote, “If we can’t be bothered to save our past, how can we guarantee our future?” I wrote this while sharing the sad photo of one of the last old trees in Attard, which had just tasted the axe of a government that could not care less about trees or what they symbolise and represent.

I strongly feel that the brutal act of axing these trees symbolizes the attitude towards democracy, the right to know, freedom of expression, etc.

We have Ministers telling the public that they are all ears, they listen, and they understand — but then they just go ahead and do whatever they like. They chop down old trees just like they give away money to whoever they like and expect not to be asked any questions at all.

I do not think this is arrogance anymore; we are way beyond that now. There is a sense of being masters rather than public servants — a superiority that’s anti-democratic but which, unblushingly, they legitimise by referring to their electoral margins of victory.

Smelling a rat

In May 2019, the Government announced the start of works on a complex in Naxxar. It is meant to offer various amenities to facilitate the needs of disabled persons and their families. The project was expected to be completed within four years and had a targeted investment of €32 million, which were also meant to be co-financed by the European Union.

To date, the earmarked project (close to the old Trade Fair Grounds) is a large hole, an abandoned excavation site with heaps of rubble, where wild grass and bushes have grown. The area is of total inconvenience to the residents in the area – dusty in summer, muddy in winter, and a playing field for rats.

The main issue here is the lack of transparency. Was this project truly approved by the EU for funding? I ask because the project goes totally against the principles of the EU in relation to ghettoing services for persons with disability.

In any case, the project is not clearly thought through. It does not help persons with disability to be closer to the community. The one-stop-shop is a total excuse to marginalise and segregate persons with disability in a confined space.

Time for more parliamentary questions, and persistence, perseverance and grit. We do have a right to know.

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