The Malta Independent 3 March 2024, Sunday
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Parallels never converge: Muscat and Metsola

Mark A. Sammut Sassi Sunday, 26 March 2023, 08:45 Last update: about 12 months ago

It came as no surprise that Keith Schembri was directly involved in the Vitals/Steward messy concession, “probably the messiest situation [Steward president Armin Ernst] s[aw] in [his] professional lifetime”.

Joseph Muscat once referred to his factotum as a catalyst. Why, he never actually specified. In the Hospitals Concession saga, it’s clear that the objective was to avoid having Steward compete with other bidders. The way I see it, Schembri helped to distort the entire process, denying the State the possibility of filtering different potential partners. This is the same Schembri – let’s not forget – who, like the Minister signing the papers for the Concession, opened a secret company protected by a secret trust in faraway, secretive jurisdictions.

The pressure, the short-cuts (on due diligence and possibly other matters), the “catalysis”... all this happened in the heyday of Muscat’s Empire. The renegotiation that Steward requested, then, seems to coincide with the period Muscat’s Empire was in the throes of death. The sun set on that empire not because Muscat’s electoral mandate expired – the Emperor was dethroned by his own Cabinet of Ministers. Perhaps we should give more weight to Muscat’s assertion that the Cabinet was aware of all the wheeling and dealing and not hastily dismiss it outright, as certain (former) Cabinet members would want us to.

I’ve known Muscat for years. Not closely, true, but close enough to form an impression of the man. He’s endowed with impressively quick wits and a sharp eye (even though he’s not as farsighted as he thinks). He’s able to assess a situation at neck-breaking speed and to excogitate ways of turning it round to (what he considers to be) his advantage. His cunning allows him to play with words, to convey “truth” in doses or different shades and hues, or even to conceal it. I think he’s economical with both the truth and lies. Deep down he seems to prides himself not on his ability to lie but to deceive, to cajole his listeners into believing his take on the facts. I think he even looks down on liars, considering them as amateurs, whereas he’s a master of deceit. That’s it: he sees himself more as Deceiver than Liar, more Fraudster (or Con-Artist) than Thief. I’m tempted to borrow a metaphor: he sees himself more Fallen Angel than Evil Spirit.

This is the reason why I’m inclined not to dismiss his claim that Cabinet (and therefore including its then legal consultant) was aware of what was going on. It’s highly likely that Muscat was pulling the wool over the Cabinet’s eyes, but still I’m inclined to believe him when he says that somehow or other he was keeping Cabinet informed. There’s a germ of truth in what Muscat usually says. This is his weapon of mass destruction: his ability to mask the truth, to put make-up on it – altering the expression of its chromosomal make-up in the process – to suit his needs. I’m sure he regularly resorted to these tricks with his Cabinet of Ministers, feeding them half-truths or distorted truths – but always, technically speaking, keeping them informed. Needless to say, they can’t use his deception to exonerate themselves; one expects Members of Cabinet to be shrewd enough to see through deceit, and to ask the pertinent questions. (With one exception: Yes-Man Extraordinaire Owen Bonnici, whose IQ is his Achilles’ heel.)

All of this puts those Cabinet Members in an awkward situation. They either went along with Muscat because they’re cut from the same cloth or else they were silly enough to let him take them for a ride. Come to think of it, being bent as a nine bob note is more alluring to politicians than being dumb.

As we’re discovering Schembri’s involvement, we had the parallel discovery of Roberta Metsola’s political vision, delivered in a public lecture.

Dr Metsola raised many points in her lecture; I’ll focus on the two that struck me most.

Dr Metsola spoke of the citizens’ right to light. Not being sure I heard correctly, I asked a lady who was sitting behind me, and she showed me her notes. She had jotted the phrase down, as she too had been impressed by it.

The right to light means that third parties cannot “develop” their property as they please denying you the right to sunlight, and therefore the possibility of using solar energy.

Why is this idea important?

First, it recognises the limits to the pretended absolute right to develop property. This comes on the heels of the ground-breaking Santa Luċija judgment delivered by the Court of Appeal a few days ago, which recognised that there is no absolute right to develop but it’s subject to limitations.

Secondly, it recognises the need to switch to cleaner sources of energy, particularly in the light of the fact that if we don’t do anything by 2030, the world’s temperature will rise in such a way as to cause floods, droughts, and other cataclysmic environmental events. Using sunlight to create electricity is one way to combat climate change.

The second point is Dr Metsola’s vision for Malta’s economic development, not based on activities that ultimately kill the proverbial goose that lays the golden eggs, but that allow the country to generate new niches. The objectives would be twofold: expand the economy in sustainable ways while retaining talented young people and halt the brain drain.

While Robert Abela is wasting his energies trying to control the damage caused by his reckless predecessor and his two sidekicks, Roberta Metsola outlined a vision that brings back hope.

Robert Abela a Socialist?

Yes, and I’m the King of Sweden!

Robert Abela cannot be a socialist. For two reasons.

One, he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He has spent his life with a red carpet unrolled before him and doesn’t even know how to spell the words “working class”. How can someone who bought a huge ODZ villa (in circumstances that should raise eyebrows), owns a yacht moored in another country, and is refurbishing a hotel-sized home on the other island of the Republic’s archipelago (all from the income earned through the legal profession and politics)... how can such a man know why and how socialism even came into being? Abela trying his hand at socialism is like a tone-deaf person trying to sing or someone who’s colour-blind trying to paint.

Two, because quite a few Labourites don’t want to be socialist anymore – which is why they have enthusiastically espoused the laissez-faire, almost-Thatcherite, ideology which Muscat labelled “liberal-progressivism”. To these Labourites, “socialist” is almost an insult. It implies that they haven’t made it in life and need State assistance to make ends meet, like their ancestors did.

The number-one champion of this mental attitude is Mrs Joseph Muscat. Michelle is the epitome of the Labourite for whom “Socialist” is a shameful reminder of one’s roots, the parvenu and arriviste who’s still uncertain of their achievements and actually needs trophies to prove to people (and to themselves) that they have indeed arrived. If they admit they’re Socialist, then they implicitly admit they still need the State to help them. Instead they want to hammer the point home that they have arrived.

Come to think of it, whereas they don’t want State benefits to help them, they do want to help themselves to benefits deriving from State appointments.

Lastly, I don’t think I’ve ever been a socialist, but I do like left-wing Christian Democracy.

Rosianne Cutajar

It is obvious to all serious people – whether Blue or Red – that Ms Cutajar’s place is no longer in Parliament.

Why Robert Abela is sticking his neck out for her is beyond comprehension.

The man is extremely weak. Whether temperamentally or politically is still to be seen.

The Interview

An Inspector Søren Farrugia Story

Inspector Søren Farrugia had been called to his boss’ office for an interview regarding the Sicilian inspector Andrea Montalbano, who had just been murdered. Farrugia was the last person to see him alive. The murder had shocked Farrugia to the core, as Montalbano was a dear friend of his.

The Inspector was waiting in the anteroom, trying to keep his mind off the shock. Theophano, his boss’ secretary with whom he had been having a secret on-off relationship, had just called him. The murder, she warned him, had sent shivers down certain spines in the political class. It was clear the interview would take a certain slant.

Domine Dirige Nos – “Lord, guide us.” It’s the Police motto. You can see it everywhere, on the badge on the upper part of the uniform sleeve, here and there in the HQ building. It’s also the motto of the City of London, the neoliberal capital of the world, where money and the markets dictate politics.

A young constable approached him, gently asking if he wished something to drink.

“A glass of water, please.”

The constable brought one in no time, and as Farrugia placed the glass on the small table next to him, he noticed the Corps’ in-house magazine, Il-Pulizija. Time ticked away, slowly, and he wanted to keep the anxiety under control. He leafed through the magazine, until his eyes fell on a full-page advertisement.

“Imagine an armoury where you can find all types of firearms and accessories,” it said. There was a picture of an MP44 7.92 x 33 mm Sauer assault rifle, a 1944 model from Germany. And another picture, of a carbine, an SIG MCX 5.56 x 45 mm, from the United States, a 2022 model. Why should anyone – in Malta – want, or even need, to buy a carbine, a weapon usually issued to high-mobility troops such as special operations soldiers and paratroopers?

The ad gave the impression that the business was thriving. Which must mean that the number of rifles, carbines and machine guns found in Maltese homes is not small. And since it was obvious that the business didn’t depend solely on sales made to members of the Corps, it necessarily meant that civilians had them too.

In the meantime, Montalbano had been murdered, the murder seemed to have made some people in high places edgy, and he was the last person to see Montalbano alive.

The young constable who had offered him the water approached him again, informing him the boss would now talk to him. Farrugia stood up and followed the constable, even though he already knew the way.

Why hadn’t Theophano come to welcome him, as she usually did?

As he walked toward the boss’ office, he wished he could divine which angle the boss would start his interview from.

He kept calling it “interview”. In reality, it was going to be an interrogation.

The constable opened the door. Farrugia entered and closed the door behind him.

 

 

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