The Malta Independent 21 April 2024, Sunday
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Being vague is so in vogue

Victor Calleja Sunday, 25 February 2024, 07:39 Last update: about 3 months ago

In another section of the press you can read a wonderful series of articles where they fact-check stories. Usually, but not necessarily always, they investigate matters of national importance and reach what seem to be unequivocal conclusions.

In a recent fact-checking exercise, The Times delved into the story about whether Robert Abela, in his declaration of assets, gave a true list or not. The main object of the fact-checking was the Prime Minister’s ownership of a property in Xewkija, Gozo. Is it one property or three? Did Abela knowingly deceive by stating it is one when, in actual fact, they are three? Or is it, as he says, three in one like some miraculous asset that multiplies in size and value?

The article which was fact-checking the claims made in The Shift features an accompanying clip of a reporter asking Robert Abela questions about the whole three-in-one affair.

Interestingly – and no, not coincidentally – the article uses the word vague at least twice.

That is the mantra of the day: never be clear, never be too exact, because by being precise and giving proper answers or filing proper declarations of assets you can be caught out. If you leave it vague you can always twist yourself out of any predicament. To add on even more vagueness, the reporter is heard saying to the prime minister that his answer was vag (vague).

It's quite well known that politicians are usually vague. What Robert Abela did and is doing is not something new or invented by him. But whenever he fields questions by proper journalists, he does seem to have perfected his vagueness to an art.

It’s not as if the prime minister is being interviewed often. During his four years in tenure, proper grilling by good, objective, proper journalists has been nearly non-existent. The only time he is asked a few pertinent questions is when he is on his way in or out of parliament. Otherwise he just makes himself scarce.


Obviously if he had to face grilling, not just about his property but about a myriad other subjects, he would lovingly lose himself in more vagueness and obfuscation.

It is definitely no coincidence that there is so much vagueness. The basis on which the declaration of assets by ministers and the prime minister is worded is vague. The remit was, most probably, penned by the same people who are bound by its tenets. And so, even with so many legal minds involved, the idea is to obfuscate and not make it clear.

The property of Robert Abela in question is now under investigation by the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life. Here again there are more twists in this sordid affair of undeclared assets or assets declared in a vague, lets-not-make-it-too-clear way.

The commissioner in question, God bless his soul, has been quite efficient. Efficient in letting nearly everyone off the hook. The huge majority of cases he is asked to investigate are either rejected or found to lack proof of any wrongdoing.

The commissioner’s post was originally intended to be one that needs a two-thirds majority in parliament. Robert Abela then performed one of his magic tricks and managed to bypass this majority requisite, appointing the commissioner by a simple majority. Again, the vagueness of our laws and stipulations gives the wicked a free ride in this political world of ours.

Some wise man or woman once said that it is the spirit of the law which is most important, not the letter of the law. In Malta the wise men who govern think that the most important thing in life is being vague.

In vague we trust.


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