Author Archive

On Resignations

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014

It has just been reported that Joseph Muscat considered his invitation to Dr Mallia to resign as a matter of courtesy. The impression that the Joseph Muscat of 15.00 hrs today wants to give is that the Joseph Muscat of 21.00 hours (approximately) yesterday was not simply asking Dr Mallia to consider the possibility of resigning (after reading his homework) but rather that it was a case of handing him the rope to go hang himself.

Much of the Prime Minister’s reputation hangs on whether this latest interpretation that he gives of what went on between him and Mallia once the report was out is believable. Did Muscat really decide that Mallia had to go and give him an honourable way out or did he really hope that Mallia would get the hint and save him the trouble of having to sack him? In the end Muscat went ahead and sacked Mallia (with no resignation letter in sight) and appointed his replacement.

There is an interesting twist though. Someone else who has been collaborating closely with the Labour government is currently in court precisely on a similar matter as that with which Mallia was confronted. Muscat has worked closely with John Dalli who, as far as he (Dalli) is concerned, is still a Commissioner of the European Union. Dalli had problems understanding whether he was invited to resign or whether he was sacked during a historic meeting with former Commission President Barroso.

Muscat has had no qualms about working with the ex-Commissioner notwithstanding Dalli’s interpretation of events. This begs the question: When does Muscat think that an offer to resign is a matter of courtesy and when does he believe it is actually an indirect way to sack a person?

No Bridge for Troubled Waters

Monday, November 24th, 2014

bridges_akkuzaIt’s such an annoying habit. The moment the government of the day feels that it is losing the PR plot somebody in the communications department rushes to the file cabinet marked “Red Herrings” and pulls out the thickest file of them all. “Bridge to Gozo” has all the makings of controversy à-la-carte that might only just satisfy the need to distract – to draw attention away from the real problem.

It has happened again. Labour’s absolute incapacity to deal with the basic tenets of the rule of law have been laid embarrassingly bare by a series of unbelievable events. Unbelievable in the sense that you could not invent them if you wanted to. We have reached a point where our members of parliament – the people’s representatives – are informed that they (or their entourage) will no longer be allowed to bear firearms within the parliamentary precincts. No shit Sherlock. Where they ever?

Forget the Black Rod having the door slammed in his face and having to knock three times to gain access to the hallowed halls of popular representation. Forget any semblance of institutional respect (let alone reverence). Forget, in short, the basic fundamentals of the rule of law.

Potevamo stupirvi con effetti speciali… but we’re just throwing this bridge idea at you. Of course we’ve royally screwed the public transport “improvement” we promised, and don’t forget we’ve absolutely bungled the whole issue of a new power station; we’re not exactly hiding the fact that property developers have us by the balls and we will be selling off huge chunks of the littoral for their enjoyment, BUT of course we can ask you to consider trusting us with a 1 billion euro project to span the fliegu. Piss up in a brewery anyone?

I’d say Jesus wept. But he is running out of tears at this point.

Bang! Bang! Democracy!

Thursday, November 20th, 2014

bang_akkuzaTwo shots. It could take two reckless, dangerous, irresponsible, illegal shots to finally get the people to “wake up and smell the coffee”. It might. There’s no telling really how willing an electorate can be to allow the fundamental tenets of a democracy to shatter before its eyes. That the nation was in the hands of a class that would only pay lip service to a system of rule of law was already evident to anybody who bothered to listen. We needed the caricature – the modern day parable ‘- to maybe pull the myriad ostrich heads out of the sand.

It’s more than a caricature. It’s a list of bilious arrogance spat in the face of any semblance of respect for the rule of law and the system.

  1. A minister’s driver used an official car for a private visit.
  2. That minister’s driver is also a policeman. Chauffeurs, waiters. Ipsos custodies gone wrong.
  3. That minister’s driver drives around armed. That’s a loaded gun.
  4. That minister’s driver feels entitled to take the law into his own hands. He could have reported an alleged “hit and run” offender, instead he took his gun…
  5. That minister’s driver was not happy with firing not one but two “warning shots” in a public place. He jumped into his car and began “hot pursuit”. Because of course he is also a policeman and there was the crime against public peace of scraping a side-view mirror to deal with. Citizens of Malta will drive more carefully now.
  6. That minister’s driver’s version was very soon the “official” version being backed by nothing less than a ministerial PR office. This notwithstanding a large number of eyewitness accounts failing to corroborate any pieces of the story that seem to have been concocted between the events and the media exercise. It’s not just a travesty, it’s a travesty backed by big brother.

We do say that certain trends do come late in Malta. Thirty years is a long time but hey we’re getting out very own 1984 right now. Put yourselves in the shoes of the British citizen who is guilty of having hit the side mirror of a ministerial vehicle. Hell, put yourselves in the shoes of any citizen involved in a traffic accident with a ministerial vehicle or a minister driving his vehicle. You’re screwed either way. If it’s the minister who was driving at the time then you know whose version of events will count. If it’s the ministers driver then your lotto for life will begin the moment he reaches for the gun. You know…

“Mr. Minister’s PR Guy in Press Conference Rag

Notice how his mouth never moves, almost”

Pathetic really. Even before any gun was shot the minister’s driver has already stepped out of the line (see list above). What do we get? We get a ministry of the government of the republic defending “his version of events” – essentially on the face of it (and on the basis of the alleged facts available hitherto) defending what can only be described as criminal activity. Why?

The Labour government track record defending persons with a poor record with the law is already a huge burden on Joseph Muscat’s dwindling credibility. Criminals turn heros rather enthusiastically in Labour’s constellation. Compared to this kind of nefarious behaviour, the sins of failing to deliver on any of its major electoral promises and the (non) meritocratic mess pale in comparison.

Sadly there is a huge chunk of the population that are prepared to carry along with this farce. These are the kind of people who applauded Muscat’s pushback antics, who are amused by his backing of criminals as Labour representatives and who will think that the minister’s driver is some kind of latter day hero who was valiantly defending the right to have an unblemished car mirror. As I explained in this blog only yesterday, this is also the result of the erosion of authorities and institutions. It is the result of the gradual hacking away at any semblance of system of accountability and rule of law. It is also the result of the drunken stupor induced by that famous number – 36,000.

Two shots. They might be the beginning of a wider awareness. Or they might just be the starting pistol’s shots announcing the beginning of our descent into the absolute pits of mediocrity.

Grazzi Joseph. Nibqghu nafuhulek.

By Appointment

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014

appointment_akkuzaI was asked recently to give my two cents’ worth for an article being prepared by a MaltaToday journalist. He was looking into the recent history of KSU and more particularly the trend of ex-KSU council members becoming politicians (even more particularly Nationalist politicians). Was the university student council simply a machine geared to churn out potential nationalist MPs? Why only nationalist? Was (is) the university a nationalist party enclave? Is there a reason SDM still win a majority of votes at the elections? And of course… what is wrong with the “first past the post” system?

I will not delve into the answers that I gave here but what intrigues me is the perspective that is taken on the question of what we can call political careerism. Let me just say (I admit rather idealistically) that the whole KSU structure as conceived in the mid-90s only becomes counterproductive when allegiance to representing political party interests takes precedence over the aim of student representation. Back to careerism. The question is, is it only the nationalist side of our great divide that operates a school of aspiring careerists? A place in SDM, eventually a seat on the KSU council, a bit of coverage, maybe a spot of Local Council sparring and then a place in the party mechanism only to be nominated on a board or two once your party is in government. Who knows?

Would it take an anthropologist to really uncover the liens that intertwine in our very local and islandish form of networking that uses certain DNA traits such as “better the devil you know”? Take one step back. Look at the Aaron Farrugia’s of the Labour constellation. Sure they may not have made it to the coveted KSU executive post (though, had they done their representation homework properly they would have discovered that they had quite a role to play in the Social Policy Commission through Pulse). Still, you will find that the current administration is peppered with young, green, inexperienced hopefuls that are projected (many would add undeservedly) onto various committees, boards, and whatnot. All By TaghnaLkoll Appointment you would say. And you would be right.

It’s two sides of the same coin though. 25 years of nationalist administration, plus a petri dish of cliches as is the university population might have meant that SDM had the upper hand and were more prone to scrutiny when it came to careerism in the public eye (particularly after the idealist non-affiliated SDM petered out following its three year stint battling the impossible). This does not mean that what was true for the nationalist greasy pole is not true of the labourite one. People are so obsessed with this idea that there is some kind of nationalist infiltration of the university that they tend to forget that the two “schools” of partisan interference have sown (and reaped) their seeds in the university campus.Whether it is intentional or just an adaptation of the campus to the realities of political careerism is anyone’s guess.

It’s not just university you know. The ivory tower is only one field of recruitment. The networking system upon which our political parties have relied means that in every sector – from business to health to entertainment – there are massive interests that very often verge on the economic. We have seen how in the last few months the Labour government has scarcely been able to hide the web of interests that lie behind every supposed “policy” move. The brazen approach of discovery taken by Caruana Galizia’s Running Commentary is expediting the discovery of a web of interests that is being accommodated. From advertising brochures to insurance contracts to appointments on public boards. As Benigni would say “Qui è un mangia mangia generale”.

Surprised? Surely not. Also today former PN activist Frank Psaila “blogs” on MaltaToday about “The untouchables“. His is a particular slant about “people of trust” being necessarily appointed in particular strategic posts. Strategic to the government of course. Psaila can say a thign or two about what happened during the time of the PN administration because he was part of it. Caruana Galizia will have multiple willing “leakers” eager to disclose the secret entanglings of labour.

The real question is whether had there been an equally popular system of discovery during the previous administrations – one that lends itself to subtle contributions by “international networks” – whether it would have also uncovered a similar web of intertwined interests and favours. We had a former PN secretary general refer to a system of barter to explain how the party works. Combined with the aforementioned “better the devil you know” approach, you get the nagging feeling that just as a series of not too serendipitous connections would link the PM to a newly formed advertising agency or insurance company nowadays,  you could have done very much the same exercise a while back.

True. The Labour system is much more outrageous and ostentatious with its careerist appointments. Competence and relevance (of qualification) are thrown out of the window. Within 21 months we have been able to witness arrogant dog-headedness and a multitude of forms of brazen nepotism. A dark shadow looms on most government tenders and nowadays when you hear the prime minister say that “he respects the court decision” (as in the case of the prohibitory injunction on the transport issue) you get the feeling that the tone is more “I will tolerate for now” than “I will humbly prostrate myself before the decision of the courts of law”.

In essence Labour are much more expert at exposing the ugly warts of the way our democratic system functions. What is sure is that 25 years of nationalist administration failed to strengthen the appropriate watchdogs that would be barking madly at this point. “Authorities” of all sorts are feebler and weaker. Labour fast-forwarded this weakness in the system by exploiting it further and further. The decline and fall of the police and army system under the able (not for good reasons) hands of Minister who has long lost the plot is the most obvious example. Weakened institutions – the ombudsman, the attorney general’s office, MEPA come to mind – abound. Elsewhere ministers disband independent committees with a simple phone call, MPs are suspected of toying around with tender documents… need I go on?

So the tune has not changed. The need for new politics remains greater than ever. The tragedy is that the system is ever so desperately ingrained in its methods that it becomes harder to see a way out. In such a small democracy as ours it it difficult (or impossible) to imagine the ultimate watchdog turning out to be the catalyst for such a change. Who is the ultimate watchdog? Oh that would be “the average voter”. But he might be too busy trying to expectantly get his foot into the gravy train (by appointment) to bother with the complicated nuances of the absolute reform that is ever so urgent and necessary for this country.

That is the sad truth of it all. A truth that Joseph Muscat turned into the secret underpinning of his strategy: That within the vast majority of the electorate lies an illusion of a legitimate expectation to get a piece of the pie by appointment and for free. So long as that illusion lasts the nation will continue to resemble a suicide of lemmings running towards a cliff’s edge*.

 

* Actually this is an urban myth. Lemmings do not really commit suicide** by collectively jumping off cliffs (see here for example). Voters on the other hand….

 

** The collective term for lemmings, though, is actually a “suicide” of lemmings. As we say in Maltese … Ħu il-fama…

Ġej budget li ma jitwemminx

Sunday, November 16th, 2014

budget_akkuzaDifficli li timmaġina li dan il-baġit ikun wieħed li jitwemmen. Difficli, biex niftehmu, li jkun xi baġit fantastiku. Roħs ta’ prezzijiet u taxxi. Jekk jgħidulek li se jseħħu wisq probabbli tkun int l-ewwel wieħed li jgħajjat “Ħożż fl-ilma”. Kumpens għall-għoli tal-ħajja? Insa. Tmienja u ħamsin centeżmu x’ħa tixtri bihom? Forsi pastizz. Tad-dawl u l-ilma aħjar ma ngħidu xejn. Għax roadmaps jiżżerżqu f’kemm ilni ngħidlek u ħadd ma jerfa’ l-icken responsabilta’. Ħadd, biex niftehmu, m’hu se jilgħab il-karriera tiegħu fuq xi wiegħda li jseħħ dak li għandu jseħħ. Għax ifhem, kieku kien Casino ilhom li spiccaw bla cips. Muscat, Mizzi, Cardona, kollha xi ħin jew ieħor qalu li jirriżenjaw jekk ma jwettqux il-pjanijiet tagħhom – jekk hux dawl u ilma jew White Rocks. Hemm għadhom. Xi skuża dejjem se jsibu.

Insa’ ħabib. Dal-baġit żgur mhux ħa jħallik mistagħġeb, b’ħalqek miftuħ.

Sakemm… dejjem… m’intix wieħed minn dawk il-babbi, għadek hemm tistenna il-bajtra taqa’ f’ħalqek.

 

 

The Merry Wives of Caesar

Monday, November 10th, 2014

wives_caesar_akkuza

Con Artistry

Just before I graduated from the law course and set off to the College of Europe to harden my bones and extend my experience in the arcane arts of European Law I finally managed to get linked to a law firm. Such link included a promise of employment, particularly a promise of employment in the very arcane art that was still not guaranteed a future in the Maltese law environment. It so happened that the university lecturer who had spotted my ‘talent’ (or let’s say potential) was a certain Dr Patrick Spiteri – at the time Malta’s number one reference point for tax law.

Back from Bruges (the odd fourteen years ago) I settled down for what would turn out to be a rather short period of employment. I had barely had the time to settle when storm clouds began to surround Spiteri’s practices and the man who had seemed to be a visionary turned out to be unable to keep his hands off his client’s money – and this not by way of bills. Luckily for me I managed to change firm and kick off my career properly and Patrick Spiteri quickly became a sad and unfortunate episode in the past.

Over the years I would hear stories of a more and more “deranged” Spiteri hanging around the halls and corridors of our hallowed courts. Fraud, misappropriation and more where the order of the day as reports had it that the man became a sad shadow of his former self. The word on anybody’s mouth who would mention him would be “Spicca Patrick” (Patrick’s finished). I was surprised therefore that the Sunday Times of Malta’s latest self-patting on the back exercise involved a sprightly Spiteri still up to his shenanigans. A bit of journalistic sleuthery had uncovered Spiteri in some mansion in the UK – the Times having taken it upon itself to verify whether his excuses of infirmity that were keeping him away from the court contained any ounce of truth.

Bravo le Times. Our citizens are best served by this journalistic fervor. I wonder though how do the people at The Times get to pick which fakery and effrontery to uncover? As the poetess once said: “What kind of fuckery is this?” We all remember the story of a former EU Commissioner who stayed away from the lights of investigation and examination in Malta by producing certificate after certificate of invalidity that kept him “imprisoned” in Brussels. Where was Mark Micallef and the Times at the time? Did they hound aforesaid ex-Commissioner to verify whether there was any truth in the claims? If not, why not?

Seven Brides for Seven Lovers

Which brings me to another section of the press that seems to assume a self-appointed role of gatekeeper to the truth. MaltaToday’s Balzan is having trouble digesting the sudden wave of information regarding alleged extra-marital trysts that are engaged into by persons holding a public position of power. Two Ministers to boot are currently in the eye of a press storm having had their alleged escapades and infidelities paraded before all.

Ho da far un dramma buffo,
E non trovo l’argomento!
Questo ha troppo sentimento,
Quello insipido mi par.

(Prosdocimo – Il Turco in Italia)

What may seem to be material for an opera libretto (or your average issue of HELLO! magazine) has an important constitutional slant that cannot be ignored. Notwithstanding the eagerness of people like Balzan (or the Times) to be the sole gatekeepers of information in this day and age, it must be said that the “relationship status” of two ministers of government (to put it in facebook style that is best understood) ceases quickly to be a personal and private matter. In the first place even a “simple” liaison that outside the marital circle can be problematic constitutionally for reasons that should be obvious to all. The potential for blackmail (which blackmail would effect the use of his ministerial powers) is already great at that point.

When the allegations then move on to include the possibility of public monies being used to assuage an uncomfortable domestic situation (vide employing wives, ex-wives or lovers) then the constitutional problem is not simply event but unavoidable. This is not about social judgement on the marital status of individuals : a malaise that is strong in persons of all classes in Malta who are quick to judge the unmarried, the separated, the remarried for all kinds of reasons. That kind of ridiculous calculation is hors question.

The real issue is the peril that is brought upon a public position to the extent that such public position becomes untenable. That a minister resorts to the use of the Department of Information to emit imperial decrees proclaiming the happy status of his marriage is clear evidence that the government machinery has lost its plot as to the separation of powers and issues. Ministers have been expected to resign for issues involving mere suspicion until their name is cleared. It is not just Caesar’s wife who has to be above suspicion but also – and above all – Caesar himself.

This is not about speculation and gossip for the sake of speculation and gossip. It is about serious allegations that the performance of a minister in his public role has been placed in serious jeopardy by his behaviour. No amount of faffing and pointing fingers elsewhere should diminish the gravity of the situation. It is also not, strictly speaking, about moral judgement. Mired as we are in a cesspit of moral iniquity it would have not been a problem adding another wart to the already heavily prejudiced situation. As it is though, this is about the lay rules of the land that require of the ministers of government the kind of commitment that is not such as to potentially jeopardise their performance. They also require that the money from the public purse is not used to in any way entertain domestic problems (or their add-ons).

There are larges swathes of the press who are clueless about the goings on. Their twisted set of priorities coupled with the illusion that the private affairs of a public person would remain private no matter what the public consequences will not permit a clear approach to the current issue. Sure a person is free in our society to marry, not to marry, to be faithful, to be unfaithful, to be openly gay, to be a closet gay … the list goes on. These freedoms though are not a carte blanche particularly for persons who are in positions of power and who might prejudice their performance within that position of power by those very freedoms.

As for Balzan’s hilarious disquisitions about who should be the gatekeeper of the news there is an age old system that allows you to publish and be damned, leaving it to the courts to right any wrong if somebody oversteps the line. That really is what libel, slander and defamation laws are all about. But aside from his little libel fund and persecution mania I doubt whether Balzan, once again, has a clue.

 

 


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