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No, we can’t

Indignation in Malta is quickly absorbed and neutralised by political patronage and tribalism

Labour Party meeting
Photo: Malta Labour Party / YouTube

The approval of Silvio Debono’s towers of greed by the Planning Authority board has been met by ire and indignation rarely seen before and the more details emerge the longer the anger will take to recede.

But recede it will. Until another scandalous permit is issued or another corruption scandal is unearthed. But that anger will subside too and in eight months time, election fever will grip the country, immigration will be the single most important issue, the vast majority of the electorate will flock to the polling stations, Labour will win by a landslide and in no time at all we’ll be back discussing Prime Minister Jospeh Muscat’s future and his possible successor.

Or maybe Muscat will have nowhere to go, announces that he has been convinced to stay on by his army of loyal followers and we’ll be back to discussing the PN’s latest drubbing and the future of its leader Adrian Delia and his possible successor.

If Delia survives, the country will patiently wait for sporadic bursts of anger at some planning or corruption scandal before the country embarks on yet another general election campaign in three or four year’s time. 

Directing the anger exclusively towards the Planning Authority is also futile for it’s apparent collusion with big business will not be solved by removing CEO Johann Buttigieg or by calling for the resignation of board members who’s only duty is to make sure that the planning process does not hinder the fait accompli designed behind closed doors in Castille. 

New faces will not solve old problems. And nor will a reform of the PA. The demerger of what was the Malta Environment and Planning Authority which was supposed to “ensure the better management and protection of the environment” and reach the right balance between “conservation and environment protection and responsible development” showed that cosmetic changes are equally useless.

Now, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat is shamelessly trying to distance himself from the Planning Authority’s decision to spend €9,000 in taxpayer money to fly in a board member from Sicily to say yes to Silvio Debono’s greed but it is evident that the collusion between the authority and big business in only an extension of the collusion between politics and big business. 

If there were any doubts on this collusion, these were put to rest by the crass conflict of interest of Planning Authority board member Matthew Pace.

Appointed to the Planning Board only weeks after the Labour Party was elected in 2013, Pace is a franchise owner of Remax Alliance Group – the agency that was selling Silvio Debono’s luxury apartments long before the project was approved. 

This was surely no coincidence, because that is how the Labour regime operates. It places loyalists in all vital government agencies and departments who are only loyal to the party in power. The police and army chiefs, the Attorney General, members of the judiciary, the people sitting on boards of institutions such as the anti-money laundering agency, the Malta Financial Services Authority, the Malta Gaming Authority, Wasteserv, the Foundation for Medical Services, the Foundation for Tomorrow’s Schools and so on and so forth are chosen for their loyalty to the party in power and not for their loyalty to the Constitution and the wellbeing of citizens and the environment.

This collusion between politics and big business is no new phenomenon but it has worsened in the last five years and is best epitomised by the Cafe Premier, Gaffarena, American University of Malta and Vitals Global Healthcare deals. Throw in Pilatus Bank, the Townsquare project and the Delimara LNG power plant and the picture is complete.   

The Labour Party is no longer. What once was a proud workers’ party has turned into a party which serves the interest of the few who own the vast majority of wealth in Malta. The same few who can truly claim to be the rulers of the land.

Yet the anger elicited by this collusion, which ultimately has a bearing on everyone’s quality of life, is ephemeral in nature and mainly confined to social media. It does not spill over to the streets and squares. The situation is truly desperate but the indignation at a system serving only the interest of the few – which in other countries has led to the creation of successful political movements such as Podemos and Ciudadanos in Spain, Movimento 5 Stelle in Italy and Syriza in Greece – does not translate to political action in Malta.

Political patronage, tribalism and a system designed for the exclusive benefit of Labour and the PN absorbs and neutralises this anger. Knowing that this anger will be short-lived, Muscat can bank on a robust economy and claim that his government has done more than any other previous Maltese administration without anybody laughing out loud.

Most people will content themselves with the fact that the traffic situation has not worsened, hunters will continue shooting protected birds at will under the watchful eye of their fellow hunter minister, lawyers and accountants will continue selling passports, setting up letterbox companies and representing cryptocurrency companies, employers will continue building their small empires on the back of cheap labour, landlords will continue renting substandard apartments at stellar prices and the construction industry will continue destroying what is left of the countryside.

While political movements seeking radical change abroad rallied behind slogans such as ‘Yes we can’ in Malta its more of ‘No we cannot’. Admittedly most movements seeking to overturn the system failed in creating a fairer alternative system which benefits the many and not the few, but at least they tried.

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