Of Protests and Business as Usual

In today’s Malta the majority of Maltese people have basic needs. They have a roof over their head, potable water, enough food and some money in their pockets to buy the odd item. This cannot be said of a very high percentage of the world’s peoples.

Since Independence, thanks to the efforts of successive administrations and an ambitious work force, we have made huge strides in our lifestyles and we have come to expect that little bit more than just basics. We look forward to living in peace, assured of equal opportunities in a friendly environment as expected by the rule of law.

And then again, those branches responsible for the rule of law – the legislative, the judicial and the executive – to be governed in turn by various checks and balances. Anything short of this delicate equilibrium will disrupt the harmony which people of sound mind should expect by right.

Citizens worth their salt would have no qualms in paying taxes in the knowledge that their money is well spent and not financing a corrupt employee who discharges himself on full pay pending police investigations that take their time to surface.

Healthy institutions are of the essence. It is imperative that even within these same institutions nobody is above the law. In our system of government, where after every election the winner takes all, the intended checks and balances stop at Castille. All dictates are issued from this edifice. All positions of power and responsibility are sanctioned therein. Chairmen, commissioners, judges and heads of departments are all appointed by the Prime Minister.

In some cases, there is some lip service to the idea that this should take place after consultation but more often than not this is just a formality. However, in other scenarios this system makes a mockery of our constitution. These appointees have been screened meticulously but not necessarily for the right reasons. These appointees depend upon the puppeteer for their bread and butter.

This system is creating two entities within our people – those close to Castille with the obvious advantages that this brings, and the rest. This triggers the Matthew effect. This effect takes its evangelical origin from Matthew 25: 29 which states that those who enjoy a status of advantage are in a position of increasing this further thus enjoying additional recompense, whereas those who do not are prone to losing even the little they have.

The Matthew effect needs to be restrained as it generates social and economic inequality. Under normal conditions this is usually checked by setting a different set of social priorities. Our present system of government on the other hand promotes it further. Economic growth is not the ultimate goal in politics when this comes at a price, especially one that fosters inequality. When only a select few enjoy its fruit, the Matthew effect is triggered and the momentum of inequality will culminate in social instability.

But do we not have a head of state who oversees that all is well, a head of state who is the guardian of our constitution? Here again the head of state is appointed by the prime minister. The usual choice falls on a fellow politician of a senior age from within the same party. Now how can the people expect a person who has spent most of his or her life working within the same ranks as the person who has appointed him or her to safeguard their rights in the eventuality of disagreement? How can a partisan president be the head of state to the entire population? That those who have held such posts have never gone beyond their remit does not in any way counter argue this. This has only been because of the purely functional role of the presidency.

Our country needs a head of state who would be a key link in the chain of our checks and balances. We need a head of state that would have no hesitation in questioning the goings-on in the country, a president who takes up public outcries of wrongdoing and brings the institutions to book.

Following the assassination of an eminent journalist, a murder that shocked the whole country, and its aftermath of public protests contrasted with the determined business as usual spiel of the government, our prime minister has gone on record stating that, “The picture some are painting of our country is untrue. Families today will still sit together and eat lunch, people will still meet in the street. Those that paint a negative picture are out of synch with Maltese society.”

I am not sure that I agree with this assessment, but if it is indeed as the prime minister says it is, and Maltese society is generally insensitive to what is going on, then indeed a sense of impunity has taken over the country and in truth the situation is desperate.

Joseph Psaila Savona is a medical doctor and former MP

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