Principles do not exist in Maltese politics. When faced with a choice between political expediency or principle, our politicians choose expediency, every time.
The attitude was best expressed this week by Minister Helena Dalli. When The Shift asked – twice – whether Dalli, responsible for promoting greater equality in Malta, agreed with Michael Farrugia’s comments, the spokesperson simply said, “Minister Farrugia has already apologised”.
Farrugia described former Assistant Police Commissioner Mario Tonna as a “hard-working man who worked long hours”. Tonna had resigned the day before after reports emerged his partner filed a police report for domestic violence, later withdrawn.
Farrugia issued a statement later in the day – following an uproar – condemning domestic violence and “regretting comments which may have been understood as remotely justifying such behaviour.”
Was he misunderstood, or did he just show his true colours?
Compare the statement from the Equality Minister with the statement from the Women’s Rights Foundation: “We can scream all we want that we have ratified international treaties by which Malta has voluntarily committed itself to combat violence against women and domestic violence […] nothing will change unless there is serious commitment and change of attitude by the ones that are meant to protect and the ones that are meant to legislate for it”.
You would have thought that Dalli’s team and Women’s Rights Foundation would have struck the same note of disapproval. However, the Equality Minister thought it was more important to defend a political colleague than the beneficiaries of their own policies: victims of domestic violence.
By defending Farrugia, Dalli’s team has poked a big hole in their otherwise good record and continued elevating Malta’s macho culture for years to come. It must be noted Dalli had also refused to condemn former MP Joe Debono Grech when he had verbally threatened with violence MP Marlene Farrugia in Parliament in 2015. The government she forms part of went on to award him the highest national honour Gieh ir-Repubblika a few weeks ago.
It is no coincidence that Education Commissioner Charles Caruana Carabez – a macho who took the bus for a while – felt he could get a pointless but sexist article on “the foibles of women” published on The Times of Malta in the same week.
The absence of principled action in politics when it matters is not limited to Labour. PN Deputy Leader David Agius, the man who last summer launched a campaign defending Mother’s Day (except if the mother is a lesbian), thought it ‘positive’ to attend the opening of Valletta’s new local council offices, now operating from the site of the former Cafe Premier.
He went as far as praising the project on a site that was at the centre of corruption allegations sustained by the same Party he formed part of even then, telling The Times “at least we got the best we could out of it”. Agius is on record calling it a “corrupt deal” for years before he embraced ‘the new way’.
The government had purchased the location of Cafe Premier shortly following the 2013 election. The National Audit Office had flagged a number of issues on the manner in which the purchase was handled when it reviewed the deal.
When Agius was questioned by The Times’ journalist Jacob Borg on whether his presence undermined PN’s criticism of the deal, Agius said, “no, not at all”. Agius went on to draw a distinction between the method of acquisition and the use of the property.
So for Agius, if I steal a car but use it to ferry people around Malta for free, then I am not a thief but a philanthropist. Go figure.
In all fairness, it is not completely accurate to compare Dalli with Agius. Dalli at least has a record to speak of while Agius can only boast of an active Facebook page, despite spending 15 years in Parliament.
This underlines the second challenge in Maltese politics: the only alternative to sleaze within a government that has closed its ranks and nobody dares speak up is a vastly inferior mirror image of the Opposition.
Dalli’s spokesperson would have acted differently if the Opposition spokesperson on equality did not happen to be Agius. But we remain lumped with Agius and Opposition Leader Adrian Delia as an alternative, because nobody in the PN is openly challenging authority.
When will politicians from all Parties start doing their job properly: speak on our behalf; stand for right against wrong; and work tirelessly to raise standards, not weaken them?