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The great pretenders

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and Michelle Muscat
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and his wife, Michelle. Photo: DOI, Omar Camilleri

The walls are closing in on Malta — but everything will be okay if we just pretend hard enough.

It’s like parent-teacher night in Castille, and this government’s been given a very bad report card. They didn’t just fail one class. It looks like they’re failing all of them.

Reports are slowly coming in from the Council of Europe and the main European human rights and press freedom organisations, and what we’ve seen so far isn’t good.

First up was Moneyval.

The Council of Europe’s anti-money laundering and counter financing of terrorism committee gave Malta failing grades on its compliance with international standards, saying that, while laws and measures exist on paper, the MFSA and police are not enforcing them.

The government knew that deflecting this one would call for some serious pretending. And so the cabinet played it’s Top Ace, fielding Finance Minister Edward Scicluna to deploy his trademark array of ‘Poor Me’.

Scicluna was hoping he could negotiate away the worst parts before everyone found out about them. That didn’t work, so he’s on to Plan B.

It’s not fair, he cried! It’s just a draft! Someone leaked the report in advance, and now everyone is against us!

The entire thing was biased from the start because people read the original draft and not the version he hoped to show the world. It must be those pesky conspirators again.

I guess we should just call the whole thing off then, eh? The Finance Minister is a noted academic. He understands these things on a different level of reality than the rest of us.

Next up was GRECO — the report on the Council of Europe’s group of States against corruption.

I’m sure a government known for its keen commitment to transparency would really want to share these latest findings with its citizens. But the report was leaked in advance just in case. After all, Malta couldn’t be the only country next to Belarus and Hungary who refused. What an embarrassment that would be.

Still, they delayed. But that’s normal procedure, they said. I think we’ve all tried that old trick when it comes to report cards. It’s somewhere between deliberately not mentioning it, and forged signatures to show to the teacher.

After buying a little time to come up with a plan, the Ministry of Spin leaped into action.

The gist of the government’s stance is denial:  “None of this is our fault, you see. The GRECO report is citing laws passed before we came to power. How can we be blamed for them?” They’ve only been in power for five years…

It doesn’t make any sense, of course. No one cares who made the laws. What matters is that no one’s enforcing them. But that should stall the critics for now.

Meanwhile, the top legal minds in the country have been busy searching for loopholes in the Venice Commission recommendations.

Everyone knows that when the teacher’s watching, you’d better look busy.

The Venice Commission had flagged the obvious danger in having an Attorney General who acts as both public prosecutor and adviser to the government. These roles, it said, must be separate.

And so the government announced that it would split the position into two new roles: Chief Prosecutor and Attorney General.

Always keen to respect the letter of the law but never its intent, the Minister of Justice then went through elaborate on camera contortions to avoid admitting that the new Chief Prosecutor would still be appointed by the Prime Minister.

When Times of Malta journalist Jacob Borg reminded Bonnici that one of the Venice Commission’s main criticisms was that the Prime Minister appointed people to these positions in the first place, the Minister objected.

“You cannot take this point in isolation,” he said, while clearly taking the point in isolation.

The role has been split. That’s what they asked for, that’s what he gave them.

Instead of having one senior lawyer appointed by and directly accountable to the Prime Minister, Malta will now have two, making the problem twice as bad as it was before they started.

Besides, Bonnici continued in his customary ingratiating tone, we invited the Venice Commission’s report in the first place.

That was a lie, too.

The government got wind that Council of Europe rapporteur Pieter Omtzigt was requesting an opinion on what is rotten in the institutions of Malta.

Like a high school kid who hears his girlfriend is about to dump him, Bonnici tried to fire off a preemptive invite, but the Council of Europe’s letter got there first. Their request was made three days earlier.

Cue the sad trombones.

You’d think all these failing grades on the part of the government would be embarrassing enough, but impunity is spreading like a festering rash and is now infecting middle management.

In the ‘Those Rules Don’t Apply to Me’ world of Infrastructure Malta, CEO Fredrick Azzopardi explained that he did major roadwork on a Luqa traffic junction without the required development permit last year because, in his opinion, it was very “urgent”.

When asked why he felt the laws of the land did not apply to him, he said his agency followed proper planning procedure “when possible,” but in this case, “it was important to forge ahead without a permit as the benefits were big”.

What a go-getter! The moral of this story is it’s okay to do whatever you want in Malta as long as you really really want to (and you’re loyal to the government).

But not to worry. As the government keeps telling all those annoying EU delegations who are always butting into its business, the rule of law is ‘strong in Malta’, and this government ‘respects it’

Like all the other illegal developments, this will be made to go away too through a simple act of sanctioning. ‘Build Now, Sort It Out Later’, that’s how we roll.

Everything’s fine, and the economy’s great. The Opposition is just a bunch of sore losers. And don’t even get me started on journalists.

Speaking of the press corp, top journalists from around the world are gathering in Perugia, Italy this week to discuss, among other things, State-affiliated trolling campaigns that target journalists.

Always eager to help when it comes to public relations, the First Lady of Kickbackistan used a perfectly-timed charity speech to lash out at the nation’s remaining independent media on Tuesday, insisting they were using their power to be “negative”.

“I was a media student,” she said, “so I know exactly what I am talking about”.

The First Lady and her consort are well known for their interest in the media. They control television stations, radio outlets and newspapers which always report the Party line with the utmost attention to serenity.

And they wonder why all of Europe is worried about Malta?

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