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An allergy to responsibility

An epidemic is sweeping across Malta.

It has already ravaged parliament, infected the nation’s institutions, and is poised to leap the barrier to Gozo (preferably by tunnel). Public servants at the ministerial level have been especially hard hit by it.

I’m talking about a debilitating allergy to responsibility.

The first symptom is the shrug. As the shoulders creep ever higher, seeking physical contact with the ears, the allergy progresses to displays of evasiveness, verbal waffling and a spontaneous need to walk away very quickly from anything resembling a journalist holding a microphone.

The most recent example of this disease in action is the fishy business going on at the Planning Authority. It issued a permit to Azzopardi Fisheries last week which allows them to double the tuna pens they keep off Malta’s north coast – a protected area. 

The tuna pens have already been there for months, of course. The Planning Authority is just cleaning up the paperwork. Making the illegal perfectly legal with deft use of the rubber stamp.

But don’t worry. Everything is just fine according to Environment Minister Jose Herrera.

“My Ministry, through the relevant regulatory agencies, has conducted the necessary inspections,” he told us last year. “They informed me that the information was correct.”

Malta Environment Minister Jose Herrera tuna farms
Photo: Stop the Slime

There were nine or 10 extra pens which shouldn’t have been there, but Azzopardi Fisheries was “ordered” to remove them. It seems no one followed up on this. The pens are still there, and now they’re here to stay.

Is it just me, or did Herrera sound like a man trying to distance himself from the situation?

“My Ministry, they did some things”, as though the Ministry he’s responsible for is something he only hears about from a vast distance.

Psst… Minister Herrera… You’re responsible for everything that happens in that Ministry under your watch. The same way you are responsible for making yourself a pioneer of the White Flag project, “a scam” that promised to make Malta’s marine environment “plastic free”.

You don’t just get to take credit for the good bits and soak up the salary and perks. And right now, it seems like you’re responsible for an awful lot of slime washing up on Malta’s beaches.

I suggest you exercise some of that authority you normally wield so… softly. Begin by setting the Planning Authority straight. After that, a call to the Malta Financial Services Authority would be in order. Someone had better remind them that Azzopardi Fisheries hasn’t filed their legally-required audited accounts in 18 years. But you’d say that’s not your responsibility, of course.

What we’re likely to see is a lot of schoolyard-style, “Whoah! That was him, not me!” The only responsibility which isn’t passed off like a hot potato is the responsibility to collect one’s salary.

And isn’t just the Environment Minister who doesn’t want to be attached to decisions taken under his government. Only yesterday, the Prime Minister said there was no political responsibility to be shouldered for the murder of Ivorian national Lassana Cisse – the first cold-blooded murder fuelled by racial hatred.

Two soldiers were charged, but of course, the Home Affairs Minister also followed Muscat’s lead in saying there was no need for political responsibility.

A fish rots from the head down.

We also learned last week that the three ministers responsible for the Vitals hospital deal… weren’t responsible for the Vitals hospital deal. At least, not according to them.

Ministers Edward Scicluna, Chris Cardona and Konrad Mizzi may have decided in favour of the shady-as-hell takeover of Vitals Global Healthcare. But someone else carried out the work when it comes to implementing it.

As though any CEO who makes decisions that set the course for a company is actually the one working on the assembly line or making sales calls.

Let’s take just one example from a tangled web of them. Economy Minister Chris Cardona signed a memorandum of understanding with the “investors” behind VGH months before the request for proposals was even made public. That’s irrefutable, right there on paper. And that means he’s responsible.

But according to The Blameless Three, these are just “allegations” and will remain such until proven in court. The trick seems to be preventing the question from every reaching court by way of proper investigation. How incredibly cunning of them.

And to top it all off, the court decided last week that the Egrant inquiry findings are no one else’s business either — least of all the Leader of the Opposition.

Let’s get this straight…

The details of the biggest allegation tainting the seriously filthy government of Joseph Muscat are not to be shared with the other main Party in parliament. But then again, the contracts they signed for the power station and the hospital weren’t shared with the rest of the government, either.

In case these guys need a reminder of Civics 101: all Members of Parliament are elected to represent the people. It doesn’t matter which side of the floor they sit on, they should all be fully informed about what’s happening in the government of which they collectively form a part.

Further, the role of the Opposition is to scrutinise the operations of government and hold it to account. That’s how parliamentary democracy works. The court acknowledged this but decided otherwise.

The Prime Minister himself described the Egrant episode as the “the biggest lie in Maltese political history”. It’s something we all want to understand. An inquiry was essential, we were told. Of course, Joseph Muscat also set the terms of reference for the inquiry, drawing boundaries around what it could find.

But that’s not enough. He intends to keep the evidence uncovered by the inquiry firmly covered, too. But he’s following the advice of the Attorney General, we’re told…

There are two common denominators in all these stories: governmental secrecy (hiding things from the people they were elected to serve) and an extreme allergy to responsibility.

None of these cases is moving forward. They’re all trapped in an endless holding pattern, two years and still stalling, with no actual police investigation in sight.

And no one at the Ministerial level is willing to take responsibility for the decisions they made, but they all want the salary, the perks and the endless “persons of trust” fawning over them.

And so the rusted wheels grind on — and attempt to grind down anyone who gets in the way.

‘What happens in Malta, stays in Malta’

Petra Caruana Dingli at The Shift News

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