Guest commentary by Tom Welch
“Can you hear it? Listen. Can you hear it now? It’s a voice. I can hear it. Listen hard.”
Sadly, the majority of people on these islands cannot hear it…or refuse to hear it. But it is out there. You just have to listen.
Let me put my hands up right away. I am an ex pat, foreigner, immigrant if you will. Fear not, I can only vote in local elections so I am not taking over the country anytime soon.
I came to this wonderful place a lifetime ago. I enjoy the fellowship of my local friends and neighbours, the company of my friends from all over the globe thanks to the cosmopolitan nature of Malta.
I behave as a ‘guest’ in this wonderful archipelago and rarely comment publicly on political matters. I felt it was for those who were ‘born and bred’ here to provide a narrative of what is going on in our country. No more.
I CHOSE to come to this country. I made the decision of my own free will. I considered many options, but CHOSE to live here permanently. I was not an accident of birth, I came deliberately. That said, I wish to express my views on the current state of the country.
Admittedly, when I first settled here all was far from perfect. Corruption was always here. I heard how, ‘In Malta, it’s not what you know, but who you know’. The past stories of waiting for months on end for a telephone connection until a payment was made to the right individual or “I’ll speak to the Minister for you, he is Godparent to my brother’s son”.
Censorship. Clampdowns. It is absolutely nothing new.
And then along came the particular breed of politicians who worried ‘not a jot’ over the public reaction to their greed. I give you former Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi’s Cabinet who voted to give themselves a €500 a week pay increase. That decision – thankfully – was reversed after a media outcry, but it proved to sound the death knell of that particular administration, ushering in a Party which had largely been out of office in a generation.
With it came an attitude. A swaggering attitude that does not tolerate constructive criticism. A pervasive attitude that somehow convinces the majority of the electorate that they can do no wrong. A dismissive attitude that truly abhors a free press. That ensures that the offices of our police and judiciary have a direct reporting line to the Prime Minister himself.
Those named publicly in the Panama Papers broadcast in a TV documentary, seen worldwide, incredulously remain in positions of power. The constant (ab)use of libel (and other) laws to kick any accusation of corruption or wrongdoing ‘into the long grass’. The lack of accountability and responsibility from those in power is positively mind numbing.
Now and again, the majority who fail to hear are thrown a bone of distraction. “Malta for the Maltese, we are full up”, they cry as a couple of dozen desperate Africans come ashore. There is no mention of the 2,500 passports sold, opening the door to unscrupulous criminals, money launderers and their families access the country (and the EU) quietly.
Of course, there is the small matter of a political execution almost two years ago when an outspoken journalist was silenced for ever. And on that day, there took place a celebratory carcade in a village where people toasted her death. They certainly did not hear. Three arrests and a painfully drawn out legal process has led to no convictions. Calls for a public inquiry into one of Malta’s most shameful events, continue to go unheeded. A five part BBC docudrama on the subject was broadcast across the UK recently.
Our fellow Europeans despair at the lack of ‘rule of law’ in Malta. Yet those who fail to hear say, “They are all out to get us!” Or, “We are no worse than anyone else!” Perhaps the latter could be the next election slogan for the incumbent Party.
Our governing politicians are swimming in a cesspit of greed, money and influence only to be thrown a lifebelt by our Prime Minister when the waters get choppy. Sadly, these antics are not exclusive to our government for many questions are asked of our senior opposition politicians.
Money, rent, kickbacks, offshore companies. These people will never hear it. The voice. The aforementioned majority aren’t even listening for it. But I can hear it. Can you?
The voice of reason.
Those who hear it are our real politicians. Not ‘Career Politicians’, in it for what they can squeeze out of the system (and for the system, read, ‘You and I’). Politicians like many of our local mayors and councillors who perform their duties with little or no reward who are always accountable because their electorate can knock on their door and tell them how they feel.
We’ll never drain that cesspit until we have a group of National Politicians – of all colours – with a strength of resolve never seen before. To carry out their duties for the benefit of all and stand up and be counted when situations go wrong.
“I can hear it”.
Tom Welch is a former UK regional newspaper publisher now living in Gozo.