The situation is desperate, and even worse since Daphne Caruana Galizia put those words in her final blog post before she was murdered. There are crooks everywhere you look now, she wrote.
This week the situation is also obscene and shocking. It is fluid and still taking shape. The web is unravelling. Every day, hour and minute, more on this nest of filth and corruption is revealed.
One thing is clear. After the resignations of three of his closest allies yesterday, the Prime Minister must go too. It makes no difference that he managed to obtain the full endorsement of his parliamentary group and the Labour Party’s executive committee yesterday. He has lost his authority. He will never recover politically from this.
His own chief of staff Keith Schembri, a close personal friend of his, has resigned in a dark cloud of suspicion. Minister Konrad Mizzi also resigned from his ministerial role, and Minister Chris Cardona ‘suspended himself’. We do not yet know who did what, but being implicated in such huge crimes is enough. The whole country is shaken.
Yesterday as I walked through the University campus, every group of students or staff standing, sitting or walking were glued to their phones. The nation-wide power cut all afternoon added to the sense of unreality. It felt as though the entire country was at a standstill.
I reached Valletta by the evening and joined the protests. People were angry, frustrated, united, shouting at the top of their voices for justice. Shame on you, they called out. But they themselves were proud to be there, with heads held high. Defending the nation from being hijacked by a bunch of crooks is nothing to be ashamed of.
Whenever MPs went up or down in the glass lift of the parliament building, the crowd could see them and responded. Over this eventful week, people have moved from carrying banners, posters and loudspeakers, to also bringing pots and pans, whistles and brooms. The citizens of Malta are out in the streets and the squares of the city, and they will not go back inside until they are satisfied that justice has been done.
It is amazing to see what a change of spaces can do. Malta’s former parliament at the back of the Palace was at a distance from the square and not visible from the outside. But the ground floors of the new parliament building are transparent and close to the street.
The house of parliament now stands right at the entrance to the City. Its accessibility is itself a symbol of democracy and transparency, and people were there to ensure that it functions as just that.
The upper floor has windows where light can be seen. People inside the building leaned out, looking at the crowd below and even taking photos of it. The back stairs are also visible from the square. MPs can slip away through the back, but not quite. The crowd can see them as they attempt to make their getaway.
The square outside the Auberge de Castille is now also paved and cleared of traffic, allowing a large crowd to gather there directly under the windows of the prime minister’s office.
The protestors have made full use of these two spaces this week, and plan to do so until this mess reaches some sort of conclusion.
Joseph Muscat’s position is untenable. He should have sacked Mizzi and Schembri immediately once the Panama Papers in 2016 revealed that they had opened offshore companies while holding high political office. He did not. He must go for having defended them for so long. He is not fit for purpose.
Since 2013 there has been a constant blurring of the boundaries of ethical behaviour. There has not been one fixed, contained untruth to grapple with, but what seems to be a constant flow of half-truths.
The boundaries shift as in a bad dream. You think there is a fixed point, but once you get there it disappears and turns up somewhere else. A denial echoes in the background. Oh, perhaps it was just a trick of the light, you say. Move on.
A lack of boundaries at the top quickly percolates through the system. There are too many examples to quote.
The government has maintained throughout that as long as something is not illegal, then it is fine. Yesterday’s resignations occurred not because of a sense of political accountability, but because finally, the forces of the law have kicked the door down.
This legalistic argument has been used by government apologists throughout. When Muscat finds his back to the wall, he then uses the line ‘we could have done better’.
That is not going to work now. Legalistic arguments have failed. Promises to do better one day are over. The Prime Minister’s time is up.