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Labour’s labour currency

Melvin Theuma’s letter of insurance that appeared in The Times on Monday is material for investigators and police best kept away from speculation concerning Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination. Yet, one element in the letter points to an interesting modus operandi within our corridors of power.

Theuma referred to a job that Keith Schembri had given him. He claimed to have later lost the job when “Schembri no longer had any use for him”.

Only last week, in his attempt to get an inspector removed from the investigation Yorgen Fenech alleged that one of the ties between the inspector and Schembri arose from the fact that Schembri had “found a job” for said inspector’s wife. Infrastructure Malta issued a statement denying any foul play in that particular appointment.

Still, the language of jobs for the boys is a currency that runs deep in Malta’s politics. It definitely does not start with Labour – barter and promise of favour once in government has a long history of bipartisan support. That is the reality that we were raised to accept.

Ironically, one of the battle cries of Muscat’s movement in 2013 was “meritocracy”. In a notorious campaign video at the time, a prominent Labour supporter offering her endorsement of the Party denounced the PN system which she described as “it is not what you know but who you know that counts”. Labour, it seemed, would bring something different.

Sadly, as we know too well, the meritocracy mantra was rapidly flushed down the drain. The list of not-so-meritocratic appointments would make a chapter of Biblical proportions. The jobs currency risked devaluation through overuse, but anyone who could be bought into acquiescence became part of the great employment drive. I have spoken of the Party ‘barter system‘ in less suspicious times.

Jobs for the boys is a huge part of the rot bringing the system to a standstill. Notwithstanding the incontrovertible evidence that the corridors of power were used to serve heinous aims to the point of the assassination of a journalist, there are those within PL and PN who will defend the status quo.

Read that into accusations that this is not civil society asking for justice but rather greed for the seat of power. Irresponsible statements in parliament by those who should know better only attempt to remind the faithful that it is only by preserving the status quo that we can guarantee a continuing surplus of jobs for the boys.

Read that into the cooling down of the PN anti-corruption line right up to the huge U-turn following recent events. The order from Delia’s offices had been to be less negative. To detach from Simon Busuttil’s mantra that Caruana Galizia was right. Why? Because the bipartisan race cannot have any of that – it cannot be part of an allegation that would risk challenging the whole system.

In November 2017, Opposition Leader Adrian Delia had suggested that voters did not vote for the PN because they felt Caruana Galizia was the Party’s ‘official voice’. “At least that’s what has been written about the election, before and after. But right now it is the country’s best interest that we have to look after. It is healthy that civil society takes the lead in expressing its anger… but as a Party we must choose the opportune moment, and ensure we do not destabilise our country.”

“Again, attacking corruption is a positive message, not negative. What I said is that you cannot only criticise… taking to task ministers on the Panama Papers does not exclude having to agree that the economy is performing well,” Delia had said.

Yorgen Fenech’s case ended up before a Magistrate whose father-in-law was Schembri’s lawyer, Muscat’s lawyer and the Labour Party’s lawyer. Her appointment was immediately perceived as a political appointment (one of those under challenge by Repubblika). She was previously employed in Chris Cardona’s Ministry as a top consultant on the Family Business Act.

The Magistrate eventually recused herself from the case but the reasons why she had to do so raises a number of questions on the job currency of our political system.

The currency is still alive and kicking. It is not only about meritocracy. It is about the units that keep our institutional system in place. The building blocks have eroded. What is left is rotten to the core.

This too needs to be part of the change to come.

Petra Caruana Dingli at The Shift News

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