No one believes Malta anymore

You know this isn’t working anymore, don’t you?

No one believes Malta’s excuses. At least, not outside the island.

I’m referring to that pathetic schoolboy ruse where Maltese politicians get caught for something and then pretend to be sorry.

Okay, it’s much less common than ‘The other side did it, too! Why are you picking on me?’ or the brazen arrogance of Joseph Muscat saying, ‘I told you, I’m not answering any more questions about 17 Black’.

Arrogance like that only works on an island where citizens are intimidated by a small man’s bluster.

The Contrition Con is reserved for outsiders like foreign journalists who shape global opinion, or European delegations with the power to grab Malta’s funding right by the budget book and give it a painful squeeze.

Pretending to agree with the accusations levelled against you while carefully avoiding any action at all. That’s the ploy Foreign Minister Evarist Bartolo attempted with veteran journalist Tim Sebastian when his sham excuses for Malta’s astonishing level of institutional corruption were eviscerated on DW Conflict Zone.

I can imagine the discussion that must have taken place when this interview request hit the Castille inbox [email protected]

‘You know Chow-sef never gave interviews to foreign journalists…’ Bob-zilla said to the dumbbell seated across the desk. ‘At least, not since John Sweeney called him the Artful Dodger of Europe and accused him to his face of being a pawn of Azerbaijan’s first family.’

‘Well, Chris did once….’

Chris Fearne looks away, momentarily reddened by his own disastrous run-in with Sebastian, which reduced him to parrot-like repetition of the phrase, ‘Rule of law… rule of law…. Malta has the rule of law…. Ċaw!’

And then they hit on the sacrificial lamb.

‘Send ‘Varist! He knows how to sound apologetic!’

It must have seemed like a good idea at the time.

But while the former Education Minister did manage to weather the December Debacle of Muscat’s downfall by posting horoscope-like utterances which anyone in Malta could interpret as they chose, Sebastian was having none of his pathetic excuses.

“In my own little way, I did what I could to try and change things,” Bartolo said with a modest schoolboy grin.

A journalist was torn apart with a car bomb, and all fingers are pointing at the Office of the Prime Minister. The very same office from which a State-sponsored campaign of dehumanisation was waged by semi-literate taxpayer-funded trolls who meticulously stoked the fires of hatred against the person who exposed systemic corruption rather than take action to deal with the rot.

Does “in my own little way” really strike anyone as better than a childish response?

The same could be said of Bartolo’s excuse that casting his ballot in favour of retaining Mizzi in that famous parliamentary confidence motion was part of a cunning “survival strategy” that allowed him to wield his mysterious influence “internally”, rather than just a pathetic excuse to save his own job.

If by “internally” he meant inside his own guilt-wracked guts, that’s one thing. But Bartolo certainly didn’t slow down the juggernaut of personal enrichment being run by the King of Kickbackistan and his friends. On the contrary, voting in favour of it made him complicit.

It strikes me that the only honest thing Bartolo said was, “The rule of family and the rule of friends is stronger than the rule of law.”

He meant this as an excuse, but Sebastian was understandably incredulous. He sat back in his chair and said, “That’s an outrageous assertion, Minister.”

Of course, we all know it’s true in Malta’s case, we were just shocked that he said it. I had to remind myself I was listening to the words of a Foreign Minister from a European Union Member State and not some frat boy who’d just toilet papered the women’s dorm.

The same can be said of that tired Maltese trope that goes something like, ‘It’d be nice to hold people accountable, but we are a small country…’

Isn’t it funny that anytime Malta’s being told to fulfil its end of the EU bargain by enforcing laws against hunting out of season or by implementing overdue laws, we hear about large countries bullying a small country — but when they want to convince their followers how great they’ve got it under Labour, we’re told that a country the size of the city of Aberdeen has an economy that’s the envy of Europe.

You can’t have it both ways. Being ‘too small’ isn’t an excuse for not enforcing laws impartially, even against people you know. That’s just spinelessness and a lack of integrity.

Nor is it an excuse to say, “That was done before the change, before the new Prime Minister” when Bartolo himself — and most of the rest of them — were part of that ‘previous government’.

Malta is astonishingly corrupt. Third World kleptocracy corrupt. The governing party, led by OCCRP Man of the Year Slippery Joey and supported passively by Bartolo himself, is at the heart of it. And it’s looking increasingly likely that they colluded in — perhaps even orchestrated — the brutal murder of a journalist to keep their offshore bank balances safe and themselves out of jail.

All of Europe is aware of this. It’s like a governmental horror film that just won’t end.

Sending the Foreign Minister out to pretend he’s sorry ‘but we’re really trying’ hasn’t convinced anyone. All the talk in the world won’t hide a complete lack of action forever.

As the MEP from Finland, Petri Sarvamaa, said to Toni Abela at the latter’s hopelessly bungled nomination hearing for the European Court of Auditors in 2016, “How are we expected to believe what you tell us is true?”

How many times does this Deutsche Welle charade need to happen before the Party in power faces reality? Spraying a little air freshener stopped hiding the stench long ago.

Bartolo’s performance didn’t just send the message that Malta is incompetent. It sounds like you’re lying, and you’re determined to ride it out — and keep stuffing stolen money under the mattress — for as long as this out of control train clings to the tracks.

But there’s a major problem with that approach. It isn’t just Maltese money being stolen. It’s European money, funded by European taxpayers and the sale of European passports.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that, not only is Malta incapable of sorting out its own mess, it really doesn’t want to because easy money is too tempting to pass up.

The most telling part of this painful interview occurred midway through when Sebastian brought up the killing of Daphne Caruana Galizia. And that’s when Bartolo stumbled.

“You know more than this, don’t you?” Sebastian said. “You said murderers are being protected. I’m asking you, very simply, who’s protecting them on Malta?”

Bartolo struggled to maintain his ingratiating grin, and his desperation to please, to seem contrite.

But go back to the video and take a look at his eyes. He actually looked scared.

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