Freedom Day: what freedom?

Forty-one years ago today, the British Navy withdrew from the country. As the country marks Freedom Day, Prime Minister Robert Abela told the nation that it must sit through the coronavirus epidemic, overcome it and ‘once again be free’. But the glaring question is what freedom is being defended when we have willingly sold ourselves out?

Abela urged the people to act as one and put aside partisan issues in this time of crisis. He said the country was working together to be freed from the pandemic and, that once it passed, “we can continue achieving more and working more for the country”.

These words come in the wake of a recent statement by Finance Minister Edward Scicluna who was asked whether the government could reduce or waive the water and electricity bills as an aid measure to ease the economic effects of coronavirus.

“It is not just the government’s company (Enemalta), you also have the Chinese now. It is not ours to say, OK, let’s lower this or increase that,” he said. The public backlash was instantaneous. Freedom of choice, they pointed out had been limited by the deals struck by the government that sold off the country’s assets (and its independence). Malta was unable to simply shift to another energy provider and, therefore, was lumped with consequences of the government’s decisions, a number of commenters pointed out.

Scicluna felt the sting of public criticism. In a tweet that followed, he said the government still had the power to take that decision.

Through Enemalta, the long arm of the Chinese has also reached Montenegro and the Mozura Wind Farm Project, as recently revealed by The Shift, creating a similar situation there where people have to pay rates far above market rates.

The Maltese are in exactly the same situation as the country is forced to buy LNG from Azerbaijani State-owned company SOCAR for 18 years at rates that are double market prices. This is thanks to the Electrogas deal brokered by former Minister Konrad Mizzi in a controversial deal that is now even linked to the assassination of a journalist.  What freedom?

Meanwhile, in the health sector, the government is tied by obligations to Steward Healthcare, which owns and runs three of Malta’s hospitals in yet another deal struck by the Labour Party in government that favoured the ‘investor’ over the public.

Steward Healthcare took over a concession for which taxpayers are forking out €7 million a year, while they cannot even use their own facilities. St Luke’s Hospital is in focus as Steward Healthcare failed to meet its commitment to upgrade the hospital and increase the hospital beds available.

Now, the government is ordering a pre-fabricated hospital to make up for the shortfall. And taxpayers are still paying €188,000 a day to Steward Healthcare.

And Maltese citizens recently learnt that they would have to pay €100 million if the contract is breached – even if it’s Steward Healthcare that fails to meet commitments. Another of Mizzi’s gems.

These moves all come together in a pattern that was consistent with the way the Labour government operated for the past seven years. There was an urgency to transfer land at Zonqor and Cospicua at a discounted price to an unknown Jordanian individual for the controversial American University of Malta,  rushed through Parliament in a marathon session just before the Christmas recess in 2015.

Even Malta’s citizenship comes at a price through the cash-for-passport scheme, which is so highly criticised by international and European institutions, and allowed concessionaire Henley and Partners to pocket €36.8 million in commissions since the programme was launched in 2014, according to the latest IIP report.

On Freedom Day, perhaps the question left to ask is: What else can be sold? And at what price?

                           
                               
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