There was a time I would speak of a barter system. Malta had developed a very curious ‘lobby’ system with which business and commercial entities would defend their interests.
It was not just big business like the construction industry but also services such as lawyers, architects, and engineers. Politicians and the parties they formed part of became beholden to these interests by receiving services or donations.
Tenders, contracts and direct orders were the flip side of the bargain. The barter system worked in such a way that the parties would become a nursery of ambitious aspirant politicians and the nursery sponsors would make sure that they could reap the benefits once their sponsored politicians took control of public authority.
They’ve been at it for decades. Calling in favours – a venue to hold a meeting with constituents, a tent or two, a lighting system. Jason Azzopardi is surely not the first nor the last person to function in that manner.
Like all our politicians, without fail, even the newest arrivals, he is a product of this rotten system. This mentality. In many ways, Azzopardi is a stereotype of the PLPN politician. He is a standard in that regard.
On Sunday, the Labour media came up with a new scandal involving Azzopardi. They were in possession of a list of favours that he obtained from private sponsors (not just that infamous hotel escapade in Tel Aviv). Amusingly, the Labour media speak of this list as though it is the first time that we hear of politicians getting favours from private parties, as though this is not a standard that we have lived with for decades.
I do not even doubt the possibility that Azzopardi obtained, or at least asked for, a free venue for his activities or whatever other act is listed among the favours being exposed. Not for one second do I believe that Azzopardi could be innocent of such an accusation. I am morally convinced that the list is true because I am equally convinced that there is nothing on the list which any other politician – member of parliament or otherwise – has not engaged in himself or herself.
In case you’re wondering, this is not a ‘così fan tutti’ (everybody does it) defence at all. I am reminded of Bettino Craxi’s famous 1992 speech in parliament when he spoke of the system of financing of political parties that had come under scrutiny thanks to Antonio Di Pietro’s ‘Mani Pulite’. Craxi had mentioned that everyone had engaged in a bit of underhand financing and he also uttered the famous words “tutti sapevano ma nessuno parlava” (they all knew but no one spoke up).
That is the crux of the matter. Azzopardi’s deviation is standard. Notwithstanding their apparent surprise on the matter, Labour’s politicians have been and are just as bad, probably worse. Without entering the much-postponed discourse of a reform of Party funding, we should be able to agree at least that Azzopardi’s sins are shared across the political board.
We might also agree that all of this must change. My ‘PN must die’ theory includes the necessity to cut free from the old modus operandi. Which is a reason why the days in politics for people like Azzopardi are numbered. I have no doubt about that. Old style politicians among whom this behaviour is standard will continue to oppose change. Just look at the Standards Commissioner’s battle to reintroduce scrutiny over the assets held by spouses of MPs. Who is putting spokes in the wheel of that action?
The standard deviation. The business of politics if you like. All of it is currently par for the course in our political world. It is a system that is begging for reform.
Yet we need to prioritise. There will be a time when we must work on proper constitutional reform that does away with this antiquated barter system. Before that, there is a much more important priority of seeing justice that has been delayed for too long.
Azzopardi still has a role to play in that battle. Love him or hate him he has been one of the few to keep up the fight in the courts. No amount of false equivalence can negate that. Should he choose to divest himself entirely of his political baggage he would be freer to conduct the legal battles that he has chosen to undertake without any distractions.
It is useless that we cheat ourselves into thinking that Azzopardi’s past deviations were not standard. We have for long nurtured this kind of politician. Tutti sapevano ma nessuno parlava. It is not a behaviour we can condone or excuse.
Let us not lose sight of the current struggle though. The time to seek judgment of our political class will come too. It has to. Even for Azzopardi’s sake.
“E tuttavia, d’altra parte, ciò che bisogna dire, e che tutti sanno del resto, è che buona parte del finanziamento politico è irregolare o illegale. I partiti, specie quelli che contano su appartati grandi, medi o piccoli, giornali, attività propagandistiche, promozionali e associative, e con essi molte e varie strutture politiche operative, hanno ricorso e ricorrono all’usodi risorse aggiuntive in forma irregolare od illegale.” – Bettino Craxi, 1992