Jonathan Swift observed: “I never wonder to see men wicked, but I often wonder to see them not ashamed”. That was three centuries ago. Had he lived in 2020 Malta he would never have ceased wondering.
As 2020 ends, we examine our conscience. We seek weaknesses, sloth, greed, envy, wrath and pride in our actions and resolve to do better. We remember those we offended, hurt or overlooked and make amends.
But we also hope for a better country, hope that our leaders and public figures will examine their own conscience too – and change – for their own good, and that of the country. Indulging in wishful thinking brings desperately needed hope.
We dream of a prime minister who leads the whole country and discards partisan taunts at political events intended to garner cheers from the faithful but which are hurtful and insolent for the rest; a prime minister who makes decisions which benefit the country and not his political party or his own preservation; a prime minister who shows respect and courtesy to all, including those who disagree and criticise him; who allows the institutions to work without intimidation or pressure and ensures that established boards of inquiry are not subjected to hostility and derision; a prime minister who upholds the highest moral standards and abhors dishonesty and abuse even in Cabinet.
We dream of a minister of transport who protects a vulnerable mentally-ill citizen rather than steal his inheritance and pay a pittance for it. We imagine a Minister who recognises the depth of suffering caused, returns the land to its rightful owner and lets the individual keep the few thousand euro paid to compensate, in some small way, for the unrelenting pain and trauma he endured.
We hope for a Minister for Economy who does not use official department of information statements to ridicule and vilify his adversaries but who issues informative honest statements; a minister who doesn’t cripple the national airline by putting totally unqualified personal friends on its board.
We dream of politicians who don’t send Christmas cards with oversized pictures of themselves at the taxpayer’s cost, of politicians who realise that this is not Stalin’s Soviet Union – who wake up to the fact that Malta is a European Union State.
We dream of parliamentary secretaries who are honest and admit their improprieties, who repay €50,000 ‘earned” from a property sale to an alleged money-launderer and murder-mastermind. We hope for a parliamentary secretary who acknowledges that dealing with a suspected criminal with links to a disgraced former Chief of Staff and Minister for Tourism is neither ethical nor moral; that failing to declare €50,000 in her declaration of assets and her income tax return is wrong, and who promptly pays her dues, begs forgiveness and acknowledges her unfitness for office; a parliamentary secretary who feels ashamed of her actions – and promptly resigns.
We dream of ‘persons of trust’ behaving civilly and politely; that the huge number of posts occupied by these individuals are reviewed to ensure the State is getting a return on the inflated salaries being dished out. We imagine all ‘persons of trust’ working for the benefit of all citizens and not for the promotion of the Labour Party.
We imagine Keith Schembri locating his phone and willingly handing it to the police to uncover the whole truth, volunteering detailed and honest information about what really happened with Adrian Hillman, Brian Tonna, Karl Cini, Yorgen Fenech and Joseph Muscat.
We dream of a former Attorney General (AG) lamenting his inaction and obstructiveness and acknowledging that impunity of the political elite struck the death blow to justice.
We dream of a police force condemning its former Commissioner for his squalid connivance with criminal associates, his leaking of sensitive information; condemning its former Deputy Commissioner for concealing his close relationship with an alleged murder mastermind, disclosing inside information to and travelling abroad with him even as the AG sought to retain him on the Caruana Galizia investigation. We dream of a force that finally prosecutes those involved in serious crime.
We fantasise about political leaders answering journalists’ questions honestly and politely without insulting and offending them – who admit to transgressions and illegalities when these have taken place.
We dream of an Opposition whose leader declares his income honestly and pays his dues on time and whose members don’t need to ask for help with finding hotel accommodation.
We imagine competent, experienced and incorruptible bureaucrats heading regulatory authorities instead of incompetent dishonest political sycophants.
Finally, we dream of a government with the decency to apologise to the Caruana Galizia family for the hell she endured and the never-ending misery they are still subjected to; to apologise for its insincerity, secretiveness and flagrant untruthfulness and the cruel efforts to conceal the truth.
We dream of a bold government denouncing the misdeeds, lies, falsehoods and deviousness of the chief architect of the abominable roadmap that wrecked the country; a government willing to disentangle itself from the chokehold of damaging Electrogas, wind farm and hospitals contracts; a government fighting to reclaim millions stolen from the State by crooked ‘businessmen’ enabled by politicians; a government implementing the wise recommendations of GRECO, Moneyval and the European parliamentary assembly for our benefit.
We dream that 2021 will bring back shame and end the shame-free era. For far too long, as outrightly immoral and criminal behaviour became the norm, shame disappeared from these islands. There were no consequences for criminality. When shame is absent at the highest level of leadership there is no examination of the collective conscience – without it, there can be no improvement.
The 19th century Russian philosopher Vladimir Solovyov believed that shame is what separates us from animals. In 2021, let us be animals no longer.