The government is targeting its critics again. This time Repubblika is the focus of its wrath.
The Commissioner for Voluntary Organisations, tasked with regulating the country’s NGOs, has accused the civil society organisation of working for private interests, over-spending and acting as a propagandist for a political party.
It claims Repubblika has “a strong element of private interest in the running of operations” and that it has breached the Voluntary Organisations Act by being “highly involved in political matters” and “instigating political propaganda and publicity”.
Several opinion pieces written by Repubblika committee members that were critical of the government.
That and the fact that Repubblika made submissions to the public inquiry into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia after the board conducting that inquiry issued an open invitation to do so.
The Commissioner’s report said, “The organisation should be aware that in order to qualify as a voluntary organisation it shall not be politically affiliated or related in any other manner whatsoever and shall be independent from government involvement”.
His logic goes something like this. If they’re critical of the government, then they’re not Red. And if they’re not Red, they must be Blue. Therefore, anyone critical of the government is politically affiliated.
Perhaps the Commissioner is a neo-Manichaean, dividing the world into one of two primary colours rather than good versus evil, or perhaps he’s simply unfit for his job.
In case you’re wondering whether he’s yet another partisan appointee, the position is held by Anthony Abela Medici, one of the two men Joseph Muscat tried — and failed — to place on the Board of the Daphne Caruana Galizia public inquiry.
He was the forensic expert who insisted in October 2017 that the explosive material in the car bomb that killed Daphne Caruana Galizia was Semtex, implying foreign involvement, even when it was confirmed the device used TNT.
Repubblika’s response to the Commissioner’s attempt to silence it was blunt.
“You single us out because we dare to raise our voice against the manner in which the country is being governed,” they wrote. “This is not merely our right. It is our duty as a civil society organisation.”
The Commissioner’s position is unfounded at law, and “is therefore anti-democratic, abusive and unacceptable.”
Repubblika is right.
There is a precedent for attempting to silence NGOs in Europe. Victor Orbán’s Hungary passed a controversial “foreign funding” law in 2017 that requires foreign-funded NGOs to disclose their donors to authorities or face fines.
Orbán’s target is George Soros, a wealthy Hungarian-born businessman who funds causes that support human rights and democracy. The controversial prime minister has repeatedly falsely accused Soros-funded organisations of political meddling.
The European Court of Justice disagreed, ruling in June 2020 that Hungary’s new law violates EU regulations because it goes against the free circulation of capital, freedom of association, and protection of personal data.
The European Commission began infringement proceedings in February 2021, stating that Hungary’s NGO law “threatens the role of civil society as an independent actor” and creates a “climate of distrust towards them as well as limiting the privacy of donors.”
“Civil society organisations are an indispensable part of our democracies,” Vice President of the European Commission for Values and Transparency Věra Jourová said in reference to the procedure. “We must support them, not fight them.”
But fighting them is exactly what the government of Malta does, whether through spurious legal challenges or organised trolling coordinated in secret online hate groups.
If the government decides Repubblika is in breach of the Voluntary Organisations Act, then the Commissioner has “the power to order the organisation to desist from carrying out any further activities”.
Don’t think it’ll stop there, either. Ask yourself what they’ll do with such a precedent. Who’ll be next on their list?
They already tried — and failed — to undermine Occupy Justice by accusing them of campaigning for abortion and pocketing cash.
Will they silence those annoying environmental activists so Ian Borg can get on with paving the entire island, and so Sandro Chetcuti and the Concrete Kings can live out their ‘high rise erections gone wild’ fantasies?
Will they go after the irritating anti-hunting lobby? Protecting birds is a threat to a single minority group’s hobbies — a minority group they can depend on for votes.
“The best defence is a good offence.”
Know who said that? Mel, the cook on the 1970’s American sitcom ‘Alice’. The government has taken a page out of Mel’s — and Joseph Muscat’s — playbook.
This government goes on the attack when they’re weak. The strength of that attack is a reliable gauge of just how scared they are.
You should expect these attacks to continue. Robert Abela knows better than the rest of us what sort of dirt is yet to come out.
Daphne Caruana Galizia was targeted for years because she stood alone. She was eliminated with a car bomb because she was a threat to those who wanted to silence her stories. The public inquiry and the trials are giving us a pretty clear idea of which business and political ‘interests’ wanted her stories stopped.
Repubblika is being targeted because they’ve been effective — and that makes them a threat.
It’s autocratic and abusive, and it contravenes your fundamental human rights. It’s up to you to defend those freedoms fiercely and relentlessly.
You already know keeping your head below the parapet and hoping the bully passes you by won’t work.