Evarist Bartolo’s cringe-making Tim Sebastian interview was making the rounds again this week, after the European and Foreign Affairs Minister published on Facebook his vague, saintly pronouncements on the supposedly nameless, elusive criminal gangs hijacking the island. He wrote, in a tone of long-suffering scandal, of the frightening dangers of building on the soft, crumbling clay of dishonesty and corruption instead of on the solid rock of honesty.
Or something. What he didn’t say was that he’s been a part of this criminal gang from at least 2013. Maybe not a star player in the criminality rankings, but certainly an enabler and a defender of those that were. And nowhere does it come across more clearly, more starkly, than in that awful, toadying interview that was broadcast around the world and now sits there on the internet in perpetual memoriam to hypocrisy and snivelling sleaze.
Some people are plainly and obviously evil. They do bad things to other people, they hurt people, they lie and cheat obviously and unambiguously. Not all are actual, court-condemned criminals, of course, as the laws of most lands offer enough loopholes and slither-zones to allow miscreants to claim they’ve done nothing wrong. They are, of course, terrible human beings, but at least you can see who they are. Forewarned should mean forearmed, after all.
But there are others, far more numerous than the above, who appear to be good and kind and all things nice and yet are just as bad, if not worse, than the in-your-face villains we all recognise easily. The hypocrites, the back-stabbers, the false friends and gossip-mongers of society who smile to your face but shred you when your back’s turned. We all know one or two; people we’ve trusted who’ve let us down, but who pontificate self-righteously to anyone who’ll listen.
An internet meme popped up on my screen earlier today, attributed to a poet called John Mark Green: “The self-righteous scream judgments against others to hide the noise of skeletons dancing in their own closets”. On the national stage, Evarist Bartolo offers a prime example of who and what these duplicitous people are. A man who wants to be seen as good, honest, decent and honourable and yet continues to protect and associate with the criminals besides whom he sits down every day.
Bartolo’s first name is derived from Ancient Greek and means “well-liked.” His parents must have hoped their son would be popular, which is only natural. But I sometimes wonder whether by giving a child such a name, they condemned him to becoming the worst sort of hypocrite. Did the little Evarist know what his name meant, and therefore grow up feeling he must be “well-liked” or he’d be letting his parents down?
Astonishingly, the man seems oblivious to the obvious hypocrisy and smarmy sycophancy that he displays so publicly and so shamelessly. Someone needs to sit him down and explain to him very clearly that you simply can’t run with the hare and hunt with the hounds without being called out on it. In fact, the idea that he’d try to do so only condemns him ever further. It tells us that he knows that he’s been surrounded by crooks, it tells us he knows he’s supported, defended and enabled the worst criminals this country has ever seen, but he just wants everyone to like him anyway.
His meaningless Facebook posts alluding to shadowy, incorporeal figures doing dreadful yet undefined things to the country are an attempt to mollify those who condemn the crimes of the Labour government he forms part of, while somehow still keeping him “in” with the crooks themselves. He wants us, the furious few, to still like him, but doesn’t have the guts to speak up clearly and unambiguously. Because he wants “them” to like him too.
He’s been prolific over the last few days, in his ever-cryptic fashion, alluding to nameless enemies, shadowy mafia and freemason figures who are somehow pillaging the country under our very noses while remaining entirely anonymous, unrecognisable and unknown. All we know, he suggests, is that an invisible foe is devastating the nation.
Bartolo, who was Minister for Education, knows perfectly well that the enemy is not invisible. The enemy is not anonymous. The enemy is very recognisable and we all know who it is. The enemy crippling the country is the catastrophic, criminal government he remains a part of, and that he voted multiple times to support.
But the man’s desperation to be “well-liked” means he has to try and persuade the general public, his voters and his detractors, that he was somehow separate from all the corruption, fraud and murder that have become the hallmarks of the Labour government he helped keep in power for so long. He wants us all to know that he does disapprove of this type of behaviour… just not enough to sacrifice his ministerial car and fawning lackeys for.
And indeed, talking of fawning lackeys, let’s not forget that Bartolo himself is not entirely free of suspicion. Indeed, he’s sitting under a pretty big dark cloud of his own for allegedly covering up corruption in his former ministry: his canvasser and staffer, Edward Caruana, had reportedly been taking bribes from contractors to rush payments due to them. While Bartolo was not implicated personally, his inaction after being alerted to the potential wrongdoing by a high-ranking official makes him just as suspect as the perpetrator himself. Covering up corruption is still corruption.
Bartolo believes that he’s one of the few good guys in Muscat’s, and then Abela’s, Cabinets and that no one could have been expected to do more than he did. He’s wrong. And he didn’t even need to be a trail-blazer. Marlene Farrugia, and later Godfrey Farrugia, had already done it. Their example was proof that it is possible to walk away from corruption, it is possible to name names, especially for those benefitting from parliamentary privilege, and it is possible to stand up to bullies and hold your ground.
As I write, I have the Tim Sebastian interview playing in the background. Evarist Bartolo’s whining, self-pitying laments in reply to every question make me nauseous even without the sight of his toadying body language, the ingratiating tilt of the head, the oily smile of the common conman.
I’d repeat the calls for him to stand up and do the honourable thing, even so late in the day, if there was any chance he’d strike his chest with a mea maxima culpa. Unfortunately, that terrible interview tells us a lot more than the words themselves suggest. It tells us, beyond any doubt, that there’s no chance a self-righteous, desperate-to-be-liked sycophant like Bartolo will ever willingly accept culpability for his part in the appalling cataclysm caused by the government he is still a part of.
He’ll go to his grave believing he was better than the rest, confident he did everything he could, trusting firmly in his own innocence. But thankfully the rest of us will always have the Tim Sebastian interview to remind us of the truth about the skeletons dancing in “Well-liked” Bartolo’s closet.