Central Bank Governor and former Finance Minister Edward “U ejja, come on” Scicluna made a timely appearance at President George Vella’s “State of the Nation” shindig yesterday. Timely, of course, because the man is not only still around, but is also still very busily slurping at the trough from which many of his colleagues have now been cut off.
I clicked on a link to the President’s conference just as one of the speakers, citing a new survey, was explaining that Maltese people no longer think of themselves as “ħamalli”.
Quite an extraordinary statement to make, I thought, and watched on in hopes of finding out why, exactly, Maltese people think they’re no longer chavvy, greedy, rude and vulgar. Especially as all evidence, online and in real life, is still very firmly to the contrary.
No explanation was given, though we were informed that instead of seeing themselves as “ħamalli,” Maltese people now view themselves as racist, intolerant and judgmental, among other things. Most well-brought-up people would actually see those flaws as precisely the kind of thing that defines a “ħamallu/a,” but this is Malta, where a word means whatever you want it to mean, and is endowed with the elasticity of a PL MP’s morals.
I didn’t watch long; it was mostly tedious and dominated by the usual suspects. But among them was a former finance minister so indignant at being sacked, he got the Central Bank Governor kicked out and himself appointed in his stead. A former finance minister whose last act as finance minister was to hike the Central Bank Governor’s salary by 38% just in time for him to step into position.
A former finance minister who was put under criminal investigation on suspicion of money laundering and corruption in the shady Vitals hospital deal, the scandal that saw three public hospitals handed over to a company with no experience or expertise in operating healthcare facilities, and who ultimately fleeced the country of hundreds of millions of euros before selling the whole deal off to a new investor and quickly skipping town.
Definitely not someone I want to listen to pontificating about the State of the Nation. “U ejja, come on” Scicluna, let’s never forget, is no innocent dupe of nasty crooks. He – who returned from a South American trip spitting in fury that even the taxi drivers there knew about his government’s shocking corruption scandals thanks to the PN MEP “traitors” who gave him and his cronies away to “foreigners” – was the very useful enabler, if not the direct accomplice, of his colleagues’ most egregious excesses.
As minister of finance it was his job to protect the country’s finances from the wholescale larceny of his cabinet colleagues. A job that, by the way, not only did he fail at, but that he did his level best to ensure that nobody else was in a position to do, either.
In any case, what was President Vella doing, inviting a man who’d been put under criminal investigation to speak at a conference aimed at promoting national unity?
Even if one could somehow ‘forget’ that Scicluna is suspected of the most serious of crimes that a finance minister could commit, to me, how could one ever overlook how deeply and expensively he let his country down?
And all, it would seem, for the sake of filthy lucre. Indeed, everything we’ve seen from the economist politician since 2013 can be distilled into one defining element of that wonderful word “ħamalli”: that of naked greed.
So maybe he doesn’t yell swear words at fellow bathers on the beach, maybe he doesn’t spit on the pavement or scratch his crotch in public, but his lust for money, his lack of conscience in fleecing the Maltese public of its hard-earned tax money, these things are just as vulgar, rude and “ħamalli” as anything else.
Somehow turning being fired into a career-move for himself, offering prestige – his new role gives him a seat on the board of the European Central Bank after all – and lots of hard cash – his last act as finance minister was to slyly boost the salary for that job to €138,000 a year: well, that screams “ħamallu” behaviour to me.
The man is 78 years old. He already gets three public pensions, as well as his salary. To put that into perspective, it’s worth recalling that many, if not most, people in Malta earn less than €20,000 a year, just half of the extra boost Scicluna gave himself when he shifted sideways into the Central Bank. Talk about avaricious opportunism.
But that was just the icing on the cake. His years as finance minister saw him go conveniently mute when he should have been shouting to the rooftops as his colleagues were exposed by slain journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia as owning secret Panama companies set up to receive mysterious payments from shady Dubai companies, signing secret deals with disreputable characters and entering into dubious arrangements with questionable businesses.
And he stayed obstinately silent again as his disgraced boss, Joseph Muscat, and a collection of other ignominiously implicated ministers and officials were forced to resign domino-style over the massive-scale, rampant corruption that Scicluna, as finance minister, was duty-bound to prevent but chose to obfuscate and defend instead.
Take the Electrogas deal, for example. As finance minister, it was his job to scrutinise this extraordinary agreement, that saw Malta being tied into paying almost double the market price for gas from Azerbaijani state-owned company SOCAR for 18 years. So, buying grossly overpriced gas from a company that, coincidentally, is itself also a one-third owner of Electrogas. Whether this was down to Scicluna’s incompetence or his complicity is moot; his failure to flag the deal and block it constitutes a gross dereliction of duty.
Scicluna is an affront to any right-thinking Maltese person. So, what could possibly explain the President’s decision to invite him to participate in a debate aimed at creating concord between warring factions? Prime Minister Robert Abela might be in thrall to Scicluna in some way, in fact, he almost certainly is, given the acrobatics required to dislodge the former finance minister from his South Street fortress.
But it’s inexplicable to me that Vella could ever have imagined that the participation of one of the central players in the most corrupt government of Malta ever had could help drive forward his stated agenda to eradicate the divisions, contempt and hatred that splits the Maltese electorate in two.
The President closed his damp squib of a conference with the usual, pointless platitudes. Put an end to politically motivated hate speech, he said; though this was possibly just a cunning plan to save himself from having to read articles sneering at his vanity project. Or, perhaps, he didn’t want to be reminded of the irony of giving a starring role in his State of the Nation non-event to one of the most culpable of the culprits responsible for putting the nation into the pitiable state it’s in today.