While members of government have become particularly adept at making promises that are completely ignored, or condemning things on one hand while doing the precise opposite in practice, the events that unfolded over the weekend continue to demonstrate how government officials and propagandists drive the narratives they wish to instil in their supporters – and the impact they have.
The claims and statements that are bandied about range from the ludicrous to the outrageous, but they all have the same distinguishing feature: They are based on the distortion or contradiction of facts.
The claim by Anthony De Giovanni who, during a radio show, said Daphne Caruana Galizia’s son Matthew had somehow contributed to his mother’s death, is the most recent example of what happens when conspiracy theories and counter-narratives are encouraged to flourish unfettered.
In response to the uproar this comment generated, a government spokesperson contacted by the press said: “These comments definitely do not represent government’s or the Labour Party’s position on this matter”.
“Statements such as this need to stop immediately, more so when the government is intent on working along the lines of the public inquiry, which emphasised the need for reconciliation. The prime minister is determined to keep working towards this aim,” the spokesperson added.
This statement was then presented, by sections of the local media, as some form of harsh condemnation of De Giovanni. In reality, it is nothing of the sort.
While the prime minister condemned the statement, the government denied whistleblower status to the person with information on the nepotism that occurred.
Reports on De Giovanni tend to give a somewhat partial picture, describing him as a former mayor of Fgura and former Education Ministry consultant who made the news in 2020 when he used a government computer to tamper with the Wikipedia profile of Dutch MP and Council of Europe Special Rapporteur Pieter Omtzigt.
Yet they do not mention how De Giovanni had been hired as a “junior lawyer” by his own daughter and Labour candidate Katya De Giovanni, currently serving as chairperson of the Social Care Standards Authority (SCSA) or how the government declined to grant whistleblower status to a former employee who reported the alleged ‘abuse’ and ‘nepotism’ at the Social Care Standards Authority, including De Giovanni’s appointment.
Robert Abela’s statement last week where he told the press that the government will pursue “all possible legal action” against Steward Health Care if the company fails to honour its contractual obligations in the running of three public hospitals, seems to run completely counter to the facts as known.
Abela seemed oblivious to the fact that Steward Health Care has already broken all their contractual obligations on almost everything they were supposed to have done. And when asked whether the government will pay Steward €100 million if the courts revoke the hospitals’ contract, Abela sidestepped the answer by saying, “if Steward Health Care chooses to leave the concession agreement, the government will do its utmost to avoid paying that amount”.
Amid all this posturing by the prime minister aimed at making readers believe that the government is about to take some bold or momentous decisions, an analysis by The Shift has found that by the end of next year, taxpayers will already have paid over €300 million to Steward Health Care for the running of three hospitals while the American company has yet to fork out a single cent of the €200 million investment it was contractually bound to pay by September 2018 – more than three years ago.
Same old vultures
Instances of propaganda sometimes happen so close to one another that one incident is quickly eclipsed by another.
When De Giovanni’s comments hit the headlines, the public was still grappling with the abysmal way that Speaker Anglu Farrugia and his lawyer, Ian Refalo, treated a letter by Matthew Caruana Galizia, who called for Farrugia’s resignation after the Speaker had failed to adequately reprimand MP Rosianne Cutajar as had been voted by Parliament’s Committee for Standards in Public Life.
As civil society groups organised a protest on 29 November in response to the Speaker’s behaviour, the chairman of the Valletta Cultural Agency, Jason Micallef, took to social media to say the protest was nothing but an attempt to “attack Christmas” and make people lose their festive cheer.
Micallef and the fundamental right to protest (except perhaps his own) have never sat well together and this time his idea was taken a step further by the infamous Tony Zarb who used his social media platform to suggest that if the Nationalist Party really cares about citizens’ wellbeing, then both parties should agree to ban protests during the Christmas season.
If the idea of an inept parliamentary speaker gets you down, we can at least take comfort in the knowledge that we will always have people like Micallef and Zarb to cheer us up and warm the cockles of our heart with their gentle dispositions, their kind words towards their party’s critics and their pseudo-authoritarian propositions.
Blame climate change
Infrastructure Minister Ian Borg would like everyone to know that the latest flooding of Malta’s brand new network of roads has got nothing to do with Malta’s actual infrastructure, nor – this time at least – with the untimely shedding of leaves by trees, but is the result of freak weather, suggesting that climate change is to blame.
When journalists pressed Borg further about whether the models being used to identify appropriate water drainage systems when building new roads were outdated and possibly did not cater for more frequent heavy downpours, the minister failed to respond.
Could it be that removing old trees and replacing them with saplings results in soil erosion that is then washed away by the “truckload”?
Or, as the ADPD green party noted, could it be that some laws such as the one that requires all new buildings to have a well were being ignored by the Planning Authority and Water Services Corporation, resulting in huge amounts of water being dumped into sewage systems, causing them to overflow?
Could it be that just as climate change is here to stay, so too, is the pattern of narrative distortion by Malta’s politicians?