Helena Dalli’s latest bungle as EU Equality Commissioner, necessitating a mortifying climbdown, is actually precisely the kind of misstep we can expect of someone who’s built her career on her ability to spot a bandwagon and latch on to it for dear life.
The former Miss Malta turned to politics during Labour’s infamous Golden Years, cosying up to the notorious former prime minister Dom Mintoff and his cronies, marrying the brother of one of Mintoff’s MPs (Johnny Dalli tal-Hunters Tower) and, seemingly, brown-nosing whoever and wherever she thought would further her cause.
There’s something so ludicrous in the way Maltese politicians are allowed to reinvent themselves, literally overnight in some cases, that it borders on exquisite comedy. Or it would, were it not so utterly outrageous.
Helena Dalli’s attempt to curry favour with the cancel-culture crowd – her most recent, and most desperate, bandwagon – couched in the language of ‘avoiding offence,’ is in itself beyond offensive to those of us who lived through the nightmare of the 1980s, while she herself was busy snuggling up to those who not only had no qualms about ‘offending’ people but sought to stamp out dissent and free speech with violence, vindictiveness and bullets.
Her CV, plastered across the internet, proudly announces the fact that she has a PhD in political sociology and lectured at the University of Malta. For many of us who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, at a time when her hero, Rhodes scholar Dom Mintoff, declared most degrees were “just a piece of paper” and Malta’s education system was ripped to shreds, along with many young students’ hopes and ambitions, the idea that she went ahead and got a decent enough university education to earn herself a doctorate is astonishing in itself.
And now she worries that wishing people “Happy Christmas” might offend someone. Or she did until the general uproar in reaction to the internal document issued by her office caused her to change her mind.
I’ve always wondered how she managed to pass the MEP grilling that landed her the Equality Commissioner job. She said the ‘right’ things, clearly, but surely seasoned politicians should be able to weigh up words against actions. Apparently not. For they seem to have discounted the fact that while Dalli was busy promoting equality for minorities in Malta, she was concurrently part of a government that consistently and deliberately sought to vilify and destroy its harshest critic – journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
She even sought to downplay the enormity of Caruana Galizia’s assassination, which has since been proven to have been enabled and facilitated by the government she formed part of and supported wholeheartedly throughout, by describing it as “femicide” – when it clearly was not a murder prompted by the hatred of women, but one intended to silence a truth-teller.
While Dalli was ostensibly promoting equality and fairness, she was supporting and perpetuating a cabinet stuffed full of criminals, corruption and fraud. During her grilling, she said she’d have “done things differently” on the Panama Papers scandal, which was first broken in Malta by Caruana Galizia.
Yet, two years before this statement to the MEPs examining her to decide whether she was a suitable candidate for commissioner, she voted to back disgraced former Minister Konrad Mizzi after it emerged that he’d set up a secret Panama company, thus helping to keep a known corrupt politician in power and escaping justice.
Nepotism, cronyism – these are all aspects of corruption just as egregious as taking a bribe to give a contract to a particular person. Yet somehow, the MEPs grilling Dalli failed to take into account the numerous reports of her failings in this area: as minister for equality, she hired an unemployed friend as “public relations and logistics consultant”; her son’s fiancé as a ‘person of trust’ within her ministry; and even gave a job to the worst of Lorry Sant’s most feared henchmen, Ronnie Pellegrini, as head of her private secretariat.
Her two sons both got well-paid government positions in various other state agencies and councils, and her artist husband Patrick Dalli, was commissioned to paint a portrait of disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat, dubbed the most corrupt person of 2019 by the OCCRP and described by a leading international journalist as “the artful dodger” of Europe.
Just like almost every Labour politician I have ever had the misfortune to come across, everything she does is about the money. She presents herself as a champion of equality, but the reality is that she has absolutely no concept of what she purports to promote.
A few months ago, The Shift revealed that former ministers are given generous golden handshakes when they leave their positions, for whatever reason. The payments are supposed to help them re-adjust to civilian life, tide them over till they re-establish their private careers or find new jobs.
But you’d imagine that if they’re leaving to step directly into new, lucrative positions, they might decide to waive their right to such a payment – after all, there’s no question of hardship or need in such a case.
In 2019, Helena Dalli left government to become European Commissioner for Equality on a salary of around €250,000 a year. This translates to a monthly paycheck that’s what many Maltese earn in a whole year.
And yet, Dalli, commissioner for equality, of all things, still felt justified in helping herself to a further €29,000 from the Maltese taxpayer, in her termination payment.
Malta’s pseudo-socialists in government – grab what you can, when you can, for yourself, your family, your chums and your decades-old loyalties to the type of thugs any decent person would avoid like the plague.
Jumping from one bandwagon to the next only works in Malta because most people are just as morally bankrupt as their leaders. But on the European stage, a politician with a background murky with sleaze, who opportunistically champions fads and cynically promotes ideas such as “equality police” – while doing the exact opposite in her own life, is unlikely to escape ridicule.
The tragedy is that her ridicule becomes our mortification.