I almost skipped writing an article this week. Arguments on the ‘backsliding of the rule of law’ have become tiring and nauseating to the point of irritating the writer even before they are put to paper. I almost skipped the writing. Almost. That was until I stumbled on this news item about scientists building a ‘black box’ to record the end of civilization.
“The idea is if the earth does crash as a result of climate change, this indestructible recording device will be there for whoever’s left to learn from that,” said one of the persons behind the project. This will be an immense steel monolith installed in remote Tasmania and is modelled on the idea of black boxes that survive plane crashes but this time on a planetary scale.
Then it struck me. Amid all this ‘backsliding’ and degeneration of our tiny democracy, vehicles of communication such as The Shift serve as a ‘black box’ record – noting daily the step-by-step dismantling of our Republic. You only need to scroll through the headlines all the way back to day one to see how The Shift not only fulfils the fundamental duty of the fourth pillar of democracy but also serves a real-time chronicle of State Capture.
Only this week we can see the probing analysis into the operations of the Malta Tourism Authority and the Malta Gaming Authority. Both cases involve the dishing out of taxpayers’ money to a network of close-knit friends of the party in government.
The list of recipients of public booty reads like some old nursery rhyme: the labour pollster, the government PR consultant, the energy minister’s sister, the former GWU activist, the wife of the chief of staff and the sister of the parliamentary secretary – just to give you a taste.
These stories are just the tip of a huge iceberg. Often “follow the money” leads to investigative results for the journalistic team, however it is not only about the money. State Capture is holistic and also involves the infiltration of all levels of civil administration.
The Shift joined other newsrooms in challenging a new court records law, the infamous Legal Notice 456 that gave a State employee (read one in the throes of government) the discretion of hiding online court records.
This perversion of the ‘right to erasure’ was mild compared to the work of the LESA employee who deleted thousands of fines from public records including those fines meted out to the ministers of the realm. Meanwhile, the politically appointed chairperson of the Social Care Standards Authority re-engaged her 74-old father as a junior lawyer. Rather than let his original contract run its course, the second contract was awarded to “hand over” his legal duties. Imagine that. Paid to hand over your job.
Direct orders by ministries infiltrated to the brim by a network of friends of friends, permits, use of EU funds on projects that continue to oil this network – all this happens in broad daylight.
The judicial branch is paralysed to the extent that the number of prosecutions that end up in conviction remains low. Watchdogs such as the commissioner for standards or the ombudsman are openly derided and undermined by those who come under their scrutiny.
The head of the civil service defended government’s policy on persons of trust by turning his guns on the office of the ombudsman. The Speaker of the House of Representatives allows feeble excuses for ministers who give wrong answers to questions put to them even when they seem to be avoiding the scrutiny in which parliament should be engaging.
No wonder that at the highest echelons of public duty the whole concept of accountability has long been defenestrated. Robert Abela’s government of continuity does nothing but rubber-stamp the modus operandi of State capture while paying lip service to any kind of reform.
As this happens, the polls indicate a continuing surge in support for the captor of the State. There can only be one explanation. Stockholm Syndrome. The captives are now enamoured with their captors and refuse to do anything to remove them. This march of folly points to one big collapse in the not too distant future.
If not to create awareness, then our writing serves as the black box for those who will come after us and will have the unhappy task of building from scratch.