The day after tomorrow, according to all the major surveys, Malta will re-elect a Labour government led by a prime minister known to have fleeced the taxpayer of hundreds of thousands of euro, manipulated planning laws to his own advantage and undertaken questionable business dealings.
In its nine years in power, the incumbent PL administration has distorted the very definition of ‘government’, with an endless stream of scandals, brazen corruption and the brutal assassination of the island’s best and bravest journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia. It has embraced criminals and appointed them as Cabinet ministers. It has made a mockery of the rule of law, thumbing its nose at local critics and international institutions alike.
Its ministers have treated the public purse like their own personal piggy banks, doling out direct orders and astronomically-paid government jobs to friends and family members on an almost unimaginable scale. It’s ripped apart the heart of the economy and robbed the nation of its good name. In fewer than 10 years, Labour has succeeded in dragging Malta into a gutter deeper and fouler than ever before in our history.
And unless something radical happens to alter the result being forecast, the next five years are going to be even more dire.
The government’s desperation to hold on to power is palpable. Cheques being doled out wholesale from coffers that are stuffed full of IOUs and very little else are evidence of panic on a major scale. It’s sad to think that ministers whose wives and friends are being gifted imaginary jobs worth tens of thousands of euro a year believed that €100 here and there would mollify the population’s outrage, but, apparently, mollify it did.
But as we should know by now, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Every single one of those cheques, direct orders, cushy jobs and dodgy contracts is going to have to be funded somehow, though the government has failed to explain how it plans to do that in any meaningful way.
Already carrying a massive national debt burden of some €8 billion, up from €5.3 billion euros in January 2020, Malta’s economy is about to face some of the most challenging issues since Independence.
While Covid-19 begins its third year of disarray and trauma, having already disrupted supply chains, transportation and food imports as well as decimating the tourism industry, the Russian invasion of Ukraine threatens, at the very least, to devastate fuel supplies and send the price of energy and imported goods, including essential foods and medicines, soaring.
While the hapless Finance Minister, whose response to every problem seems to involve cash hand-outs, reportedly claimed a few days ago that the 2021 deficit may, after all, turn out to have been lower than the 11.1% he thought it would be just a couple of months ago. He didn’t specify how much lower he’s hoping it will be. During his budget speech last year, Clyde Caruana had also said this eye-wateringly high fiscal shortfall would shrink by half in 2020 “as the economy recovers”. But though the obstacles to recovery have multiplied since he made that grandiose promise, he doesn’t appear to have revised that projection. Yet.
The question of how Malta will survive this hasn’t been answered convincingly by any Party, but certainly not by the PL in government. Its focus has purely been to get back in power, come what may. Its muddled electoral manifesto offers no creative solutions to the challenges created by the pandemic and the Ukraine invasion, nor does it even attempt to address the problems of its own making: the greylisting of Malta as a financial services centre, the reputational damage to the financial services and igaming industries, and the devastation of the environment by greedy, corrupt developers and complicit planning officials.
The government’s panic to get re-elected isn’t surprising. It’s a desperate scramble to keep its ministers and heads of state institutions out of jail and its sticky fingers firmly in the till. One can only imagine the frantic horse-trading going on behind tightly-closed ministry doors, deals that will haunt the entire population for decades to come.
And disturbingly, the Opposition has effectively handed the election to them on a plate by failing to adequately address the misgivings of its disgruntled supporters or sort out its internal issues, despite the clear messages it’s been sent consistently since 2017.
The valiant determination of third parties and independents to continue banging their heads against the brick walls raised by both dominant parties has been the one bright spot in this entire electoral campaign. Against the hundreds of thousands of euro spent by both the PL and the PN on canvassing votes, their efforts can’t possibly compete, but their perseverance offers some hope for the future.
And there’s little hope beyond that. The seemingly inevitable PL win on Saturday means those responsible for shredding Malta’s reputation – disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat, his sidekicks Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi, and their cronies and henchmen – are likely to get away with the rampant corruption they engineered.
Their fellow hustlers like Rosianne Cutajar, Carmelo Abela, Edward Zammit Lewis and the vast majority of Cabinet ministers implicated in the scandals, tax avoidance and malfeasance reported on a daily basis since 2013 will not be held accountable and will continue their unfettered ravaging of the country and its resources.
And worst of all, achieving justice for Caruana Galizia, uncovering the true extent of the conspirators involved in the plot to assassinate her in order to silence her, will become that much more difficult. The machinations already employed in the attempt to derail the investigations and prosecutions have proven that the existing authorities cannot be trusted to uncover the truth.
We all have different priorities in life, and no-one has the right to dictate to anyone else what theirs should be, as long as they remain within the limits of honesty and decency. What we’ve seen since 2013 has been well beyond those boundaries. And now, unfortunately, we’re all about to experience the true consequences of allowing crooks and murderers to get away with their crimes for so long.