Evarist Bartolo blames you

The nerve of some politicians. In Evarist Bartolo’s recent homily, the former minister solemnly told us that, if we want to be taken seriously as a nation-state, we must live up to our international obligations. If we don’t, the blame must be shared by all of us, not just politicians.

“It is in our national interest not to let our country be abused by those, locally and overseas, who want to launder their dirty money through Malta.”

Where was he back in 2016 and 2017, when many of us, civil society and the then Opposition, were saying all of that?

Oh, yes. He was sharing a platform with a leader whose propaganda machine told the crowds that we are traitors and pawns of envious foreign countries.

Bartolo says it’s not small countries that are the worst sinners in abetting international organised crime, but they’re the ones whose reputation suffers most.

Thank you. Some of us said that years ago when, if action had been taken, Malta’s reputation wouldn’t have sunk further.

Bartolo stood by when three of his fellow ministers resisted a magisterial inquiry into a hospitals deal that, as revealed by this website, had all the trappings of an internationally organised heist. He said nothing when the ministers smeared The Shift News, even though it was clearly acting “in our national interest not to let our country be abused”.

Bartolo thinks the blame should be spread wide: “As a people, we need to undergo a cultural change to rise to European and global standards”.

Actually, when Bartolo was in government we did undergo a cultural change — for the worse.

On key European standards — such as corruption perceptions, freedom of the press, and rule of law — we slid down the scale.

Bartolo acknowledges personal responsibility only by roping in the rest of us. He blames you, too.

The responsibility lies with: “All of us, as citizens.” All citizens, eh? Including those money launderers to whom Bartolo’s government sold passports?

Bartolo specifies: “Not just politicians in government and opposition. Accountants, too, lawyers, regulators, notaries, the police, media, prosecutors, magistrates and judges”.

Nice touch, putting the onus on the media alongside the regulators and prosecutors and police who didn’t act on media reports. Their neglect enabled the assassination of a citizen, Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was living up to her responsibility.

A month ago, Bartolo was still justifying his complicity as minister. Any notary, lawyer, accountant, regulator, policeman or prosecutor can use Bartolo’s excuses: ‘Look, I’m trying to change things from within. Behind the scenes, I am pursuing a cunning strategy of patient persistence. Yes, sometimes I go along with a little money-laundering here and there because otherwise I’d lose my job and, with it, my tremendous healing influence. You don’t understand this society if you expect anything different.’

Now, however, Bartolo tells us: “All of us, the whole of society must practise a public morality that makes us law-abiding and behave ethically, not only in name”.

He accuses other countries of practising the maxim of ‘Do what I say, not what I do’. What’s he doing, then?

He can’t have it both ways. If he justifies his own behaviour as minister, he must accept the same excuses from others. In which case, forget about cultural change and European standards.

European standards do not produce fewer crooks; they produce systems of governance that make it more difficult for crooks to operate with impunity, and the crooks know it. German and Scandinavian global firms have been involved in money laundering and bribery — but usually abroad.

The custodians of European standards have told us what we need to do. If we want to change public culture, we must change its organisation.

The public inquiry concluded the same thing. It documented how it was the State’s organisation — from recruitment of personnel, to awards of contracts, to (non) investigations of suspicious behaviour, to the conduct of Cabinet — that contributed to the culture of corruption that Bartolo laments.

But the man now calling for everyone to live up to their responsibilities, rejects the responsibility attributed to him by the inquiry.

If you want the lawyers, the notaries and the accountants to do their duty, they must fear the State’s power to catch them and put them behind bars. They must believe the State will be impartial and implacable. How likely are they to believe that if the new head of the civil service was, until the March general elections, a Labour Party activist?

How likely are they to believe in the long, strong arm of the law when the top police trainer is caught saying Opposition MPs should be pelted with eggs and tomatoes — and gets away with a rap on the knuckles?

In Europe, standards are upheld because politicians are willing to be specific about what’s unacceptable. Is Bartolo ready to say that John Charles Ellul, the police trainer, should have been sacked? That it was wrong to permit Tony Sultana, given his seniority in the civil service, to be a Labour activist (a rule we have, but which was violated by the government in which Bartolo served)? That a partisan activist shouldn’t become head of the civil service?

Does he agree with Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca that, on the basis of the evidence of the public inquiry report, the Labour Party owes the nation an apology?

If he isn’t ready to live up to his responsibilities even when he’s safely ensconced in retirement, he can’t be taken seriously.

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